New Irish defensive backs coach Bill Lewis understands he has a big challenge ahead this fall camp. Lewis will have to replace three starters in the secondary from the 2004 season, and many of the candidates vying for playing time have little or no experience.
"I think it's a challenge because everyone's aware that we're young," Lewis said at Monday's media day event. "A young, inexperience tag can kind of be put on the secondary, but that's the exciting part. That's the exciting part to me because my job is to teach them.
"We've got an expression here: ‘if they don't know it, we haven't taught it.' That's the thing that's exciting to me. You can flip that coin over and the players have to get excited about the opportunity. They came to Notre Dame to play in one of the top programs in the nation. This is their opportunity. The next seven to 10 days will determine which players want to grab the baton and run with it."
In order for Lewis to teach this young secondary, many of the young players will have to take it upon themselves to want to be great and want to be the starter.
The young guys have a responsibility to start to accept where their role is going to be on this team," Lewis said. "We've got an opportunity for young DBs to step forward and play. Part of that is accepting that ‘I'm going to be one of those guys. I'm going to out and prove it on a drill-to-drill basis, on a day-to-day basis, that I deserve to be in that position.'"
Lewis confirmed that he wasn't able to spend much time with his young secondary this off-season, but he was encouraged at how many members of the secondary took it upon themselves to get prepared for fall camp.
"We cannot be with them," Lewis said of summer workouts and film sessions. "They have no restrictions to their access to tape. We try to encourage as much of that during the summer (as we can), and I think we got a pretty good result of it. We did some teaching tapes with our spring cutups. That was probably the most valuable thing they could study because it was themselves working."
Lewis has also been impressed with the work ethic of his unit so far.
"The effort has been good," he said. "What we need to do is we need to continue to expand our knowledge of what we're doing. We need to improve on the techniques. Once they understand what should be done, then they've got to go out and work on it. Those are the areas we need to make some significant steps during training camp."
With the departure of Freddie Parish from the safety position, the move of Chinedum Ndukwe from linebacker to safety will likely pay dividends this fall.
To begin our camp, he's going to be given the opportunity to be a safety," Lewis said of Ndukwe. "To do that, and be fair to a player, we feel like we have to give him full-time work in the secondary. If you remember we moved Anthony Vernaglia from safety to linebacker. Anthony will start out at linebacker and work full-time there."
Sophomore Leo Ferrine played both corner and safety during the spring. Lewis confirmed he'd start out at corner this fall.
"We're going to work him at corner," said Lewis of Ferrine. "We had made that move the last few days of spring practice. We liked what we saw in those couple of days so he'll continue to work at the corner position."
Many of these younger defensive backs have had to learn one system and techniques from the previous coaching staff, and then learn this new system and techniques the very next semester. Lewis says he's only concerned with teaching his players what they need to know this fall.
"I wasn't concerned with whether there was changes in techniques," he said. "What I was concerned with was teaching the techniques we believe in, and the techniques that are required to play the style of defense and the style of coverage. Where we are now is a long way from getting all of them into that situation.
"The emphasis of the initial phase of training camp, until we turn our attention to putting units together and getting ready for our opening game, it's a day-to-day situation. Who's doing the best job in each of our drills? We take them all and we grade them all, and we want to see who starts to step forward—from a competitive standpoint, from a learning standpoint, to an actual execution standpoint."
Lewis will have his hands full in getting this young secondary into the execution stage, but Irish fans can rest assured knowing that Lewis is on the job. We've been very, very impressed with Lewis' ability to communicate his message on the field. I can't remember seeing a better coach when it comes to teaching.