Tuesday Transcript

As the team prepares for Saturday's game against the Michigan Wolverines, Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs Coach Mike Haywood and some Irish players took some time to talk to the media following Tuesday's practice.

After watching tapes of Michigan, what do you expect from their defense?

"One of the things I talked to you guys about last week was getting better between games, the first and second games, and that is where we are at this stage right now. We're working on getting better between the second and third game because there are some fundamentals and techniques we need to clean up. And each individual player has certain things we talk to him about that they need to get better at for this upcoming game."

What is your impression of the Michigan front seven?

"Everything's about us. We went into last week's game and we talked about it being about us and the things we had to do to get better. As we proceed into game three, it's about us. It's the things that we have to do to get better; techniques and fundamentals; making sure that we have the appropriate reads; making sure we have the right reads at tailback and quarterback; making sure that we know who we are supposed to block and where they are. We're concentrating on getting better each and every day, just like we did last week."

What are the fundamentals that a back needs to have good ball security; not turning it over; not putting it on the ground?

"When a back carries it high and tight with five pressure points and understands when he's in traffic to roll his shoulders over top, and his off hand over the top to protect the ball, and hit on the rise like he's coming through a gauntlet; if he does that, he'll do a good job of protecting the football. Ball security is a number one issue. You can't score without the ball."

Is that a simple technique to teach or is it complicated?

"It's a little more complicated depending on who the person is carrying the ball. Some people have poor technique in which they want to change the ball at the line of scrimmage. We work on correcting that day-by-day. Sometimes you have to tell them to carry it in just the one arm until they get into the open field. It's a technique and a fundamental issue."

Is it more difficult for a shorter back than a taller back to learn this technique?

"The guy that's shorter I wouldn't necessarily say so. I would say a guy that has a little more flexibility would be better able to adjust and roll the shoulder over the top and understand when I'm in traffic there are times in which you have to go down. There are other times when you can fight and keep struggling to get away, but when there are two or three people on you, you need to protect the ball and just go down."

Darius (Walker) seems to get stronger as the game goes on. How do you explain that?

"Once again, I think it's Ruben (Mendoza) and his strength staff. I think they do a tremendous job in conditioning the players. And I think the weight program they have installed here is outstanding. And he's gotten better from day one to the present time. And he is only going to get better."

What makes the short pass play to Darius coming out of the backfield so successful?

"You take advantage of the things they are giving you. If you have two end cuts and the linebackers are dropping underneath the end cuts and the safety is breaking down on it, then the check down is open so you drop the ball down to the open defender instead of trying to force the ball into a covered defender. I think the quarterback understands his responsibility and where the ball is supposed to go, depending upon the different coverages. And the players know where they have to be to be successful and execute. The quarterback takes advantage of the coverage and it's only because the receivers are doing such a good job and they are spending more time concentrating on the receivers that they may free up the back. I think the quarterback is the one who controls it."

When there is all-out pressure on Brady, is there more emphasis on the backs blocking?

"I think when you talk about protecting the quarterback, you start up front with the five big guys. When the five big guys have done a tremendous job of protecting, then we have the opportunity to throw the ball down the field. We talk to the tight ends; we talk to the tailbacks; we talk to the fullbacks about protecting the quarterback."

Have you been surprised at how well Rhema (McKnight) has been able to pick things back up?

"One of the things you learn about guys who may be injured in our program, they're tested just as if they were going to play in the game. When a guy is out, he is tested and asked to go to the chalkboard and he's been asked different questions throughout the week as if he was preparing to play in the game. This keeps the guys focused and understanding the philosophy of the offense and also the X's and O's of the offense."

How does Rhema complement Jeff (Samardzija) in a different way than (Maurice) Stovall did?

"At the same time when you have one receiver that is pretty good and they start double-covering him, you know they're going to have to give single coverage on someone else. I think receivers, when the coverage is rotated one way or the other, the opposite receiver is doing a good job of getting open. I think Coach Ianello is doing a great job of working on their techniques and fundamentals and they are only going to continue to get better."

Why is the no-huddle offense so successful?

"Focus and concentration and great conditioning."

Senior Receiver Jeff Samardzija

What is the focus this week as you prepare for the Wolverines?

"Offense-wise we have a lot of things to work on. We're just going to go out and work on a lot of fundamentals; a lot of basics; and cut down cut down on a lot of penalties, obviously, and see what happens from there."

Could you talk about how Rhema (McKnight) has come back from his injury?

"Rhema looks great. I think he's running around real well out there. And there's just about no question about his previous injury or anything. Rhema is running real well and making plays and making cuts a hundred percent. It's exciting to see him out there and it's good. It's the same old Rhema that I'm used to."

Watching the Michigan defense on tape, is this the best of the three teams so far?

"Going into this game, it doesn't really matter to tell the truth. This game speaks for itself, that's just how it is. It doesn't matter who's on their team or who's on our team, it's going to be a big game, so it doesn't really matter what you break down, we are just going to go out and be the best prepared we can and see what happens."

What stands out about their cornerback, Leon Hall, and do you remember him from last year?

"Not too much, I haven't really checked out too much stuff. It's only Tuesday, so we are just trying to put our base stuff in right now and I guess if you ask me that in a couple of days, I would be better able to answer that. Right now, I'm just trying to get introduced and trying to work things out."

What stands out about last year's game?

