Races Not Over

The race to replace kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick is one of the few areas where questions abound for Notre Dame. Freshman Ryan Burkhart has the leg while senior Carl Gioia has the seniority. The problem is that between the two, only one kick has been attempted in a collegiate game. But some might be surprised as to who is throwing their name in the hat for the starting spot.

"In terms of the kicking situation, everybody is talking about is it Gioia or is it Burkhart," special teams coach Brian Polian. "The name people are forgetting is Bobby Renkes. He's in the program as a walk-on player and Bobby has done a nice job to make this decision even more difficult. To be honest with you, we're not prepared to make a decision quite yet. We're more than 14 days away from the game and we got time. I would hope in 7-10 days we have an idea of what we want to do but right now we don't."

A little background on Renkes: he's a senior walk-on from Dallas, TX. As a sophomore under Tyrone Willingham, he kicked the ball off 23 times with four touchbacks. Some have speculated that there could be one place kicker and another kickoff specialist. Right now, the positions are still being sorted out.

"It's possible," Polian said about using two guys for the two jobs. "There are different scenarios. It all depends on who wins the job. Both Renkes, Gioia and Burkhart have been kicking off and all have had reps with the first team. Renkes, Gioia and Burkhart have all hit field goals with the first unit. You could have any combination with the first unit."

Other topics Polian hit on:

*Monday night's scrimmage: "Again, Geoff Price had a great scrimmage. I think he solidified himself. In terms of our return game, Zibby (Tommy Zbikowski), David Grimes and George West all did a nice job as punt returners. At the kickoff return position, I think we have ourselves about five or six candidates. David Grimes, George West, Darrin Walls, Barry Gallup and Munir Prince are some names that we can work with."

*On how freshmen on kick returns can gain confidence of the staff: "Catch the ball first. Communicating with each other back there. And then run north and south. We're looking for guys that'll hit it north and south and not east and west. They recognize it's been an open casting call. The punt returners are back there getting work but they know Zibby is going to get his opportunities. On kickoff returns, they're back there saying, ‘Hey, the best guy is going to win this job.' It's been a pretty good competition in camp."

*On who can be the next Travis Thomas on special teams: "I think a guy like Ray Herring has presented himself. A guy like David Bruton, who played a lot of special teams last year. David is doing a good job. Terrail Lambert is doing an excellent job on the perimeter of special teams. Some newer guys are Kyle McCarthy, who redshirted last year but is doing a nice job. And I'll give you a name that gets forgotten is Casey Cullen. Casey doesn't play a lot on defense but he's on all four of our teams right now. When we got here, he's a great example because he was on all our look teams the first summer here. He just kept showing up and showing up and we said we have to give this guy a chance on the varsity units. He's become a mainstay and a real leader."

*On what went wrong last year in kickoff returns: "When we didn't come out of the box last year in terms of kickoff returns, I began to tinker. Let's change one thing here and one change there and try to get a better matchup here. It felt like no one ever got comfortable because their jobs were changing from week to week. And schematically, to change one thing one week and another the next doesn't seem like a big deal but you do that six weeks in a row and you tend to forget where it all began. The thought process this year is put guys in one place, give them a chance to be successful and schematically let's simplify so we give our guys the best chance to succeed."

*On cutting down the special teams reps from last year but making them all full speed: "It's just being conscious of working more efficiently and being creative in the way that we work. How can we work on kickoff coverage by not running down the field 12 times in six minutes? Because at some point, you're getting diminished returns. I think it's too much to ask for two units to go full speed in that period of time. We tried to get creative. How can we get creative? How can we work a skill in a refined space in a tight period of time and then go back and say, ‘OK men, we're taking six reps, three with the one's and three with the two's.' It works on both ends. The players can work on technique without worrying about getting gassed. And then when you tell them that you want three but three at full speed, then you get it. It's a way to take care of the players but at the same time be smart and efficient with the time we have."

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