Board Coaches Chime In: Part II

We spoke recently with our board coaches and asked them their opinion on how to fix some of the problems the Irish currently face on both sides of the ball. As always, the board coaches did a nice job of breaking down the problems and giving possible solutions. Today we'll take a look at the offense.

Offense: Opinion #1:

No more Brady, Darius, Rhema and Shark. Hello next generation Irish. All jobs are up for grabs. We all watched the debacle against LSU and we all have our opinions on where we need improvement. I will miss all of the above, all great representatives of the team and all leave here with track records that will be tough to beat. Obviously these are just my unqualified opinions based upon what I see on TV every Saturday. I am not going to try to cover all our younger players in this article, but I do have some thoughts on where we will need an upgrade, not necessary in talent, but in execution.

QB – The consensus around here seems to be that Jimmy Clausen is going to be our next Brady Quinn. We are stocked at the QB position and we have players with all different skill sets. While I agree that Jimmy seems to have the best pure high school pedigree and upside, I wouldn't be surprised to see Demetrius Jones emerge as a potential candidate for the upcoming year. Not to diminish the rest of the group but we will be dealing with a new O-Line, new backs and a set of unproven receivers. A mobile QB that can make things happen with pure athleticism will help us forget about some of our youth. I do expect to see Coach Weis spread the offense a bit and let Demetrius try to make something happen with his feet and throwing ability on the run. If the line can gel during the spring, we may see a mix of Jones and another pure passer like Clausen. Either way, I fully expect that it will be a wide open battle come this spring and the player with the most poise will step forward as the early season leader. I haven't written off Frazer or Sharpley, I just think that Clausen will be tough to beat when given time and Sharpley will remain in a back-up role. Personally I wouldn't mind seeing a mix of one of our heralded class from last year coupled with Jimmy Clausen getting some snaps to groom him for the future.
,br> RBTravis Thomas is coming back but I do see James Aldridge as the heir apparent as our every down back. Thomas is a reliable banger who will provide senior leadership, but I would imagine the coaching staff will be thinking about the future at this position. If Aldridge stays healthy, he will be our every down back by the end of the season. Losing Darius Walker hurts, but it also forces the staff to try different backs as a change of pace heading into the future. I look for two guys that can give me different sets of skills. One is a guy that has the size and aggressiveness to run between the tackles, and the other will be a slasher that can catch a pass out of the backfield or the slot. Look out for Armando Allen in this role. I fully expect to see either Allen or potentially even Golden Tate used in a similar style that Percy Harvin is used at Florida. Quick passes out of the backfield, counters, reverses, etc. I am not sure what happened to Prince this year but I believe that he would have been the man for this role if he showed the ability to do it. Either way, it is going to be very tough to keep a guy like Allen off the field. Again, we are missing possession guys in the Shark and McKnight, our O-line will be young and our QB will be inexperienced. Aldridge, Allen, Thomas and hopefully Prince will give a young QB the weapons he needs to make things happen in their first year of full time duty. Either way, the loss of Darius Walker will force the coaches to try some things with multiple sets which will provide for an exciting year. Provided that Aldridge can stay healthy, this will be one exciting year for him to showcase his skills. My early vote goes to a combination of Thomas/Aldridge with Prince and Allen providing the change of pace and ability to swing out of the backfield or slot. Jabbie is a guy that could surprise, but we haven't seen evidence of this yet.

WR – I know that Samardzija and Rhema are excellent WR's and we would've seen them both on Sunday, but I do think there were aspects missing from our passing game. We saw this against LSU. We need to be more physical coming off the ball and into our routes. We saw the receivers at LSU do this well. They had the ability to fight off the corner or safety and break into a route. I love physical receivers, especially those that have the ability to outrun the D-Backs. Grimes will be a reliable player next year with speed, and I would expect D.J. Hord and Greg Little to see a lot of time, if not start. Duval Kamara will be a player here, but may need a year of learning the system before making an impact. Again, this is not to take away from others like Rob Parris, Barry Gallup and George West, but I do think our receiver core will need a new philosophy to make an impact next year. I have a great feeling about Little, and he may be our David Givens possession guy that will fight for the ball. Hord has speed to burn and decent size. Richard Jackson, like Kamara, is another guy with good size, and if he plays physical, he will see time also. Grimes has experience and has shown very good concentration when coming back for a ball. Golden Tate is another guy who could important as early as next year. He has a nice combination of speed and athletic ability but may need a year of grooming before he can make an impact. As you could probably see, I see two types of guys earning time on the field next year, a guy who can spread the field and a guy who has the ability to beat up a D-Back and fight for the ball. I anticipate this to be one of the more competitive positions on the team and no one really knows at this point who will emerge.

Opinion #2

Whoever steps under center next year will be depending an offensive line composed of some combination of one senior, two juniors, six sophomores, and possibly five freshmen. The Ty Willingham legacy just keeps on giving, does it not? At least in this case, unlike with Harris at Stanford, it won't be the demise of Charlie Weis. Next year the numbers will be up, but some aspects need to be addressed for 2007 and beyond.

Eliminating the senior, center John Sullivan, and returning starting tackle Sam Young, the other members of the sophomore offensive linemen have no real significant playing time with the possible exception of Duncan.

Assuming that Sullivan and Young retain their positions then three new starters have to be found in spring and fall camp. Three fifths of a unit being new and with little game experience spells problems. Experience is crucial to offensive line positions, positions where kids traditionally develop at a much slower rate than other football positions. Depth is also crucial due to the beating offensive linemen take and injuries, not only on game day, but in practice. It also appears that some of the offensive lineman may be switching to defense.

