One of these players is Mitchell Thomas. Primarily a special teams player the last two years after sitting out his freshman season, Thomas is thinking it's his time to shine and make an impression. A few weeks back at the open practice for the media, he was running as the number one middle linebacker on defense. Thomas said on Wednesday that's still the case.
"It's coming good," Thomas said of spring ball. "Everyone is competing. It gets competitive but it doesn't get to the point where we're not talking to each other off the field. It's just the best man wins."
With a healthy Crum and a few incoming freshmen arriving in the fall, the two open spots are still up for debate. For Thomas, it's been mostly a sideline experience so far at Notre Dame. He has made a total of three tackles in three years with the Irish. This doesn't get him down. Thomas points to the career of Mays, who finally blossomed in his fifth-year at Notre Dame, as inspiration to claim a starting spot.
"It was real frustrating," Thomas said about not playing. "I was just watching Mays. He didn't get his chance until his fifth-year. I'm in the same position and learning from what he went through. He worked all those years. He was good enough. But it didn't work out. He kept working real hard. He gave me that initiative to never give up and fight back. Look what happened to him last year."
Thomas said he still was going to be on special teams. Last year, he made 84 special teams appearances. Thomas isn't looking to just be on this unit. He wants to get into the action. It'll be a change from years past but one he's willing to welcome.
"It's much different," Thomas said about the chance of increased playing time. "I learned from B Hoyte and Mays. They taught me a lot watching them on the field and off the field in what they did to prepare themselves. I learned from them. My time will come. I'm just waiting."
*Much has been made about the relationship between head coach Charlie Weis and quarterback Brady Quinn. Weis is directly linked to making New England Patriots signal caller Tom Brady one of the best in the NFL. This type of teaching and knowledge rubbed off on Quinn last season as he threw for 32 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in their first year together. Yesterday, Weis said Quinn makes it interesting every day.
"I like the challenge of having Brady," Weis said. "If I slip up, he knows it. I can't hide if I make a mistake with him because if I call a play a little wrong, he'll say, "You mean this?" He loves it and is like gotcha. I make some mistakes, too. I'm not error free. I like this type of challenge personally."
Quinn said the feeling was mutual.
"I'm not sure exactly how to take it," Quinn said about Weis's comments. "I don't know if I'm doing things right or wrong. He challenges me in a lot of different ways, more mentally than physically. He challenges me when we talk about certain things on the field or game situations. There are some physical things, like my footwork and throwing mechanics."
And how often does the Heisman Trophy candidate correct Weis?
"If I feel pretty passionate about it, I'll say something to him," Quinn said. "But more than likely, I keep my mouth shut and I'll say something to him when we're watching film."
*Darius Walker is the man when it comes the carrying to ball. Even with Travis Thomas and early enrollee James Aldridge breathing down his neck, it would take a big-time showing by either of these two to unseat Walker, who ran for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005.
This doesn't mean that the others won't get carries. Thomas carried the ball 63 times last season for 248 yards and five touchdowns. In the USC game, he split carries with Walker. For Aldridge, Weis has raved about the combination of power and speed the freshman possesses. It results in the running back position being stocked deep with talent. Walker knows there won't be a drop off when he's out of the game catching his breath.
"As a running back, you would probably want all the carries," Walker said. "But at the same time, you have to understand that football is one of those games where you play 60 minutes. You're getting pounded and at the running back position you're getting hit every play. There isn't a play where you don't get hit. There will be times when you're tired or need a break. That's what I like about Travis and James coming in. When there is a change, you know the person coming in is going to do well. There isn't going to be a letdown."