"I remember it was really hot. It felt like a thousand degrees down on the field. And I remember that was a big part of the game. It was early in the season and there was a lot of hype before the game; a lot like this one. Like I said, it's just going out and be the best prepared. We have one home game under our belt and it's not like it's our opener where everything kind of blind-sides you. We're just going to take it as we always do; go to the pep rally on Friday; go to the hotel on Friday night; and get ready for Saturday."

Coach Weis talks about treating each game equally. Have you learned to do that or, because it's Michigan, is it a little different?

"I think that's a big part of that philosophy even though, on the outside, it may seem like some games are bigger than other ones. The whole philosophy is based on not approaching it that way. You have to take every game at a time and use that mentality to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish which is winning the football game."

Is it hard to do this?

"It's definitely something that gets instilled in you over the weeks and over the years. You're so used to being in high school and making big deals about cross-town rivals or whatever that is, that's sort of what you knew about football. But when you get to the next level, it's a different world. It's more of a business and that's how you have to approach it from week-to-week."

This rivalry is very heated amongst the fans. When you are out there on the field, do you feel this?

"You can always tell when you are in Notre Dame Stadium. You can just kind of tell what's going on; like last year anybody who was at the USC game knows what was happening there. It's just the atmosphere on campus, last week it was kind of a feeling that you knew something big was going to happen. Definitely as a player you can kind of feel it out. But the mentality of trying to balance everything comes right along with it. There's a few different things you have to take with it, but it's always there, it's always kind of in the back of your head."

Junior Running Back Darius Walker

You've watched Mike Hart play, what is your opinion of him?

"I have seen him play and then gone against him last year; he's a great back and putting up big numbers and things."

Coach Weis says things change from week to week, what is your perspective on this and how challenging is it mentally?

"Wow, I don't know if it's too taxing mentally, because we try to prepare ourselves by knowing the entire playbook, but it's definitely accurate in saying it changes from week to week. We could go in one game wanting to run the ball 40 or 50 times and go into the next game wanting to run it 10 times. It really depends on what the defense gives us."

Having watched film, do you think the Michigan defense is different this year from last year's?

"I haven't actually had much time to watch them too much. The main thing for this week is we just want to get ourselves together, and the offense especially, we want to minimize our penalties and mental errors and those things. So we are really focusing on ourselves the most this week."

Do you get psyched up for Michigan more than other games?

"I just try to come out and play every game the same. It really isn't different from game to game. This is the most important game we have coming up here. So I just want to go out there and do my part to help the team win. We try to treat every game as one game at a time. The most important game is the next one. Last week, the most important game we had, was the game we had. Now this week, the most important game is Michigan."

When you come in at the beginning of the week, do you have a feel for what you'll be going up against with your next opponent; or do you come in with a blank slate?

"Oh man, you have to come in with a blank slate. Coach Weis is a type of coach who can gravitate to anything. You never know what to expect which is really a good thing. He really knows how to prepare for a game and prepare for a defense."

Senior Tight End John Carlson

What was it like growing up in Minnesota?

"Where I'm from, it's basketball country and we actually won three state championships in four years."

Did you ever play hockey?

"When I was a kid I played a little bit, but never organized hockey."

How big is Litchfield?

"It's about 6,500 people. That's pretty small. It's straight west of Minneapolis, St. Paul; about 70 miles."

What are you focusing on this week?

"This week, we're trying to get better. Me, personally, I need to become a better blocker and that's my focus this week."

What was it like to have your number called against Penn State and were you really enjoying yourself out there?

"It was fun because we won the game and played pretty well. But it's one game and I need to improve every aspect of my game and I need to build on that game and maybe string a few together. I'm not overly excited about it."

When you came here was it hard to leave a small town where you probably knew everybody?

"That's part of the reason I left a small town (laughing). Everyone knows everyone and it's a good thing and I loved growing up there, but I felt this was a step I needed to take."

What is it about this offense that gets the tight end so wide open?

"Part of it, look at our offense. We have two wide receivers who are phenomenal between Jeff and Rhema and a couple other guys too. They're going to open up the middle for me a lot of times."

The 32-yarder that you caught, was that a called play or called at the line?

"They are called plays but Brady has to go through his checks and he gets the ball to the open guy."

You said you're working on some things you didn't do well in the last game. What are those things?

"There was one play on the left side that would have been going toward the south end zone and I was on the left side and missed a block and Darius ended up with a seven yard loss on the play. It was my guy that tackled him. It is things like that, that bother me and that's what I'm working on."

Coach Weis says you come across as laid back, but out there on the field you have a temper. Is that true?

"I said it before; I try to have high expectations for myself. When I don't live up to those expectations, it's frustrating and it gets me a little heated."

Does your height work as a disadvantage sometimes in the blocking department?

"I don't think so. Leverage is a good thing. It's just focusing on fundamentals and techniques day-in and day-out and when you are in the game; and actually using those techniques."

What did you learn from Anthony (Fasano)?

"I still keep in touch with him and I learned a lot from Anthony. First and foremost is the way he competes and his attitude. He has that New Jersey persona – that he's going to kick the crap out of you – and I like that (laughter)."

Has any of that persona rubbed off on you?

"I'm trying to, but I'm from Minnesota and he's from New Jersey (laughter). I'm hoping Coach Weis rubs off on me a little bit. I'm working on it."

What did the offense work on last week that translated into success for this week?

"A lot of things; it might sound like clichés but we are working on techniques, fundamentals, and taking proper forward steps and things like that. Me, personally, it's route running and setting people up; really kind of the same thing week-in and week-out."

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories