Saturday's Practice: Offense

Following stretching, quarterback Demetrius Jones led the offensive players sprint from one of the practice fields to another, as the offense and defense split up to begin Notre Dame's open practice on Saturday morning. Outside at Cartier Field in rainy conditions, the Irish football team was in helmets, shells and shorts.

The entire offense ran and weaved through rectangular bags for five minutes before splitting up by position. Receivers coach Rob Ianello was yelling, "you come to practice to work, you come to practice to work."

Next up, was position drills. The quarterbacks did some light throwing while the receivers went over to the cones, the running backs worked on blitz pickup, and the offensive linemen got after it in one-on-one drills.

The receivers ran a square around four cones and had to catch four short quick passes. David Grimes went first, and appeared to be moving slow all morning. He did catch everything. George West looked real good in this drill, getting around the cones quickly and sucking everything in. He had just one little bobble. Head coach Charlie Weis singled him out after practice as the guy that is clearly number two now behind Grimes. Nobody else has stood out or dropped behind in the rest of the pack. Robby Parris was the third receiver through the cones, and he looked almost as good as West. Everything stuck to his hands. Parris at 6-foot-3, looked like the tallest receiver out there. Richard Jackson is also listed at 6-foot-3. Barry Gallup was the fourth receiver through the cones, and he also looked quick. Kind of like West, however Ianello sent one ball over his head and said "bad pass." There were no drops until D.J. Hord got in there. Ianello made him go again, then again, and again, until Hord could finally make it through without putting a ball on the ground. Hord was frustrated, but the other receivers tried to pick him up by cheering him on.

One of the guys that offensive coordinator and running backs coach Mike Haywood likes to get on is Asaph Schwapp. But like Weis always says, if we aren't yelling at you, you probably aren't playing. Haywood had to keep reminding his 6-foot, 255-pound fullback to stay low when blocking. He also made projected starting tailback Travis Thomas do the blocking drill over a couple times. Darius Walker was very good at picking up the blitz and helping protect Brady Quinn, and whoever replaces him will be counted on doing the same.

The offensive linemen were working on driving the blocker down the field. Offensive line coach John Latina was very intense with a stick in his hand, yelling and getting into every battle. Paul Duncan was very impressive and aggressive during this particular drill.

Following these activities, the quarterbacks got with the running backs and worked on different types of handoffs, draw plays and throws into the flat. Zach Frazer and Thomas were together. Jones and James Aldridge were together. Evan Sharpley and Junior Jabbie were together. Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen were together.

Watching the quarterbacks throw all morning, it appears that Clausen has the smoothest delivery and Frazer has the strongest arm. It's also obvious that Jones's delivery doesn't look like the other three quarterbacks. But Vince Young didn't have the prettiest throwing style either.

All the running backs had good hands, which is key in Weis's offense. Walker's 56 receptions last season ranked third on the team, so these guys can expect the ball to come their way a lot. Allen did have one drop, and it looks like Aldridge catches the ball with his body.

The receivers were working on screens from the slot and the boundary, and out patterns. Darrin Bragg looks real good running and coming out of his breaks, but a few drops later in one-on-one drills tells the story about why he doesn't play. If he shores that up, there is no doubt he has the athleticism to play.

The most exciting part of practice was one-on-one drills.

John Carlson could not be covered, catching everything that came his way, showing nasty moves in getting open. The guy he picked on the most was Tom Zbikowski. After beating him with a quick move going into a fly pattern for a long catch, Zbikowski took Carlson to the ground and the two began wrestling playfully on the ground. David Bruton looked good, breaking up a few passes, and intercepting one.

Hord's hands were suspect earlier in the cones, but he rebounded to make a couple tough grabs in beating the team's newest cornerback Munir Prince. Prince tweaked his ankle for a second on one of the 15-yard routes over the middle that Hord hauled in. Grimes matched up with Ambrose Wooden, working on slants. Wooden broke up a couple, and Grimes made a couple receptions. Secondary coach Bill Lewis told both of them they looked like they were playing in slow motion. Even on imcomplete passes in this drill, Clausen threw the ball where only the receiver could catch it. West was hitting Lambert with double moves, but couldn't create much seperation from him. The Irish defensive backs for the most part dominated this drill, but there was a lot of contact that won't be allowed in games. One big play for the offense, walk-on David Costanzo got behind Darrin Walls, and Sharpley hit him for a long gain. Walls made up for it on the last one, breaking up a deep ball intended for Grimes.

The offensive unit came together to work on a few plays, mostly the running variety. Matt Carufel was working at guard in place of Dan Wenger, who is a little banged up. Duncan and big Sam Young were the tackles and Michael Turkovich was the other guard. Travis Thomas is very decisive of where he and the ball are going right when he gets it. Both guards looked good pulling. Everything was a two tight end set, with Carlson and Konrad Reuland. Will Yeatman was not at practice. In the downpour, Aldridge fumbled a toss play and had to run a lap around the practice field. Hanging onto the ball on every other play, Aldridge looks real smooth and shifty while running.

Special teams wrapped everything up. Lambert and Bruton are the gunners on the punt coverage unit. Getting a look at punt return is Zbikowski, Grimes, West and Allen. Zbikowski looked the most comfortable getting under the ball and catching it in traffic. Allen totally misplayed a low liner from Geoff Price, and turned around and watched it bounce 20 yards the wrong way.

Getting a shot at kick return is Grimes, West, Jabbie, Aldridge, Allen and Walls. No touchbacks were kicked by Ryan Burkhart or Nate Whitaker.

Burkhart struggled during field goals, missing a 40-yarder badly, just after booting a 35-yarder wide. Whitaker on the other hand was outstanding. He drilled one from 40 and made all five of his opportunities from 40 yards in. His field goal off the camera tower in front of the uprights to end practice prevented the team from having to run sprints. Once he hit that camera tower, all the Irish players ran down Whitaker like he hit the game winner for the National Championship.

Sharpley and Price did the holding in place of the graduated Jeff Samardzija.


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