You have a variety of running backs, can you talk about them?"They are quite unique in their styles. Darius (Walker) is nifty, has great vision, and his stamina has continued to improve dramatically as well as some of the physical aspects of his game; like blitz pickup, he has good hands, and he's turning into a more complete player. Then what it allows you to do is to take someone like Travis (Thomas) who is a true pounder who likes contact. He's an offensive running back with a defensive mentality. Then you have James (Aldridge) who is kind of a cross between the two of them. It has been an interesting mix, and it will get more interesting when Munir (Prince) and Luke (Schmidt) is in here and you have two more guys who are totally different than those two guys. As an offensive play-caller, it's always kind of fun to see what toys you have to work with."
Did you say the first offense will go against the first defense?"Yes, the first offense is in blue; the first defense is in white."
Could you talk about Pete Duranko and will you be attending the banquet for him?"I'm going to try and be involved in all those things. Obviously, when you have guys that were involved in national championship teams that are as well respected as Pete, that come down with conditions, you know I'm sort of prejudiced towards people with special needs or special situations, having a daughter with special needs. A guy comes down with a condition like this, everyday is a struggle, and I think the fact that all the people around him will want to give him his just do – justifiably so. Several of the guys approached me, and we didn't blink an eye as we thought it would be a good idea, and the support that the alums and his old teammates have shown has been great and the outpouring has been great. The more the merrier for that thing that they're having after the game on that day. I have about a thousand things going on Saturday so I'll be running through a whole bunch of things, but my stops usually last for about five minutes. Everybody looks at me like I'm a ghost because I'm in and I'm out because of a lot of the different things I have going on, but I think there will be a lot of people that will stop by to be involved with Pete's deal on Saturday."
Looks like a lot of recruits will be in for the game. What is the message that you try to give about the program?"We have a whole bunch of them coming in but, obviously, we can't talk about the who's but I know we're at the stage now where we have two different tiers with these guys. One set of guys is coming here for the second or third time and are one step closer to deciding where they want to go, not that they're going to this weekend, but they're one step closer. My philosophy is that when players come in, it is always better when they can talk to people when it's not a canned response. Any school in the country can give you a canned recruiting presentation, but when players come in and they can talk to fans and they can talk to players and other people and get a feel for what the place is really like, often they get a feel for whether they want to be a part of the program or not. I'll spend some time with them, but it's more important for them to spend time with people away from me; than with me. I just don't want them to sit in with me the whole time and have me give them ‘win one for the Gipper' recruiting speech. I like for them to feel a comfort zone and to feel that special thing - those are the guys who will want to jump onboard. Our players are our greatest resource. We never tell them what to say. They'll call 99% of the time and say something good about the recruits, but every once in a while you'll get a call and they'll say, this is not our kind of guy. And that is just as valuable because some guy might be a great player who we really like, but when he's around the players, they can't stand him. It doesn't make any difference how good they are, if they don't fit; they don't fit. It's just not for everybody. I always believe our job is to represent Notre Dame; our job is not to sell Notre Dame. All you do is present what you stand for. We are pretty far along with a lot of these guys. This is no longer a fact-finding mission with the majority of them. There is a group of guys who are coming in on a fact-finding mission, either by them or by us. There are guys on both ends that that comes into play but there's a whole other group of guys that the evaluations have been done by us and by them, and they are trying to decide do I want to go here or do I want to go there."
Saturday is the final day to evaluate the spring progress. How would you evaluate it today?"Obviously, there are three different elements. My biggest areas of concerns; I would say I have answers for all of them. That doesn't mean all the answers I have are the ones I want to have. At this point, we can look at our board and say we have this problem solved and we don't have this problem solved and then be able to say, how are we going to be able to fix it. I think the worst mistake you can make is to be oblivious to problems that still exist. I think you have to say, we haven't resolved this, how are we going to do it. And that's an ongoing process. We met as a staff for multiple hours this morning on that very subject. A lot of things get settled and you're pretty happy with how things are going there, but you don't worry about that one as much and you never stop worrying because what is more glaring is how are we going to fix the problems."
Has (Jeff) Samardzija given you any tips for throwing out the first pitch on Friday?"The biggest tip I have is I think I will bring that twelve-year-old who has a similar name with me and put the pressure on him. This way I can't make a fool out of myself. If he throws one in the dirt, they can get on him instead of on me."
Do you see dual-sport athletes becoming more of a trend?"Back in the olden days, everybody played three sports, even the crummy guys like me; you played sports all year long. You played some in the fall, you played some in the winter; and you played some in the spring. And then in the summertime, you kind of played all three of them. I like guys that are athletic, but my only deal is when they're offered a scholarship, there are two stipulations I have for allowing them to play another sport. (A) They have to be good enough for me to allow them to miss time away from football. (B) They have to hold up their end of the bargain academically."
What responsibility do you feel for the ND players that may go in this year's NFL draft and what are you hearing from you NFL sources?"I have personally talked to 28 teams; either the head coach or general manager or their director of college scouting. The other four, I don't know why they didn't call; and that's okay. They like the way our guys have presented themselves since the season has been over. I'm sure Anthony (Fasano) and Mo (Stovall) will be gone the first day, which is first, second, third rounds. I can't tell you exactly what round; I have a pretty good guess and I tell their agents where I think they'll go, but they'll be gone the first day. Then you have a pack of guys, it's going to be what flavor ice cream do you like because do you like (Cory) Mays or do you like (Brandon) Hoyte or do you like (Dan) Stephenson or (Mark) LeVoir. It all depends upon what you're looking for because every team has its own personality. I think because they played on a winning team and have the mentality that the NFL guys are used to; I think it at least gives them a leg up."
Can you assess the improvement of the defensive backs this spring?"I've been please with two things, I've been pleased with the communication of the secondary and I've also been pleased with some of the guys and the depth in the secondary. Those two factors were fairly critical coming in. Also remember we have another five coming in here so now all of a sudden the situation is starting to shape up a lot better than it was at this time last year. So now you add all five of those guys out there; then you add the next four guys out there; and then the next four, meaning Leo (Ferrine) and (Terrail) Lambert and (David) Bruton and (Ray) Herring; all of a sudden those guys are giving you reasons to be optimistic where last year we only had four and now you have eight that you are starting to have some confidence in."
How would you characterize the overall defensive philosophy of Rick Minter?"First of all, analytically, you always look at it from the standpoint of a play-caller. You always look at defensive play-callers analytically. The one thing that he brings to the table is that he has an answer for most things that you could present. Now the problem is to make sure that the players can be thinking on the same level. I think Rick and the entire defensive staff has spent a great amount of time this spring getting the players to think on the same level, which is one of the reasons that I think there has been significant progress this year."