The good thing is that there will be more competition this spring and fall with younger guys who are hungry to play. Hopefully this year's freshmen, next year's sophomores, will bloom much like the super sophomores of Ara's first year.

Sometimes all the talent in the world, all the good intentions, all the flawless technique can be secondary to attitude in any athletic endeavor. This year's offensive line, as a unit, seemed passive in nature, workman like in execution, and lacking in quickness, strength, and athletic ability. There were successes, there were key blocks, great pickups, and good peel backs to open a lane for Walker or to save Quinn, but each individual lineman had many failures and breakdowns in the big games. Thirty-one sacks and a seventy-second rushing offense that averaged less than four yards per carry can attest to that. Also, keeping a weapon like John Carlson in to block so often hurt in the games against the quality opponents.

So what's needed besides finding out who fills the three other slots? To be sure, there are several needs besides just replacing three starters on the line. The needs aren't just the need for new physical bodies, but to my way of thinking, the needs include attitude and the offensive scheme.

Some of that nasty that Coach Weis promised in his initial unveiling to the Notre Dame Nation would be foremost in the area of needs. If I had to label this past year's offensive line, as a unit, it would contain two words…journeymen and passive. Not damning praise if you have a dominating defense, but since Notre Dame had anything but, you need an offensive line to control the game, to exert their will on the opponent, and to physically dominate the opposition. Doing this against the service academies is one thing. Doing so against the elite of the schedule, as well, is another thing. The Irish need to promote as much of a Jeff Faine attitude per individual lineman as possible. In short, it's time to dial it up a notch and pursue things on the offensive line with an attitude.

Since the remaining scholarship offensive linemen are so young they have an opportunity to bond over the next two to three years. Hopefully, some of that bonding creates a unit attitude that fosters the traits of physicality, nastiness, and the proverbial killer instinct that the Notre Dame offensive line has lacked as a unit since Joe Moore. It's far better to close out a game with the offense on the field than relying on the defense to win the game. Attitude on the offensive line, that idea of imposing one's will on the opponent comes out in games, but is most exemplified in the waning moments of a game trying to kill the clock.

Another area that the offensive line needs to improve on is strength and agility. Some of the graduating linemen were not as strong as they could have been after four or five years at Notre Dame. It's been said by Coach Weis that no one outworked Brady Quinn in the weight room. That's very commendable for Brady, but no quarterback should be outworking any lineman in the weight room…ever. How many times would a tackle be beaten by a speed rushing end, or a guard being pushed back into Quinn on a bull rush? It happened far too many times for a team that desires to be an elite force in college football. Strength, quickness, and agility need to improve at Notre Dame or there is no chance to compete for a national title. Hopefully, the new kids have the agility and quickness. Mendoza will get them stronger, but that will take time and a commitment on their part, something not all the linemen have exhibited in the past.

Hopefully, the return of Asaph Schwapp will help the offensive line next year, and more importantly, his return will allow John Carlson to take off on routes and not stay in for maximum protection so often against the elite teams.

Scheme wise, the running game needs to be addressed. A delay or draw as the primary weapon is not a running game, even in a spread offense, let alone a pro style offense. Too much pressure was placed on the passing game and Quinn to score sans a competent running game. Defenses often ignored the Notre Dame running game, or effectively shut it down. Either way, this led to all too many three-and-outs on offense thereby putting the defense back on the field, often after they had a successful series. Even a good defense eventually wears down being put in this situation time and time again, both mentally and physically

When your best short yardage running play is a quarterback sneak, you're in trouble. True, the sneak has its place, but the Irish need to develop a play or series, as an offensive unit, that is successful in short yardage. No team without a bread and butter play, one that almost always guarantees two or three yards, can compete against the elite teams. If that play is to be a stretch play, a sweep, a trap, or whatever, it must be a play that the players have confidence in, a play that they lick their chops over when it's called in the huddle, knowing this is their play. Successful teams have such plays. They don't work all the time. What does? But, they work most of the time. Again, this gets back to mindset more than anything else.

Much has been made of Notre Dame being behind and having to throw the ball early in games. I disagree with this to the following extent. Being two touchdowns down is not a reason to abandon the run in the first quarter unless you know you can't run the ball. Notre Dame not being able to run the ball? Talk about No-Dozing the Echoes. Notre Dame has to run the ball more efficiently than they did this past year. Walker had 1,310 yards, 730 yards coming in five games against the service academies, Purdue, and Stanford, and 580 yards in the remaining eight games. Coach Weis has to address this inequity in the staff meetings this winter and during the spring and fall camps. An inability to run the ball will put a tremendous amount of pressure on a new QB, a young offensive line, and two new receivers who have had no meaningful playing time.

Also, Coach Weis needs to be more patient. While going for it on fourth down in your own territory gets fans aroused, commentators spout your praises, but it can really bite you in the butt when it fails and change the whole complexion of the game. I can't blame him for going for it so many times on fourth down in the opponent's territory. The unreliable kicking game that Notre Dame had forced going for it on fourth down upon him. However, but in your own territory, unless it's in the throes of a game's end, it comes back to haunt you all too often.

Coach Weis's might want to temper, in part, his penchant of going for the big play. It's great when the Irish get it, but it seemed, in some situations, that a few first downs ground out, of course with a score, would have kept the offense on the field more, saving a beleaguered defense. In my opinion the best game Notre Dame has played under Weis was his first year against USC where they controlled the clock through Coach's game management. I'd like to see more of that approach in the future.

One thing that will help the running game will be the return of Travis Thomas to the offense. Hopefully, he won't be handicapped by a raw offensive line.

Lastly, I feel Jimmy Clausen possess a more accurate, though less powewrful, arm than Brady Quinn, and should he get the nod the short passing game will be more accurate than it has been. Top Stories