There are still improvements to be made from a group that might have higher expectations of themselves than fans. A few penalties vs. the Nittany Lions turned could-have-been touchdowns into two field goals. Four dropped balls last Saturday was another negative. Head coach Charlie Weis knows this offense can be lethal, maybe even more so than last season. But it'll take some time to develop the rhythm and flow.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, it's like that every year," Weis said on Wednesday about the offense finding their groove. "Even with the carry over from experience, to get into a consistent flow or groove it usually takes a little bit to get going. You might have spurts where everything seems to go well. But I'm talking about the combination of the inside run, outside run, protection, quick passes, intermediate passes and long passes, tying all that stuff together, takes a little time because it's a new cast of characters that you're going against. There are idiosyncrasies that go along with that.
"The learning curve has been pushed along. It shouldn't take as long to get into that groove. I wouldn't say we're there yet but it shouldn't take long."
One of the offensive players is coming off a slight injury. Fullback Asaph Schwapp, a bruising 6-2, 250-pound native of Hartford, CT, was hurt in the win over Penn State. Weis said after the game that his sophomore lead blocker had locked his knee up earlier in the week and done the same thing in Nittany Lion game. Schwapp has not practiced the past two days. He did do some running on Wednesday and was seen at practice on the exercise bike pedaling away. Weis said Schwapp was a lot sorer yesterday than today. If he's limited at all vs. Michigan, the backup is Ashley McConnell. The senior from Adairsville, GA has played in three games in his career, logging just over nine minutes of playing time in 2005 as a reserve fullback.
A player who has had an injury watch on him since the day he's arrived on campus is James Aldridge. The freshman running back from Crown Point, IN injured his knee in high school two years ago and has steadily been rebuilding back to 100 percent. A few setbacks in spring ball and fall camp had Aldridge mostly watching drills instead of participating in them.
The past few days, though, the freshman has been doing a little more in practice. Aldridge has been cutting side to side, one of the things the coaching staff had been careful with him about. If he can come back, it'll provide much needed depth behind starter Darius Walker and allow linebacker Travis Thomas to rest a bit more. It appears as if he's not far off.
"I would think that, depending on how things go, my plan is to try to use him full-go, as in repping full-go, by the Purdue game," Weis said of Aldridge. "That's my plan. I could get him part time but I don't want to be able to not use him full time because with as much as Travis is playing on defense, with Darius I'd like to have some combination of James and Munir (Prince) handling the position without having to flip Travis over there full-time."
Aldridge would join an already heavy list of freshmen to see action in their first year at Notre Dame. This group was a top-10 class with a lot of quality talent and speed. So far, 15 of the 28 freshmen have got into either or both games. One of them, Sam Young, starts at right tackle. There's a reason for this high number of freshmen player participation.
"First of all, they're pretty good," Weis said. "Second of all, unlike the past, we've been able to get more people involved in training camp. Last year, we were trying to find out who the first guys were. But once you've settled in as to who the first guys are, you don't have to give them every rep. Now, you can take some more time to get some other guys ready. That's where they've benefited from the most, in training camp."