Irish Offense Not Yet Clicking

The media was granted viewing access to the entire practice on Saturday and head coach Charlie Weis gave us plenty to look at. This was no special teams practice. There was some real hitting going on.

Let me preface my comments by saying I was videoing the practice so a lot of my attention was focused on getting a good shot of the action. I wasn't able to watch a lot of individuals during the scrimmage part. I was able to watch a lot more during the individual part of practice.

I focused on the offensive side of the ball while Steve Wiltfong focused on the defensive side of the ball.

For the record, the No. 1 offense was as expected. Sam Young (LT), Dan Santucci (LG), John Sullivan (OC), Bob Morton (RG) and Brian Mattes (RT) manned the line. Both Marcus Freeman and John Carlson mixed and matched at tight end, and Darius Walker, Asaph Schwapp and Brady Quinn in the backfield. Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija were in at wide receiver.

The second team offense, for the most part as other players were inserted now and again, mainly consisted of Mike Turkovich (LT), Eric Olsen (LG), Dan Wenger (OC), Matt Carufel (RG) and Paul Duncan (RT).

Evan Sharpley was clearly the No. 2 quarterback and it appeared to me that he was quite a bit ahead of the two freshmen. Sharpley has a much better command of the offense, but he somewhat struggled throwing today. He missed an easy deep throw for a touchdown, which Weis calmly called him over to correct. It was just a poor throw where he overthrew his receiver. Weis wasn't so kind on Sharpley missing a pre-snap read off a soft corner playing eight yards of the line of scrimmage. But overall, he looked comfortable and in command.

Ashley McConnell and Munir Prince joined Sharpley in the backfield. Both Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman saw time at tight end. David Grimes was clearly the No. 3 receiver, and it appears George West looked like the No. 4, at least for this practice.

Freshman Zach Frazer took third team reps today at QB, and Jones took fourth team reps. Travis Thomas came over often to carry during the 11-on-11 series. Luke Schmidt also ran the ball with the third team.

Before I forget, I was impressed with what I saw from Travis Thomas at linebacker. He's definitely physical and definitely a guy who can cover a lot of ground. He seemed to have instincts and the willingness to learn. I can see why he's staying. He looked pretty good to me.

The practice began with individual work. I first went to watch the offensive linemen.

The O-line engaged in a one-on-one drill of leverage and technique. Just basically you try to push the guy opposite you backward.

The interesting part of it was line coach John Latina kept putting Sam Young against the biggest and the best to test him and he definitely impressed. He didn't win every battle, but he won a lot more than his share against players like Turkovich, Mattes and Duncan. I wish I could've seen he and Harris lock horns. It's clearly obvious Young is going to play and often. Latina spends a lot of personal time coaching him up. Young, for such a tall guy, does a good job of staying low and getting under the pad level of guys like Duncan and Turkovich—something that's usually not easy to do, especially for a freshman.

There was some real classic battles with Santucci and Morton going up on each other. Sullivan and Dan Wenger locked up more than once but it wasn't much of a battle as Sullivan was just too strong and too sound technically for the freshman. Wenger showed signs, but Sullivan clearly beat him.

I was also impressed with what I saw in Chris Stewart, Bartley Webb, Eric Olsen and Matt Carufel in this drill. All four show a real fire when getting after it, which is nice to see. Stewart got high a few times, but when he locks on, it's usually over with.

I then walked over to watch the receivers and I was really impressed with all of them. Coach Ianello does a great job of coaching them and constantly correcting the slightest flaws. I was impressed with the hands of most of the receivers today, although Parris dropped a couple, which I understand is a rare occasion.

I was really surprised how much Parris looks and acts just like Samardzija. It's like he's a clone of Samardzija. You can just tell he'll develop into a very good player and likely soon.

David Grimes looks to definitely be the third best receiver at this point. Grimes has excellent hands and runs very precise routes. He's very thin, however. He's thinner than all the freshmen from what I could tell.

I then watched the one-on-one with wide receivers versus defensive backs.

Jeff Samardzija is just such a smooth player. He makes everything look effortless. He's just such a natural receiver. He pretty much got the best of everyone in this drill he went up against.

McKnight beat a couple of guys including Richardson on out route which turned Mike around, but Richardson came back hard on the next series and played great coverage.

George West really impressed me with one route and turned fellow freshman Raeshon McNeil around. It was as sharp a route as you'll see a senior run. That kind of attention to detail will get him on the field soon.

Darrin Bragg also had a very nice route against David Bruton where he made Bruton miss and was off to the races.

Pretty much all the freshmen defensive backs struggled in this drill as to be expected, but some did show some nice coverage at times.

The Irish did work on kickoff coverage in both the full 11-man coverage teams and just individual drills where players were sent running full speed down the field as they were to sidestep a defender, engage and get off a block and then hit a ball carrier. What impressed me the most about this drill was it seemed almost every ND coach was involved at some part of it teaching the proper techniques. Weis definitely puts a lot of attention to this. Much more than the previous staff.

The team did two sessions of 11-on-11 and the offense struggled at times. Asaph Schwapp received high praise from Weis on a number of very hard runs. He runs like a man possessed and both Weis and running back coach Mike Haywood loved his effort today.

Freshman Munir Prince got an earful more than once from both Weis and Haywood. Once for running the wrong way, once for dropping a pass, and another for not hitting the hole inside and trying to bounce a play outside. However, he had a beautiful run to the outside later in the scrimmage that shows what Weis was talking about when he said "woooosh." He's got some jets. He'll need some time, but he should be a very good player.

The Irish did struggle running inside today. Seniors Derek Landri and Trevor Laws seemed to be plugging up the middle pretty well, and even Darius Walker couldn't find many running lanes.

I also noticed the ND defense getting a lot of pressure on all the quarterbacks today. There weren't many plays where the QB could step up in the pocket and deliver a strike. The defense also seemed to sniff out every screen pass the offense tried as well.

I'd say there is a big drop off between the No. 1 and the No. 2 offensive line. When the No. 2 offense went against the No. 1 defense for a few plays, the results weren't pretty, prompting Weis to get very angry at the offensive line.

Tight end Marcus Freeman also received a lot of high praise from Weis and Parmalee for some nice blocking—a very good sign.

McKnight and Samardzija caught some nice deep balls on the day. Samardzija got turned around by a Quinn pass and still brought it in over freshman Darrin Walls. McKnight got behind Terrail Lambert and it was off to the races.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with the offense at this point. I doubt Weis is either. But we know what this group can do. An O-linemen told me after spring practice that the defense almost always knows what's coming beforehand when they line up against each other, so it shouldn't come as a surprise the defense shines early in fall camp.

Still, I would've liked to seen the O-line win a few more individual battles in the run game. That will come with time though. I was pretty impressed with the Irish defense, however.

At the end of practice the Irish worked on field goal. It wasn't pretty as a number of easy kicks were off target. Weis said they had been kicking well up until today, but it wasn't pretty out there for field goals on this day. Both Bobby Renkes and Carl Gioia missed a number of what should be easy kicks.


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