NCAA athletes are not allowed to endorse any product or service. It wasn't even a commercial or a promo but a spot within the television show to watch "Sports Dogs," a program on the CBS South Bend-affiliate WSBT. Still, any news that has the words "eligibility" and "Tom Zbikowski" caused Notre Dame fans hearts to skip a beat. Head coach Charlie Weis addressed the situation after practice on Saturday.
"I called Zibby in to find out what it was all about," Weis said. "I was unaware of it. I guess there's something that runs in the content of the show, which is different than a promo for a show. Because usually a promo for a show is something that brings attention to a show. From what I understand, this was run during the show. It's a totally different viewpoint.
"What I do is to get a hold of (Mike) Karowski (Notre Dame's NCAA Compliance Officer) and put it in the hands of the people I know so I don't act like the compliance officer. I just talked to Zibby, handed him a piece of paper and told him basically that this is what they want you to say and go ahead and say it. The next thing you know, you got an issue that you have handled. Instead of me being the compliance officer, I just try to make sure to talk to all parties to make sure I'm well informed and let them deal with it from there."
Weis said on Saturday that he fully expects this situation to be handled quickly. USC's and current Arizona Cardinal Matt Leinart had a problem similar to this last season when ESPN had him promo an upcoming SportsCenter. The Trojans reacted quickly and Leinart's issue was taken care of in time for him the play in the Rose Bowl. To be on the safe side, Weis talked to his players last night about future occurrences of this problem so they are prepared to handle it.
"What I don't what to do is tell them not to talk to the media because that's the easiest thing to do," Weis said. "Now you have to talk about red flags that maybe even though this type of thing looks innocent in what you're doing, it could be a tipoff that turns into negativity. I think it's important to address things that are potential issues. You never should wait, even if it's minor or major. It's something that you should address with the team right away. The next time it comes along, they understand the possible ramifications that come along with it."
There was some other news out of Irish camp. Ryan Harris has been viewed the past two practices participating in individual drills. For the first week and a half, the senior offensive tackle was mostly relegated to riding an exercise bike. Weis likes the timetable they have Harris on.
"We ran ten 80-yard gassers at the end and he ran all ten of them," Weis said of Harris. "More than anything else, I'm concerned about his conditioning and the fact that he could finish all ten was encouraging. We've followed proper protocol. I think Thursday he started to hit bags and get into a three point stance. But I'll be very slow with him hitting people because knowing guys, first time out he's going to want to maul people. I wanted to ease into it. I'm gearing for September 2nd."
Another player who has been taking it slow is James Aldridge. The freshman running back from Crown Point, IN has been nursing knee problems since the day he step foot on campus back in January. Aldridge did not play in the Blue-Gold game, more for precaution reasons. But with Travis Thomas moving over the linebacker, it opens up some carries behind starter Darius Walker.
"He's not ready yet," Weis said of Aldridge. "He's been running great. But he's been running straight great. For a running back, you need to run lateral. I'm concerned with the plant and pressure of the cuts. I'm always going to error on the side of caution."
The secondary is on everybody's mind. Last year, it did not meet expectations. Now, with so much depth returning and incoming freshmen only swelling the numbers, Weis and the defensive coaches now have more confidence in a lot more players to put out on the field.
"I would say double digits," Weis said of the number of defensive backs he has confidence in. "I'd say about ten. Last year, I could say four or five. I'll throw you an example: Terrail Lambert. Now he didn't see the field much last year but he's had a great camp. I have a lot of confidence in him and I've told him a number of times. Now you're not afraid to play him. When we're going out to play the first game, in addition to having multiple packages and you have to beat the heat, you can't do that without using you're depth."
The opener is two weeks away. Georgia Tech's campus is in Atlanta, nicknamed Hot-lanta by some. The heat and humidity should play a part in the game. By all accounts, strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza has this team in peak physical condition. The South Bend heat is not the same at the Atlanta heat. This dilemma has caused Weis to tinker with the thermostat in the Loftus Center.
"We cranked it up once and it was miserable, which was perfect," Weis said. "I was the only one who knew it. They go into the Loftus. It's not like Club Med in there with the doors open and the fans blowing. The fans are blowing but it's a different type of temperature. I did it at night time when it was hot in there. It was about 90 and humid. It turned to the guys from Georgia, which we have a few of and said, ‘Look familiar.' I was trying to send a message to them. This is what it was going to be like. I have a venue to do that. It may not be outside but I can create that environment inside."