It has also allowed Anthony Fasano and the tight ends to flourish. The group is not only catching more passes than in previous years but are being utilized in the three-tight end sets Weis employs during the game. Their position coach, Bernie Parmalee, knows the talent is present for these types of significant contributions.
"We got a good group of tight ends," Parmalee said. "They want to go out there and contribute anyway possible. They're confident in what they're doing when they go out there. They're going out there and doing their part."
Fasano especially has been vital to the offense. The 6'5" senior from Verona, New Jersey has a breakout game last year against Washington and finished the season with 27 grabs for 367 yards and four touchdowns. In 2005 alone through only five games, Fasano, who was put on the John Mackey Award Watch List for the nation's best tight end before the season, has almost matched these numbers with 23 receptions for 249 yards.
He also was involved in the most recognizable play this year for Notre Dame after Fasano caught a bootleg pass from Quinn at Washington on the first offensive snap for the Irish. Weis let a child named Montana, who was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, call the first play of the game. Montana decided on a pass to the right hand side. After taking over at their own one-yard line, Fasano made the catch and leaped a defender for a first down.
Marcus Freeman and John Carlson have also seen a lot of game action. Freeman has been mostly used as a blocker while Carlson has caught four balls for 40 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown from Quinn against Purdue, his first scoring reception at Notre Dame. The duel role of being both a constant blocker on the offensive line and a pass receiver can wear the players down physically. Parmalee hopes the bye week can give his group some time to reload.
"We got to heal up," Parmalee said. "You have to be wise. You have to get off your feet and get treatments and stay sharp mentally. You go to do your homework on your opponent. Worry about yourself getting better."
The homework being done during the bye week is on top-ranked USC. The Trojans enter the game on a 23-game winning streak. Three of those wins came against the Irish by 31 points each time. The tight ends will have to continue their steady play and blocking to help the offense put up as many points as possible on the scoreboard against the explosive USC attack.
Fasano caught two balls for 25 yards in last year's 41-10 blowout loss at USC. A realistic part of a tight end's life is the up-and-down production from week to week. An example of this is the 13 balls Fasano caught combined versus Michigan State and Washington but only two receptions for 30 yards against Purdue. The tight end position does not get the glory usually associated with wide receivers. They catch less balls but do a lot of the dirty work and have produced this season when called upon. Parmalee said the focus is on the team, not individual accomplishments.
"It's easy," Parmalee said. "Some games you might be asked to catch six or seven balls and other weeks you might be asked to catch two. Every catch is important and everyone knows this is a team game. We have no ego. We just want to win. It doesn't matter who is catching the ball. With that attitude, everyone is happy."