"It's tough for me to analyze people without pads on except for their effort," Weis said. "You really don't know until they start hitting each other what it really looks like. Probably a week from now I'll have a little better answer to that question."
Saturday was the first day in full pads for the Irish. One constant has been the indoor setting. All three practices have been inside at the Loftus Center for Notre Dame instead of outside at Cartier Field. Weis has good reasoning to keep his bunch away from the elements.
"I say it would be counterproductive to get outside," Weis said. "First of all, the grass is dormant. That doesn't do me any good. That means you would be susceptible to some pulls when you're fast twitching. I don't necessarily need a fast track but just something to hit. I'm not looking for a sloppy field."
Spring practice is a time for the veterans on the football team to shore up their positions on the depth chart or for younger players to make a push for a starting spot. David Wolke and Evan Sharpley are battling for the backup quarterback position. Marcus Freeman and John Carlson are neck and neck to fill the void that Anthony Fasano left at tight end when he declared for the NFL Draft. Open holes exist at two linebacker spots and at right tackle on the offensive line. Weis has made it clear that this is the time for the guys on the field to make a mark because come June, a whole new bunch of talented freshmen will be vying for playing time.
"25 very good football players…think about it," Weis said about the incoming class that was rated nationwide as a top-10 haul. "You're adding another third to your team. All of a sudden now, all these competitions that are going on take a whole different perspective. You got five more offensive linemen coming in. You got two more tight ends coming in. You got two more running backs coming in.
"That's why you don't worry about it as much now because when everything falls into line, D.J. (Hord) comes back healthy and (Jeff) Samardzija is done with baseball, now all of a sudden you go from a skeleton crew to a team that's deep at a lot of positions."
Will Weis use the incoming freshman, set to arrive in the summer, as motivators during spring practice for those battling now for starting spots? Count on it.
"They hear it," Weis said. "I let them know this is their time because if you spit the bit, by the time they get here, I'm putting them in there. I will put them in there. Our competition will be better this year because we'll have more quality athletes competing for the same job."
Something new for Notre Dame this season is the arrival of three early enrollees. Running back James Aldridge, offensive lineman Chris Stewart and wide receiver George West have been enrolled since January and participating in spring practice. Aldridge adds depth to an already deep running back group, Stewart is one more body for a thin offensive line group and West will get a shot at contributing in Weis's pass-friendly offense.
"I think their eyes are wide open," Weis said about the three so far in spring practice. "I think they saying, ‘Whoa.' Every level these guys go to, it happens again. You should see rookies when they come into the NFL. The speed of the game, every time you go to the next level, increases that much. They're going through that type of transition now."
The big questions in spring practice rest with the defense. As mentioned above, the Irish must replace Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays at linebacker. More importantly, maybe, is improving on pass defense and preventing the big play. Notre Dame was ranked 103rd in the nation against the pass but all four starters return in the secondary. Weis also mentioned at Media Day that they're working on increasing the pass rush and getting to the opposing quarterback quicker. He's closely monitoring this side of the ball.
"I'm looking for improvement on the defensive line and in the secondary and watching the battles at linebacker," Weis said. "That doesn't mean everyone on the defensive line and the secondary is etched in stone but really everyone is back at those two positions who started last year. What you want to do is get them better and get their backups better. At linebacker, everyone is pretty green. You start thinking about who are you going to win with."