Quarterback Brady Quinn walked in to meet the media on Monday and was flooded with camera flashes and microphones in his face. Quinn knows well the responsibility of being a Notre Dame quarterback. And he also knows the responsibility of being a leader for his offense, and the expectations his unit will have to try to live up to in 2005.
"I think we have a lot of potential," said Quinn of the offense. "I think we've got a great opportunity to do very well this season as an offense with who we have returning, and who we've got calling our plays. I think our offense is excited about the start of camp, and the chances we have coming into this season."
Quinn's been smiling a lot these days as one can sense he understands that he's working with one of the best offensive minds in the game under head coach Charlie Weis.
"Coach Weis coming presents a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from him, have him coach me up, and give me everything that he taught Tom Brady, and take that to this team, as far as leadership and everything like that," said Quinn when asked what Weis brings to the table for him.
"I think his history and the success he's had in the past automatically gives him that respect and that feeling of confidence to us. You look at what he's done with the Patriots, and now you talk with him and you can sense the confidence he has, and that trickles down to all the players."
The Dublin, Ohio native also said he has a lot of confidence in himself to lead this team.
"I've always been confident in myself and my abilities," he said. "I think at this point, having coach Weis, and having the amount of talent around me that we do, it could possibly make me one of the cockiest players in the nation, especially with the offense we have coming back."
For the first time in a number of years the offense will be considered the strength of the team while the defense tries to find their way. Quinn was asked if the offense felt any pressure to carry the team until the defense can catch up.
"I don't think we look at it that way as a team," said Quinn. "I think both the offense and defense realizes that there will be times where we have to pull each other up. I think the offense looks at it as we have to put a lot of points up on the board."
Sophomore running back Darius Walker also had a bounce in his step on Monday. Walker says he's expecting a tough camp the next few weeks.
"They definitely let us know that it's going to be intense—especially coach Weis," Walker said with a laugh. "They let us know that they're going to coach us hard—that's one thing he always says. We get the criticism when we're doing wrong, and even when we're doing good. This is a very good system for us."
Walker, who set the freshman Notre Dame rushing record of 786 yards, says things couldn't have worked out better for him leading into his sophomore season.
"It's very exciting in a sense. This was the place I definitely wanted to be, and the opportunity I wanted to have," Walker explained. "I'm sort of getting a chance to achieve my goals. I wanted to get in to play last year and I actually got a chance to get in and play. I think that's going to help me and fuel with this next season. I'm sort of living a dream now. This is what I wanted and I got the opportunity to take the spotlight and be the guy, so that's what I'm work for."
Walker certainly showed his talent last season, but he also found out quickly how demanding the game of college football actually is.
"I don't know if I expected it to be as tough as it was," Walker admitted. "I guess that's good because I got a chance to overcome some things and overcome some injuries. The freshman season is definitely going to help me this season because I kind of already know what it's like. I know what it's like to play the Tennessee's, the Michigan's and the USC's, and even the BYU's and the Pittsburgh teams."
The Lawrenceville, Ga. native has also spent a spring practice and summer talking with new offensive coordinator and running backs coach Michael Haywood. We asked Walker what Haywood told him he needed to improve on this season.
"Coach Haywood is the type of coach that says you need to improve on everything and I definitely agree with him," Walker said. "Mental toughness is something that he always stresses to us as running backs that we have to have. You do have to take the physical beatings every play, do the blocking and the catching. Mental toughness is something I need to work on. For me, speed, weight lifting and getting stronger and reading holes--there's a lot that goes into it."
Speaking of working out, we asked Walker if he improved his strength and speed over the off-season.
"I definitely think so. I got a chance to work hard, but at the same time, after we had the conditioning test and the weight room test, I got to see the results," he said. "I'm definitely getting better. I'm stronger, I'm more confident, and I'm ready to go."
Weis also mentioned in his press conference that he spent a great deal of time recently talking to his offensive linemen about playing with a defensive-minded attitude on the field. We spoke to fifth-year senior Dan Stevenson and asked him what Weis meant by "defensive-minded."
"Pretty much they wanted us to be nasty; be aggressive, be dominant," Stevenson said. "Instead of just going out there to try to block a guy, going out there and trying to bury a guy. It's pretty much going out there every play with a chip on your shoulder."
This season will be Stevenson's final season for the Irish and will be his third year as a starter. Stevenson admitted this season should be different.
"It's definitely different because there's no more room for excuses," he said. "There's no next year, this is it. This my last run. I came here for a reason. I came here to win championships. That is what Notre Dame is based on and what Notre Dame means. There's been a lot of ups and downs, and there's definitely a closeness among this team that I haven't really felt in the past."
Stevenson also said there is a bond among the offensive line that has grown over the years.
"There's been talk among the older guys," he said. "There's really been a lot of talk among the o-line about really believing in the system and really believing in each other. We've got six great offensive linemen. We think we have a chance to be a great front."
One area that Weis has stressed to this 2005 team is that they can't let doubt creep into their mindset. We asked Stevenson if he felt that changing the attitude of the team was something that needed to be addressed, and if it has been addressed this off-season.
"Without a doubt," Stevenson said. "To go out there and play the kind of teams we play, you have to have confidence. You almost have to be arrogant. You have to go out there knowing you're going to win, because if you don't, you don't play aggressive and don't play the way you can. I think it's something that definitely needed to be worked on, and I think it's something he's done a great job of."
The Barrington, Ill. native says he's excited about what the future will hold for the offensive in 2005.
"Just having the whole offense back gives you confidence in thinking in what we have and what we can do," Stevenson said. "Now there is no more room for excuses. It's time to step up and show what we can do. We've got a great front. We've got a great quarterback, great running back and receivers. I think it's time to put the (whole) package together."
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