News and Notes: 3/23/2006

*Defensive coordinator Rick Minter has some lofty goals for his side of the ball in 2006. With nine returning starters, one would hope that there are signs of progress. But if Minter's goal becomes reality, it would be a drastic improvement from last season.

"We need to be in the top-20 in defensive categories," Minter said. "If you're in the top-20 in most categories, you're playing good ball. You're being relied upon and coming through when you need to come through."

A look at the 2005 defensive stats shows that this road to respectability would be a far journey. Notre Dame ranked 75th in total defense, allowing just under 400 yards of total offense. The Irish were solid against the run, surrendering 134 yards on ground, which was good for 34th in the country. Notre Dame must replace two run-stuffing linebackers in Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays to keep pace with this mark. The big problem: pass defense. Notre Dame was 103rd out of 117. Minter knows there is a lot of room for improvement.

"Looking back, we played solid," Minter said of last year's defense. "I don't think we played great by any stretch of the imagination. We gave up way too many big plays for the year, which was our Achilles Heal. But we did solid on the run and solid on the red zone and solid taking the ball away. But there are so many things we need to get better at.

"It's not a start over component like it was last year. Our experience and continuity factor are going to be plusses for us in our coaching staff and returning players."

*Brady Quinn is sure to be on just about everybody's pre-season list for the Heisman Trophy Award. The quarterback's phenomenal junior year saw him throw for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns. Add Quinn's numbers to national TV coverage every single week and the tradition of Notre Dame football and he's sure to be in the discussion. Weis was asked at Media Day if Quinn could handle the lofty expectations.

"Here's my feeling," Weis said. "If he wins the Heisman Trophy, that probably means we win the national championship. So sign me up."

That's not necessarily true. Of the last 20 Heisman Trophy winners, only four have added the national championship a month later. Those four players were Charlie Ward of Florida State in 1993, Danny Wuerffel of Florida in 1996, Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997 and Matt Leinart of USC in 2004. It might be a better barometer of getting to the title game. Ten of the past 20 winners have played for the national championship.

*There are a lot of strengths of the offensive side of the ball for Notre Dame. Maybe the deepest position on the team is running back. Not only do you have two proven backs with different running styles, early enrollee James Aldridge adds another dimension to the Irish ground attack.

"I think it does wonders for the program," Darius Walker said of the crowded field at his position. "Competition thrives in any player. If you don't like competition, then you can't be too human in my book. That is definitely something I love. I get to get out there and play with the pressure on and everything. This is Notre Dame. This is where great players come to play."

Walker had a phenomenal sophomore season. He ran for 1,196 yards in 2005, which included seven 100-yard rushing performances. Walker saved his best towards the end of the season when he ran for a career-high 186 yards and a touchdown to prevent an upset bid from Stanford. He also scored three times in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, who had the best rushing defense in the nation. Travis Thomas provided the power aspect to the running game, scoring five touchdowns last season and is a perfect compliment to Walker's patient style. Now, Aldridge is in the mix. Weis was grinning on Media Day thinking about the depth and possibilities he could utilize with running backs.

"It should be interesting," Weis said. "First of all, I don't have to wear Darius out because he was playing his best ball at the end of the year. Darius has been a solid reliable starter for years. I mean, Travis has proven to be dependable and I am really anxious to get a good look at James. Justin's (Hoskins) banged up anyway; gives James a lot more of an opportunity to get into the mix faster. The three different body types, it intrigues me some. I am really interested to see how it all plays out."

Walker has tried not to give the early enrollee a hard time while he adjusts to college life.

"Being young, there is always an adaptation period, a period where you have to grow up and notice things a little more," Walker said of Aldridge. "I think he'll be very good in the long run." Top Stories