Weis announced on Saturday that in addition to Tommy Zbikowski and Travis Thomas, John Carlson and Maurice Crum would be the captains for the upcoming football season. This gives Notre Dame two captains apiece on offense and defense. Also, John Sullivan from the offensive line, Trevor Laws from the defensive line and Geoff Price from the specialists would be added to leadership committee. These two moves were made earlier than usual by Weis because of the young makeup of the Irish.
The two big pieces of news were connected. First, freshman Gary Gray, a 5-11, 180-pound early enrollee, broke his arm yesterday in practice in a one-on-one bump drill with a wide receiver. He broke the arm by trying to catch his fall. The good news is that it's not displaced. The bad news: Gray will be out 4-6 weeks and miss the rest of spring practice. The freshman came to campus to get a head start on the defensive backfield competition and now he'll have to sit and watch from the sidelines.
"It's enough that you have to put it in a cast for at least four weeks," Weis said of Gray. "We talked about it last night. This isn't something you wait on. We went ahead and put it in a cast. There's no pin. You let the thing heal. That's what you do."
Gray's absence in spring made for one less cornerback competing for playing time. Insert Munir Prince. The 5-10, 184-pound sophomore was stuck in a quagmire at the running back position. With Thomas moving back over to offense and James Aldridge, Armando Allen and Junior Jabbie all in the mix, a move over the defensive side of the ball for Prince was not out of the question.
Prince carried the ball 15 times for 21 yards last season for an average of just 1.4 yard per rush. His speed and athleticism that so many Notre Dame fans were excited about never took off in 2006. But with Gray's injury, Weis thought the cornerback position was getting a bit too light depth-wise. Prince was the natural choice to flip sides. He has previous experience. In high school as a junior in East St. Louis, MO, Prince was an all-state selection at cornerback. The timing for the move was just right.
"He talked about the potential of moving over the corner," Weis said. "It was ironic that we recently talked about it. This morning, we discussed it. He said for me to consider it. I told him consider it done."
Last season, Thomas moved from running back to linebacker more out of need than desperation. Prince's switch is more a matter of want and the chance to see increased playing time on the field.
"He thinks he can get on the field faster as a corner than as a running back," Weis said. "When a guy has played at a very high level at high school as a all-state corner, you're not asking him to do something he's never done before."
At running back, that leaves Thomas, Aldridge, Allen and Jabbie at the position. Thomas has a combination of speed and power. The same can be said for Aldridge. Allen is lightning quick while Jabbie has shown the versatility to play more than one position. Weis still is comfortable about his prospects in the offensive backfield.
"Obviously, I wouldn't do this if I didn't feel good about the running back situation," Weis said. "Travis has looked good. James has looked good. Junior Jabbie has looked good. Armando Allen has looked good. They've all looked good. The fullbacks have looked good as well. If we felt we were short changing the offensive backfield situation, we certainly would not spend a spring going through to see if someone can do it."
***Defensively, Weis has made no secret that he won't be heavily involved in spring practice. The Notre Dame head coach has a huge task in identifying a potential starting quarterback among the four contenders. Weis wants to get it down from four to two by the end of spring ball.
Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has been given free reign to implement the new scheme. The Irish are switching to a 3-4 personnel defense from Rick Minter's base 4-3 style. Brown grew up in the same coaching family as Weis did. This familiarity with each other and the systems employed has made it easier for Weis to concentrate solely on the quarterback position.
"I know all the calls," Weis said of the new defense. "When I watch the tape, I can say, ‘Wasn't that guy suppose to come across the tackle's face?' Because I know the defense, I don't have to go down there and figure out what they're doing. I already know what it is. It's kind of fun to sit there and hear the calls and know what's coming."
***Weis on sophomore Chris Stewart (6-5, 340 pounds), who was moved from offensive guard to nose tackle before spring ball commenced: "So far, so good. Today was the first day in pads. Obviously, he's a big body and he can move around well. The natural thing when you start playing that position is to play a little high. He's very, very athletic. We'll see how it goes. So far, so good."