Weis Wants Special Teams to be Special

The great Notre Dame football teams had that explosive spark in the special teams. Who can forget Tim Brown's 1987 Heisman Trophy season, highlighted by numerous punt returns from touchdowns? Will the memory of the 1989 opener at Michigan ever be seared out of Irish fans' minds when Raghib "Rocket" Ismail returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the rain?

During that time span, those great teams had great special teams. New head coach Charlie Weis is looking for that type of spark. Since he was arrived here at Notre Dame, he has publicly said that special teams will be anything but average.

"And last but not least, okay, and we should never, ever shy away from the importance of special teams," Weis said at this past week's Media Day. "And I think that's the critical factor; the easiest way to improve the fastest is on special teams, because not enough people spend enough time on special teams. And trust me, we will be spending a lot of time getting special teams ready to go. Virginia Tech, didn't take long for that team to start being more competitive, solely on the fact that they played sound defense and their special teams were kicking butt."

The little things are the difference between 6-6 and 9-3. A missed extra point in a one-point loss versus Boston College or having no punt/kickoff return touchdowns while giving up a total of three to opponents were a few of the little things.

Weis brought in Brian Polian to head the unit that will be crucial in the Notre Dame's success. Polian coached at Central Florida last year and previous to that was the special teams coordinator at Buffalo from 2001-2003.

Working with Polian is former NFL player and coach, Bernie Parmalee. Parmalee has spent the last three years as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins in the area of special teams and tight ends (Parmalee is the tight ends coach for the Irish this year). Weis brought in the former Dolphin to be the special teams assistant to Polian and Parmalee says the relationship is a strong one.

"It's working real well," Parmalee said on working with Polian at Media Day. "We both have a passion for the game. We understand what needs to get done. We understand what needs to be accomplished and what to look for. We're looking forward to what we want to get done.

"It's a group effort. Every aspect of the game, every coverage we're both involved. We know what we're coaching. It's time to coach them up."

Weis has made an emphasis of putting the best players in the best positions to win football games. Special teams are no different, says Parmalee. The best group of guys to give the Irish good field position or pin the opponent deep or score some quick points will see the field.

"We're going to play the best guys," Parmalee said. "Like any other aspect of the game, offense or defense, you need talented guys, guys that are productive. We're going to use everyone who can help us win."

Special teams also provides another feature of the game where second and third stringers can see some valuable playing time. A contribution to the team on the field is a valued one and this unit can give players a chance to show coaches their ability. Parmalee encourages this type of participation but warns be ready for the battle that awaits.

"A lot of times, if you can't get on the field at your position, you can get on the field on special teams," Parmalee said. "There's nothing more competitive than special teams. Who is going to win the play? If that's not competitive enough, guys don't give enough energy, go out and be successful, you're in the wrong game."

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