The expectations game is a little different heading into 2007. Last season, dreams of a national championship were the rage among Irish fans. This year, those hopes are little toned down with the roster stocked with young, talented players lean on experience. For the new starters, there will be on-the-job learning once the games kick off September 1st at home against Georgia Tech. The 15 spring practices gives the youngsters needed reps. Weis doesn't for a second believe the worst of the predictions for the 2007 team.
"If you thinking we're the Bad News Bears out there, that's certainly not the case," Weis said through four practices. "That's the first thing. You look out and there's a lot of changes personnel and scheme wise. We look like a solid team that's in the fourth day of training camp. It's an off-handed compliment to the team saying, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?' It's just like any other year. That's an encouraging sign, not a discouraging sign."
Another encouraging sign for Notre Dame is the presence of so many fifth-year players back. John Carlson, Travis Thomas, John Sullivan, Trevor Laws, Dwight Stephenson, Joe Brockington, Ambrose Wooden, Tommy Zbikowski and Geoff Price all applied and received another year of eligibility. Eight of the nine have significant playing experience and Weis said on Monday that Stephenson is in the mix at one of the defensive end spots in Corwin Brown's 34 personnel defense. Although the starting spots next year will be littered with first-timers, these nine players provide much needed experience to the 2007 Irish.
"It would be a little more of a scary situation for me if that large a number this year didn't request and apply for a fifth-year and not been granted," Weis said. "Let's take the nine out of the equation for a minute. I would still find a way to be overly optimistic but you can't be a phony. That would have been more of a scary situation."
On Saturday, Notre Dame will conduct practice No. 7 of spring ball. What makes this session unique is that the media will be allowed to observe the entire two hours instead of the usual first 20 minutes. Weis said that there will be a few scrimmage situations involved and that he can't hide any players because of the limited number of bodies. The depth chart, with so many young players vying for spots, is not set in stone and probably won't be until after the Blue-Gold game on April 21st.
"There's no established two-deep," Weis said. "There are guys we put out there first and guys we put out there second. We move them back and forth. There are very few guys etched in stone. Trevor Laws is going to start. John Sullivan is sure to start. John Carlson, you bet. But we're not close to setting up a depth chart that we need to go into training camp. That's what we're trying to do right now."
The wide receiver spot is one of the positions where there's a lot of uncertainty. Junior David Grimes appears to have a hold on one of the starting spots. The Detroit, MI native caught 26 balls for 336 yards and two touchdowns last season. Grimes has impressed Weis and the coaching staff with his sure hands and ability to make plays.
After him, it's anyone's guess. Junior D.J. Hord is coming off an Achilles heal injury and Weis said on Monday that he looks rusty. Because Notre Dame does not take players down to the ground in practice, Hord hasn't been able to take significant contact. Weis hopes to create a situation where Hord can get hit and overcome the mental roadblock after the injury. Others involved are sophomores George West, Robby Parris, Barry Gallup and Richard Jackson and senior Darrin Bragg. Excluding Grimes, the contenders at wide receiver combined for three catches for 21 yards in 2006.
"Because there's a large number of guys, some guys are moving up and some are moving down on a daily basis," Weis said. "There are some guys, just after four days, who are starting to separate themselves from the pack. It might be separation from two to three or three to four or four to five. But they are starting to show separation from different people. When those two guys get here in the summer, we'll have to find out what they can do and whether or not they can get in the mix freshman year or ease them into it."
***Justin Brown was not at practice today. The senior defensive lineman was in class and Weis excused him for the session.
***Weis on Irish fans' concerns that Brady Quinn will end up on a lower rung NFL team: "The Raiders have a new coaching staff. We don't know how good they are going to be. With free agency, these things are changing everyday. The Lions today picked up two offensive linemen. What does that mean? Every single day, it changes. I told him that whoever takes him is his favorite team because they'll be the one paying the check."