Irish Hold Spirited Morning Practice

Charlie Weis said he was pleased with the speed and depth of the defense following practice on Saturday. The media had a chance to see what the second-year head coach was talking about this morning as Weis opened practice up to outsiders.

When drills went offense vs. defense, it was evident that some guys were interchangeable without much drop off. Senior Chris Frome and junior Ronald Talley appear even at right defensive end. Frome showed good footwork and used his hands well in setting up the pass rush and making a strong move towards the quarterback. He was mostly setting up freshman tackle Sam Young, who was working with the first team and held his own on a few occasions.

The coaches had freshman Darrin Walls take a lot of first team reps. He isn't shy about making contact at the line of scrimmage and pushing the receiver in the proper direction. He is very fast and has coverage skills. However, there were a couple times where Walls was in on the play to make a pass breakup, but the receiver came down with the ball. Jeff Samardzija made the rookie look bad once on a deep ball, but number 83 is going to do that to a lot of people.

Junior Anthony Vernaglia got some work with the first team replacing senior Mitchell Thomas. Like Frome and Talley at end, there are two solid options at strong-side linebacker. Vernaglia looked good in seven-on-seven drills covering halfbacks, fullbacks and tight ends. Thomas looks like a big boy and has good side-to-side motion.

Toryn Smith had the hit of the day, a blow-up that will probably be mentioned throughout the season on special teams. I didn't see who was on the receiving end, but on kickoff coverage Smith had a snot-bubble type hit that jacked the whole team up. The freshman also saw some time at middle linebacker with the first team. He obviously isn't going to take Crum's spot, but if he proves he can play at a high level there, Crum would see some time at strong-side linebacker. I didn't see enough plays to determine if Smith was a huge drop off, but just the fact he is getting a chance to play there in fall camp is a sign that Weis thinks he is a player.

The second-string linebackers looked to be Toryan Smith at middle linebacker, Vernaglia at strong side and Steve Quinn at weakside. Borseti recovered a fumble in a goal-line situation.

Chinedum Ndukwe looked really good when the defense worked on goal line situations. Ndukwe twice found the hole and made a play on the running back behind the line of scrimmage.

Freshman defensive end John Ryan ran with the second string. He looked smooth in the pass rush. I'm not sure how well he plays the run.

Junior defensive end Justin Brown was in the dog-house most of the morning, but he rallied in late drills to put good pressure on the quarterback. The pass rush appears to be so much better than last year. Guys are stronger, seem quicker and just have more moves to get around offensive linemen. Victor Abiamiri could have a chance to break the single-season sack record at Notre Dame.

The speed Travis Thomas brings to the defense is evident. He made one play where he slammed into Asaph Schwapp on a short pass holding him to a minimal gain. Schwapp doesn't normally get hit like that. He more or less finally gets tackled.

The defensive back position is as deep as I can remember. Not only can the ones and twos play, but third-string freshmen Sergio Brown and Raeshon McNeil would be on most team's two deep.

Other Tidbits Ambrose Wooden and Rhema McKnight got into it verbally during one-on-one coverage drills. On an out pattern, Wooden and McKnight converged on the ball at the same time and the pass fell incomplete.

McKnight complained Wooden held his arms as the ball was in the air. Wooden said the ball was already there. No call from the coaches.

Junior Jabbie got some work as a kickoff returner.

Ryan Burkhart booted one kick about 10 yards deep in the end zone.

Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver couldn't stress enough to his guys that you run to the football on every play. He also reminded Kallen Wade that football is a contact sport, this isn't high school anymore.

Weis singled out defensive tackle Travis Leitko on a run-stopping play. Trevor Laws and Derek Landri will be able to come off the field more this season with Leitko and Pat Kuntz backing them up.

Mike Richardson picked off a Brady Quinn pass for the only interception of the day. The ball was tipped causing the interception, to which Weis then got on Latina to get on the O-line for letting a defensive linemen get his hands up in the air.

On one play during seven-on-seven, the defense was using seven defensive backs. Last year, only five really saw game action. That made Weis "smile."

Tom Zbikowski comedy act

Receivers coach Rob Ianello critiqued freshman wide-out Barry Gallup by saying, "That looked like me coming out of that route." Zbikowski from the sideline shouted, "Not quite!" On a goal-line play-action play, Zbikowski took away Quinn's option to hit John Carlson in the end zone. "Sorry Johnny boy," he said in the middle of the play. Quinn completed the touchdown pass to the other side, which Carlson then made Zibby well aware of.

Jeff Samardzija hauled in pass on an out route, and Zbikowski came in and hit him saying, "You're not going anywhere." Samardzija came back, "I just caught a 15-yard route."

Not to be outdone

On one of the few plays Travis Thomas saw as a running back, he was hit pretty hard after a short gain. Weis shouted, "See all these traitors Travis. Now they are trying to throw you to the ground."


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