News and Notes: 4/20/2006

*There are a few key position battles on the Notre Dame football team in spring practice. The only weakness on offense would appear to be the hole at right tackle left by the graduating Mark LeVoir. The contenders in spring ball are Brian Mattes, Paul Duncan and Michael Turkovich.

The clubhouse leader might be Duncan. Head coach Charlie Weis has referenced the sophomore tackle a few times but also stated it's far from being set in concrete. Duncan, who hails from Dallas, Georgia, saw action in five games for a combined 23 minutes of playing time in mop-up duty as a freshman. With the slim numbers on the offensive line, he's been getting his chance to show his worth.

"It's been going well," Duncan said of spring ball. "I've been getting a lot of reps. I've been going up against Victor (Abiamiri). That's definitely been making me better. It's a plus and positive for me."

Despite the intense competition at the right tackle spot, Duncan said the battles between the players are left on the field.

"You have to keep the actual football practice on the field," Duncan said. "It's a little much to take it off the field with you. We're a good group of guys. We hang out and go to dinner. But when it comes to football, you play and do what you have to do."

Duncan better keep his focus after spring ball. Come June, five more offensive linemen hit the campus to compete for the starting job. Weis has often said that he won't hesitate to play the best player regardless of age or experience. Duncan wants to gain 10 pounds onto his 6'7", 270-pound frame in the summer. He doesn't think this will be a problem with strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza leading the charge. The goal: keep improving.

"I have to keep where I have gotten," Duncan said. "I can't take a step backward. I have to go forward. I have to work the drills and work hard in the weight room."

*Imagine these scenarios: quarterback Brady Quinn throws a quick hitter to wide receiver Jeff Samardzija behind the line of scrimmage and then Samardzija flings the ball downfield to a streaking George West for a long touchdown. Or Travis Thomas takes a pitch and runs to the right, stops and throws a pass back across the field to tight end Marcus Freeman.

These situations could occur on Saturday at the Blue-Gold game. Head coach Charlie Weis said that each team will be required to run at least one trick play per half or face the prospect of a penalty. He would like for the guest coaches, who are Jerome Bettis and Mike Golic for the Blue team and Bob Golic and Raghib Ismail on the Gold team, to call the plays.

"I don't want them whining that they didn't have any input into the game," Weis said. "We'll make sure that allows to happen."

The players might be just as surprised as the fans when the trick play is called.

"I don't know how that's going to work," running back Darius Walker said. "You never know with Coach Weis. That's one of the things I love about him. He can pull some things out of his hat. Hopefully, we'll be able to keep the defense off balance and throw in a nice little trick play."

*Weis will be quite the busy man this weekend. His schedule is full of events and functions that requires the presence of the face of Notre Dame football. One thing Weis will be at is Friday's Irish baseball game. Notre Dame battles Rutgers at Frank Eck Stadium at 6:05 p.m. Weis is expected to throw out the first pitch but said on Wednesday that he might leave that task up to his son, Charlie, Jr., to save himself the embarrassment.

"I think I'll bring that 12-year old with the same name and put the pressure on him," Weis said. "This way, I can't make a fool of myself. If he throws one in the dirt, they can get on him instead of me."

*The thin numbers on the offensive line almost caused Weis to rename the spring contest the Blue-Gold-Green game. With only nine offensive linemen participating on Saturday, the head coach issued the group green jerseys and is making them play for both teams. The running clock will help the exhaustion issue but these players are in for a long, tiring day. Walker, who ran for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns behind the line last season, knows they can handle the problem.

"It's interesting that those guys have to be in there and go the longer time," Walker said. "There aren't as many linemen here. But those guys are encouraged and up for the challenge. There is so much experience on the offensive line and they have physical dominance. They're up for the challenge."


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