Irish Should Be Healthy For Saturday's Game

The Notre Dame football team held their final practice of the week on Thursday in preparation for Saturday's game against Tennessee. The off week the Irish had last week appears to have healed some nagging injuries, and the Irish should be pretty healthy heading in Saturday's game.

Head coach Tyrone Willingham met with the media after Thursday's practice to give us an update on the week's progress.

"As a coach, that's always the thing that you hope for," said Willingham when asked if his team had the proper focus heading into Saturday's game. "I say that you really don't know until you actually get in the game and the game starts. That's where my job becomes to adjust, and if we're not quite there, do something to kick-start us."

Willingham allows his assistants to do a lot of coaching on Saturdays and we asked the third-year Irish head coach what his responsibilities were during the game.

"Look stoic. Really provide the face of the team," said Willingham laughingly. "I've always used this Chinese proverb that says ‘if you hire a man to do a job, let him do the job.' Now that doesn't mean you don't provide supervision and hopefully I do."

The Irish match up with the Volunteers very well on paper and the victor will certainly have to earn it. Special teams can sometimes be the deciding factor in close games and Willingham was asked why his special teams have struggled at times this season.

"Lack of execution," Willingham said. "When you look at the numbers in our kickoff return, we've not sealed things, gotten the blocks in proper places, and made good decisions."

Willingham said there would probably be a shakeup in the special teams lineup this week to try to fix some of those problems.

"We've made changes and honestly there will probably be some changes this week. You want to get, at some point, consistent and continuity. So a guy can really understand his job and do it. In and out of the lineup really doesn't work in that manner."

The Irish should benefit from the return of tight ends Jerome Collins and Marcus Freeman—although the latter sounds like he'll be limited.

"They'll be able to go, but I'm not sure how much they'll be able to do," said Willingham of his two tight ends. "I think one is farther advanced than the other and that would be Jerome."

"Josh Schmidt will get some time," Willingham responded when asked if his senior fullback would return after sitting out with a hand injury.

Probably the best news for Irish fans would be a healthy Ryan Grant and Darius Walker.

"I think you can say that" was Willingham's response when asked if both players would be close to 100 percent on Saturday.

Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick has been hinting to some personnel changes this week on offense. Willingham said not to expect wholesale changes on offense for Saturday's game.

"I anticipate the areas that we were speaking of we probably have in our rotation and we've been working that rotation all along," he said. "Who starts is not to me as important as keeping that rotation going."

Saturday's game is a big game for the Irish and for Willingham. The off week and the healing of some of these nagging injuries should give the Irish and advantage on Saturday.


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