Irish Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood is looking forward to spring ball and believes this is a very important time in the development of individual players and the team, "I feel extremely comfortable. Last spring we were going out there and putting in a whole new offense. There is always something new that you learn throughout the offense because the offense is extremely distinct; however, you get better each and every day that you go out to coach," Haywood said. "I think the spring is real important because guys can develop so much in 15 practices. It is important to take advantage of these practices and get guys better at things they aren't doing very well.
"One of the things we did during the off-season was to do an evaluation of ourselves and an evaluation of the plays we ran. We have narrowed down the selection and we are going to concentrate on the things we did well. And a few items that we didn't do well we may have moved them to a different category so the package will be a little bit smaller but more detailed. On the first day we will be putting in some new passing schemes and a few new runs going in."
Although the 2005 Irish offensive was a record-setter in many areas, the coaches are not satisfied. Coach Haywood said, "When we went back and evaluated the offense, we realized we weren't as good as we should have been, so we need to become more efficient in certain runs and we need to be more efficient in play-action passes, and that is why we have narrowed things down and have a more condensed package and will be more successful in the things we can do."
To overcome some of these deficiencies Haywood said attention to detail will be a priority this spring."One thing for sure we will be working on screens every day in spring practice. The only way you can get better is by individual techniques and fundamentals, and at the same time, drilling in the players to have success," said Haywood. "So we are setting our goals a little bit higher and expectations a little bit higher."
The success of a team's offense starts up front with the line and Irish offensive line coach John Latina said his plan for spring practice is in place."We want to focus on fundamentals and get the older guys better fundamentally but also bring the younger guys along fundamentally and work on toughness. Spring ball is a good time to work on your toughness and physicalness, and really the main thing for me has always been fundamentals."
The veteran coach expects some spots to be filled in spring practice. "When you lose a couple of starters, jobs are going to be won," Latina said. "You are going to come out of spring with at least a tentative depth chart and a tentative list of guys who you think are going to be your starters. Jobs will be won so that's the way it should be."
Last years offensive line was very good, but like all coaches. Latina sees the need for improvement, "We have a lot of improvement to do. I thought our kids handled the schemes really well for the most part, especially for the first year," said Latina. "We have to improve on that and the physicalness of our offensive line and just being efficient more than we were and more consistent."
The Irish are limited in numbers along the offensive line this spring with only eight scholarship players on the roster. Starting center, John Sullivan, will also be limited."You are concerned about depth but what we have is what we have," Latina said when asked if depth was a concern this spring. "We have a good group of kids and we would like to have more than we have, but the other side of that is you get to focus more on the ones you have because you have more time to spend on the individuals as opposed to a group of 20 kids. So you take it as what it is and make the best out of that situation.
On slot to be won this spring is the right tackle spot. The Irish will have to find someone to replace three-year starter Mark LeVoir."The right tackle spot is wide open. We lost a starter there and we lost a starter inside, but we played four guys inside, but obviously the tackle position will be one of the big things for the offensive line to come out with an answer," Latina admitted. "I expect heavy competition there and nobody is off limits. Whoever is the best guy we'll put over there. Whoever wasn't a starter last year will have a chance to be a starter this year."
A position that will receive a lot of attention from the coaching staff and fan perspective is tight end. "We will work on the same things paying attention to details, fundamentals, and techniques and learn from things we did last year," said Irish tight end coach Bernie Parmalee. We are just going to go out there and work hard.
"I believe the players will be more comfortable in the system this year. Last year everything was new and they have a whole year under their belt and they have been successful in the system. So hopefully the guys can build on that."
Parmalee said he was excited about his tight ends worked during the off season. "They are coming along. They have been doing a great job," Parmalee said. "They are farther ahead than they were last year and they know what has to be done conditioning-wise to give us the best opportunity to be successful."
The competition for playing time at tight end could be interesting and Parmalee expects the competition to be intense. He says he is looking for "the guy who is gong to go out there and make plays and do the things that is expected of him at the tight-end position. I think we have guys who are good candidates and guys we have confidence in, and they're going to go out there and get the job done. Spring is a good opportunity for a lot of the young guys to step on the field. It is their opportunity to show what they can do and, hopefully, they can catch the eyes of the coaches."
One of the biggest questions going into spring practice and the fall will be the No. 2 quarterback spot. Irish quarterback coach Peter Vaas said he's hoping to narrow the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 this spring.
"Those guys themselves will determine what the pecking order is," Vaas said. "They will determine that based upon their performance this spring. So how do I want to see it shake out? I read something a day or so ago, I would like to think we could become - an offensive football team that has confidence in everybody we put into a game no matter what the situation might be. That obviously applies to the quarterback position, and I would like to see us, and by that I mean us as a football team, not necessarily as coaches but as players and coaches, comfortable with whoever is taking the snap from center."
Vass believes spring is the best time to determine who is going to step up. "I think as soon as you take for granted any snap, never mind the period of time, you are going to lose something. Every single snap that every one of those quarterbacks takes is an important part of the evaluation and an important part of them establishing themselves within in the team chemistry," he said. "I mean whether you are on the field or off the field or on campus or off campus, how those individuals conduct themselves as people goes a long way as to how their peers perceive them. That becomes important at that position.
"I really believe that the quarterback position basically earns the right to step in that huddle by the way he does a lot of things in the weight room, that he does on campus, that he does in south dining hall, and how is he perceived by his teammates. Brady has obviously handled that stuff very, very well, and I think our other quarterbacks are doing a great job and stepping forward and developing in those particular areas as well. And now spring practice is the time to see how we perform and react on the field."
Receivers Coach Rob Ianello is looking forward to getting out on the practice field and said this spring will be different than last year. "I think there is a real familiarity between the players and the coaches, and there is an understanding of expectations for every position and what Coach Weis expects," Ianello said. "We as a staff have a better feel for what Charlie expects from us, and the players in turn have an expectation as to what (offensive coordinator) Michael (Haywood) expects, and they have an understanding of what each position coach expects. We are going to push this team and Charlie is going to push this team to see how good we can be.
"My players, the receivers, have a better understanding of what I'm looking for, and they can almost determine sometimes what I am going to say in a certain situation. What is going to set me off and what is not. What kind of improvement I'm looking for, and if we're not getting that kind of improvement, I'm going to address it. The whole thing I think is that players strive on getting feedback. Whether they are doing something very well or not doing something well they have to know that, as that is the only way they can improve. I believe the players know they are going to get constant feedback."
The players know they are being evaluated daily by the coaches on the field but Ianello believes watching film has a big impact on the players as they are usually their own biggest critics. "As you look at film, the players are their biggest critics so they look at and see the things they need to improve upon the most," he said. "Whether it be dropping a couple of balls here, do a better job of blocking here, got to get my pads down here, anything in that regard.that they can improve on.
"Technology has really changed the game now as you can really hone in on a guy and look at him critically and allow him to look at himself and study himself, and say, ‘okay, I have to get better at this.' Everybody has room for improvement. Every player has a level of expectation that we expect him to exceed, and we are just gong to keep pushing and get our guys to grow in order to do that regardless of whether you caught 77 passes or seven passes, it doesn't matter."