"At the end, I put the ball at the 24-yard line in the middle of the field and said, ‘Come back out here, Gioia.'" head coach Charlie Weis said. "We all know he struggled in the spring game. The deal was: he makes it, we don't run. If he missed, we're running eight 80's. So he goes to the line of scrimmage. I called timeout to freeze my own kicker. My own team was mad at me but then he drilled one right down the middle."
The make was a positive sign for Gioia, who struggled in the Blue-Gold game with two misses from 34 yards and in. The senior is in a battle with freshman Ryan Burkhart as to who will assume the kicking duties. Weis said Tuesday after practice that Gioia has the ability to make kicks from 50 yards and in. It's the confidence and consistency that's missing.
"I think you have to practice them," Weis said of pressure situations. "I don't think you can just talk about them. You have to try to create as best you can without 82,000 people in the stands. You have to create those situations and be innovative. Let's face it: it's not the same. But it's one of those ways that we've done it over the years."
This conversation brought up the topic of end-of-the-game situations. Last year, Notre Dame struggled in their two nailbiters to put the competition away. Michigan State won in overtime while USC scored with seconds left to end the Irish's upset hopes. According to Weis, now is the time to practice these scenarios.
"The entire year, it might happen once," Weis said of a particular end-of-the-game situation. "It might be game nine but you're not going to practice it come the weekly game schedule. In a 20-hour work week, there's not enough times to practice those things. You have to lay the foundation for those types of situations now in training camp."
The second practice featured the media gathering around freshman running back Munir Prince. Weis was so blown away by his speed on Monday that he singled Prince out. When the press went over to look at him in individual drills, Weis barked that his freshman was now a "cult hero."
"Once they start feeling good about themselves, you tear them down," Weis said. "And then build them up and then tear them down. You want them to be able to let your ribbing go in one ear and out the other. Because once you know you can't get to them anymore, then that's when you know you got something."
Tuesday was also Travis Thomas's second day at linebacker. The senior has occupied the weak side spot in order for him to get on the field and run free to make plays. There will be mistakes in the learning process for sure. But Thomas has a unique tool that'll help him quickly cure miscues.
"The one good thing about him, even when he makes a mistake, he has recovery speed," Weis said. "You know the time when a guy is one step out of whack and then they turn to run and they don't have the wheels to do so?
"One of the best plays a defensive guy made on a play that I called was made by a safety named Troy Polamalu. He was across the line of scrimmage on the first play of the game in the AFC Championship game. I tried to run a reverse to take away their aggressiveness. The guy is across the line of scrimmage, Deion Branch turns to get the ball and Troy runs the guy down after a 17-yard gain. That's the best defensive 17-yard play you'd ever seen because we had it set up for a touchdown.
"You can't do that without recovery speed. You can't make the play. The difference between him and someone else is a touchdown and a 17-yard gain. It's only two days in and I haven't watched the tape from today. So I'm hoping by Sunday, I can settle in and feel where we are at that time."
With Thomas at the WILL spot, Maurice Crum, Jr. has moved to the middle backer position. The junior spent last season at the Apache spot, re-named SAM by Weis because of political correctness. The open hole has allowed senior Mitchell Thomas to run with the first-team defense the past two practices while junior Anthony Vernaglia pushes him for the starting spot.
"When I told you I was moving Maurice inside, I think you need someone who can quarterback your defense," Weis said. "If in fact, one of the guys behind Maurice shows that they can do that, it allows us to move him to that position (SAM). Like last year with Corey (Mays), we knew we had someone who could quarterback the defense. Corey Mays was a good, solid player. With Maurice inside, you need someone at SAM who is both athletic and physical. In Mitchell's case and Anthony's case, they're both. We'll have to see how it turns out."
A downside of Tuesday was the knowledge that Derrell Hand has a problem with his foot. The sophomore defensive tackle will get it checked out on Thursday. If there is something wrong with the foot, Weis said a procedure might be required that could sideline Hand for four weeks.