Irish Media Day

Irish coaches and players met with the media on Sunday for Media day. Optimism seemed to be the theme as the Irish get set to kickoff fall camp with their first practice of the season on Monday.

Senior Linebacker/Running Back Travis Thomas

How did you feel when Coach talked to you about becoming a linebacker?

"I was kind of surprised but at the same time, it was sort of expected. The coaching staff and players felt that with the absence of players last year, there would be a need to fill some spots. It was brought to my attention in the spring that I could possibly play there, and I was really excited and I'm excited now. Coach felt that I needed to get on the field more. So I accepted the role and I am just excited to start."

How was your summer training different this year than in the past?

"Kind of like going back to high school as I played both sides, so it was just getting the kinks loose and doing a lot of studying; picking up on the defensive side of the game as it is a lot different perspective than the offensive side. It's a learning process and things are going well and I'm just looking forward to the future."

What kind of studying did you do?

"I studied plays, films, and all things connected with the defense. This included game tapes, practice tapes, and looking at techniques and X's and O's."

How do you feel about playing both ways?

"I'm definitely excited about it. Running back is my heart but I don't have a problem playing on the other side of the ball. I feel real comfortable doing that. The more I can do to help this team, the more I'm willing to do it."

Senior Defensive Back Tom Zbikowski

How ready are you for that first day of practice?

"Just anxious to get out there and begin practice, focusing on techniques and not worrying about Georgia Tech. Today we get checked in, meet with the media, and everything, and get our pictures done. Then we get down to work, and once you get down to work, it's all fundamentals and you take it from there. Once you're in camp, it's a long way to that first game and you just have to stay focused and go into each practice and work on fundamentals and things."

How would you describe the players' workouts this summer? Were they pretty intense?

"We'd always get together and do 7-on-7 twice a week. And we would do our individual drills beforehand. They were good workouts and getting the freshmen in early is probably one of the biggest things; just getting them used to everything before summer camp. So they can get a little taste of what college football is all about."

How different does it feel coming in this year after the season you guys had last year?

"I think being comfortable with our staff. We didn't really know what to expect coming into training camp last year; what Coach Weis would be like and the atmosphere of the camp. Now we know what to expect and what he is looking for and know what he is looking for us to accomplish through each day of practice and throughout the whole camp. Last year we knew there were a lot of guys that were going to be good, but it wasn't the entire team. But after the season we had, there are a lot of believers now."

How do you handle all the hype surrounding this team?

"Don't read any of the papers or magazines. People had us going 0-6 last year and we didn't believe that. And we obviously used that for a little fuel to get some excitement around here. You can't really buy into the hype because that's all it is, hype."

Junior Running Back Darius Walker

What do you think of all the hype about the team and how do you handle this?

"If you don't have the hype, that means you are not doing very well and people aren't paying attention to the team. So the hype is something that we definitely embrace and understand, and is something that is going to come."

What do you think about Travis Thomas moving to linebacker and will you miss him in the backfield?

"A big difference for me is not having Travis around. I'm used to having him in meetings and on the field and on the sidelines and things like that. Travis is one of our leaders, one of our captains, and I definitely think this change is going to be an adjustment for him. But if anybody can handle this change, it's him."

Notre Dame is really back in a positive light in the public eye. What do you think of this?

"It's enjoyable. I think we have to soak it up. The hype in the magazines, papers, on television, it's enjoyable, but at the same time, with all this hype comes expectations. And we need to focus on the task at hand and be ready to do what everybody else expects us to do."

Offensive Line Coach John Latina

Filling the tackle position will no doubt be a priority. How will you go about this?

"We're going to mix and match it and give a few guys a chance at that position and see how it goes. In fall camp, you really have time, not to experiment, but look at those guys who you think will have a chance; to put them in that position to see how they do."

Will the freshmen be tried at more than one position in camp?

"We like to keep the freshmen in one position to learn the basic fundamentals and the philosophy of our offense. Once they get acclimated and handle that, then if you feel you can move them around, you do that. Initially all those young guys we will keep at one position."

What plans do you have for Mike Turkovich in camp?

"I suspect we will play him at both guard and tackle in fall camp; especially early to see where he is the best fit."

There is a big change in the players between freshman and sophomore years. Does that hold true with this group?

"I'm a big fan of our strength and conditioning coach. I've been with him for ten years. He is as good as there is and he has done a great job with our whole football team. And I think our young linemen have really improved a great deal with him."

What does Coach Ruben say about these young guys?

"He thinks they are really a good group. They are really a focused group and want to improve. They are a hard-working group and I'm anxious to get my hands on them."

How important is it to have all these experienced offensive linemen knowing that you will have to replace them next year?

"I think we have a good mix. We have a good group of veteran guys and even though they were veterans last year, they are veterans in our system and I think that is the biggest difference from last year to this year. Then we have a good mix of young guys who are eager to learn and who are talented kids and highly recruited kids and they don't have to be thrown into the fire right off the bat; they can learn from some good players and I think this is a good mix to have on your team."

Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Mike Haywood

Do you expect some of the young guys to come in and contribute right away, especially guys like James Aldridge?

"We'll see once he gets out there. We are looking for a lot of these young guys to step up and provide an opportunity to play early; maybe as a wide receiver, maybe a running back, tight end, offensive line. We are looking for these guys to play early and step up and contribute."

Do you think Aldridge will be ready for the Georgia Tech game?

"We expect him to make a contribution, but we're not sure when. We are going to give him every opportunity but it is going to take a little time because he needs to develop and mature a little bit more."

As far as his knee goes, is he pretty close to playing?

"He's not in playing shape yet. Until Coach Weis tells me he is back, we will continue to get him ready to play. But he won't play until Coach Weis and Jim Russ says he is ready."

What do you like about Aldridge? Do you think it was beneficial for him to enroll early?

"You like a lot of things about a lot of players; more importantly, I think James and younger kids that are here in camp learn from the older guys. They learn how to practice and they learn how to compete. And they learn that the tempo of the game is significantly faster than what they are used to. I think it is a benefit to all the guys who come in early."

How will you approach your second season at Notre Dame?

"Very aggressive from an offensive point of view because we realize the strength of the majority of the players we have so we are going to be extremely aggressive as we go in. The guys are able to handle a lot more this year than they were last year at this time. I will coach as aggressive as I can and make sure that the message is clear and concise because there are a lot of young players who are going to have an opportunity to play and making sure instructions are straight and direct to the point."


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