Polian Rebuilding Special Teams

Irish head coach Charlie Weis knows the quickest way to turn around a team's fortunes is by improving on special teams. This point has been reinforced by dedicating large chunks of practice time to a unit that struggled at times last season with field possession issues and a lack of a game-breaking return man.

Bring in Brian Polian, who assumes the title of head special teams coach. A graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, Polian has seen the emphasis and dedication towards revamping the unit.

"We get anywhere from 30-45 minutes of meeting time depending on whether it's a two-a-day or a one-a-day," Polian said. "We are getting everything we need. Obviously, when we are in a one-a-day situation, we're able to address more than one unit in a practice because we're out there for awhile. In a two-a-day situation, we probably get one per practice. Coach (Weis) has done a great job of sprinkling in talking about one situation here and address it in a five minute period on the practice field."

Every player on the Notre Dame roster will be given a look at. This includes starters. Some coaches shy away from using first teamers on special teams because of the added risk on injury. This thinking does not correlate with the Weis philosophy of putting the best players out on the field at all times.

"Starters will appear in the kicking game," Polian said. "We are going to use them in the phases that we fell like are the most important. Some guys will appear on one. Some will appear on two. It's just depends on how things shake out in the next week. Coach, to his credit, said that's how things are going to be and that's how it has played out."

The depth chart of the special teams, like all personnel matters on this team, is closely guarded. One position where there is no debate is the kicking game. Senior D.J. Fitzpatrick is on the Lou Groza Award Watch List given to the nation's top kicker. Inside of 50 yards, Fitzpatrick is 22-of-28 for his career. He is also the team's punter, averaging 41.8 yards per punt last season. The dual role of kicker and punter is not something Polian is accustomed to seeing.

"I don't think it's the ideal situation," Polian said. "I have not been in this situation where one guy has done all three. That being, we've said all along the guy that does the job the best will do that job. If that is the same person, that's what we'll live with. We got to put the best guy out there. Bottom line."

The return game was a non-factor last year. The Irish did not take a single punt or kickoff to the end zone in 2004. The longest kickoff return last season was a meager 41 yards by Carlos Campbell. Polian said Weis and offensive coordinator Michael Haywood have been working with the group of potential nominees to provide that explosive spark and help with the field position battle. The big question remains: who is it going to be?

"We've narrowed down the pool significantly," Polian said. "I think we know who the group is. We know where the one's and two's are going to come from. We got another week before we get into a game day to figure out where they are slotted. We feel comfortable with the guys backs there fielding the football."

Polian has some help. Bernie Parmalee is the assistant special teams coach and Weis has said that all the coaches are involved in one way or another with the unit. Parmalee has experience coaching special teams with the Miami Dolphins from 2002-2003. The former NFL running back looks for certain types of players when evaluating talent to help this year's unit.

"You have to have controlled aggression," Parmalee said. "You can have a guy that is very aggressive but puts himself out of place a lot. You have to control it and know when to turn it on and when to back off. A lot of guys go out there with a reckless abandon. There's no sense in hitting the wedge and putting your head down and not finding out where the returner is. You have to split the wedge, keep you feet and make the tackle. That's the difference."

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