News and Notes: 12/19/2006

*Senior John Carlson missed the final two games of the season with an injured knee. He sustained the injury in the victory over Air Force out in Colorado Springs. Carlson was on track to break Ken MacAfee's single season reception and yards record for a tight end. MacAfee totaled 54 catches for 797 yards back in 1977. Carlson has 46 grabs for 621 yards and four touchdowns in 2006.

Without him in the lineup, Notre Dame still received production from the tight end position. Fifth-year senior Marcus Freeman stepped in and caught two touchdown passes in the final three games. They were Freeman's first scoring receptions of his career. Against a LSU defense ranked second nationally, it would be nice for the Notre Dame offense to have Carlson and his big-play ability back in the lineup. It appears as if this is the case for the January 3rd Sugar Bowl contest versus the Tigers. Head coach Charlie Weis said at his Tuesday press conference that Carlson, who was observed running around during practice on Tuesday, might have been able to play this week if there was a game.

"Fortunately he's progressing well," Weis said. "He was out there practicing yesterday, which lifted my spirits. I'll probably hold him from the contact form of it even maybe most of this week. But he's running around fine. We don't really practice again after this Saturday until Friday. We run and stuff on Thursday when we get down there on the 28th, but the next time we're really practicing is the 29th. So there's a long window from this Saturday to the following Friday before we start having contact again."

*Another Irish player who has the injury bug is Chinedum Ndukwe. The senior safety hurt his knee in the loss to USC. In his place, sophomore David Bruton assumed the duties. Weis said a few weeks back that Ndukwe's knee was scoped but the damage was less severe than originally thought. For the year, Ndukwe has 86 tackles, good for second on the team. Weis is hopeful for him to also be back for the Sugar Bowl.

"He was running yesterday," Weis said of Ndukwe. "I'd say he'd be questionable if we were playing a game this week. So for me, questionable is like a 50/50, if we were playing a game this week. But I'd say certainly probable for playing a game on the 3rd."

*A lot of young faces will be starting next year for the first time. A multitude of graduating seniors leaves gaps at several positions. What isn't certain is who among the possible fifth-year seniors will be coming back to the Notre Dame campus for another season of Irish football.

There are a handful with a big decision to make. Some could choose to go to the NFL. Others might want to pursue future career options. Included in the group are center John Sullivan, Carlson, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, cornerback Ambrose Wooden, safety Tommy Zbikowski, linebacker/running back Travis Thomas and others.

Weis talked with these potential fifth-year guys a few weeks back before the annual football banquet. Despite not getting into specifics because of the process that has to be played out, Weis is optimistic that a lot of these players will be back wearing the blue and gold next year.

"The process is pretty well completed as far as my end of it," Weis said. "I have met with the players. They've met with their families. They've come back to me. The ones who I've talked to have really come back and we've already come to a decision between us and then given the list to Stan, who then gives the list to the faculty board, who then okays them. Then they do paperwork and get schedules set.

"But to make a long story short, I think Notre Dame football fans will be very happy when the results are in. It's just there's a long process that takes place."

*Weis has made no secret of the fact that the bowl preparation schedule has changed a bit from last year. In the leadup to the Fiesta Bowl, he contacted several of his "resources" to get advice on how to best create the perfect schedule. It obviously wasn't foolproof because this season, the team is going through shorter, quicker practices in contrast to last year's longer, more grueling sessions.

Weis thought his team came out flat in the loss to Ohio State. He wants his team to be flying around at kickoff time before facing LSU. The players, which are on winter break from classes, will practice until this Saturday. Weis will give them time off to celebrate Christmas with their families. Notre Dame will fly out early on December 28th down to New Orleans. The practice schedule wasn't the only item switched. Weis has relaxed a bit on what the players can experience down at the bowl game.

"Let's just say the first night down there they have late curfew," Weis said. "But the guy doing bed check is the head coach, and it's followed by an FCA breakfast the next morning. So do the math. But I think they're very pleased by the give and take. I don't think you'll hear any of our players whining." Top Stories