Competition Still Ongoing

The quarterback competition continues to dominate the discussion for Notre Dame during spring practice. On Saturday, the media was allowed to view the hour and a half session and all eyes were on the signal callers and their performances. After practice, the first five or so questions had to deal with the race for the starting spot and the efforts turned in so far during spring.

The four battling it out on the field are Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer and Jimmy Clausen. Weis has set up a system where each quarterback gets a week with the first-team. After the week is over, they go to the end of the line and gets reps with the fourth team. This gives each player an equal opportunity to strut his stuff with the different personnel groups.

"That's the fairest way you can do it because then you can't say, ‘So and so is always working with John Carlson,'" Weis said. "It makes it a little easier when someone is running with whoever you determine as the best guys. Everyone will work with everyone from the top to the bottom."

Weis wants to get it from four quarterback to two by the end of spring in the race for the starting spot. After the Blue-Gold game on April 21st, the Notre Dame head coach will spend the next four weeks on the recruiting trail. Weis and the staff will assemble back on May 21st and make final evaluations by the end of the month. It's at this point that two quarterbacks will go into the summer period with a chance to start the opener against Georgia Tech and the other two will battle it out for the third and fourth spots on the depth chart. Weis knows there will be two happy players and two that are unhappy. Either way, the Irish head coach wants to be upfront and honest with the four.

"It's important to never lie to your players and tell them the truth on where they stand," Weis said. "You tell them the truth and for them to accept their role and go out there and compete and up your way on the depth chart. It's not like depth charts never change. Depth charts change and injuries happen."

Whatever decision is made on the quarterback race, Weis has no doubts that the team will accept the final ruling.

"Every time there is camps within the teams," Weis said. "Their friends are pulling for them. But when they realize the head coach is really making a decision that's in the best interest of the team because he doesn't have any favorites, they're comfortable with that. It really doesn't divide the team."

***Chris Stewart spent all of Saturday's practice riding the exercise bike. It was a lonely experience for the 6-5, 340-pound sophomore. Stewart was the only player riding the bike for the hour and a half practice and most of the pedaling was in a rainstorm. Stewart was moved from the offensive line over to nose tackle on defense at the beginning of spring practice. If the sophomore doesn't get off the bike soon, he'll lose ground in the race to start at nose tackle and have to spend more time than he would like in South Bend.

"I think he would have rather practiced today," Weis joked. "If you're not out there practicing, you're on the bike and that's miserable. And then they have some time off for Easter. If you're not practicing, you have to stay here for Easter and get treatment. You'd be amazed by how fast people recover."

***The defense under new coordinator Corwin Brown appears to be coming along nicely. Talk to any player on that side of the ball and they'll rave about the team flying to the ball and making plays. Brown has brought in a 3-4 personnel scheme in contrast to former defensive coordinator Rick Minter's 4-3 base package. The learning process for the players has been deliberately slow in the spring time.

"Because we have not given them information overload, they are pretty comfortable as to what we've done to this point," Weis said. "Of course, we have a lot more to do before our first game. We haven't even put nickel in yet. That's going out on Monday. But you have to be more slow and steady in this case. It's benefiting both sides of the ball."

One of the positions where there's some sorting out to do is at linebacker. The two inside spots are being handled by captain Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington with sophomore Toryan Smith pushing them for playing time. Weis said he was encouraged by everyone he's seen at the inside linebacker position. As for the two outsides spots, it's anyone's guess. Sophomores John Ryan and Morrice Richardson and senior Anthony Vernaglia are all in the mix.

"We have more inexperience, as far as playing time goes, at outside," Weis said. "We're going through a learning process. But I'm encouraged by some of the things I've seen."

***The offensive line has some holes to fill. There are three spots up for grabs at both guard positions and left tackle. At Saturday's practice, sophomore Matt Carufel was manning right guard while junior Paul Duncan was at left tackle. Junior Mike Turkovich was working at left guard. Dan Wenger, a natural center, had been taking reps with the first-team at right guard but the sophomore has been injured the past few practices. However the final lineup shakes out, Weis was impressed by the group's performance during the scrimmage on Friday.

"There are a bunch of good looking kids out there," Weis said about the offensive line. "Yesterday, we had a whole bunch of plays in a competitive situation. One of the key things we were working on was stamina. Ironically, the group that held up the best was the offensive line. It was very encouraging."

***As far as competition goes, it's up in the air at wide receiver. Notre Dame lost their top two wideouts from last season in Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. Judging by Weis's comments, junior David Grimes, who caught 26 balls for 336 yards and two touchdowns in 2006, has a firm grip on the No. 1 spot. At No. 2, sophomore George West has caught the eyes of the coaching staff in spring ball.

"The guy who seems to have separated himself from the pack at this point is George West," Weis said. "He's not running with that first group by default. At this point, he's running with the first group because that's where he'd be. The difference between George and the pack is that he, in a short time, has started to separate from the pack while the pack is still in the pack."

***At the end of Saturday's practice, kicker Nate Whitaker had a little pressure applied by Weis. The sophomore would have to make a field goal from a certain distance. If Whitaker hit the kick, the team would not have to run a series of gassers. If the sophomore shanked the field goal, the players would have to perform the exhausting drill in rainy conditions.

Luckily for Whitaker, he nailed the kick, which sent the team into a deliriously happy state of mind as they mobbed him. It was a good day for Whitaker, who didn't miss a field goal try. Sophomore Ryan Burkhart badly missed two attempts. Whitaker has now had a couple of solid efforts in a row.

"Yesterday in practice, he had a really good day in practice," Weis said of Whitaker. "I always believe in going by what I see. If you go by what you see, day to day you have to move a guy from second to first. I figured I put a little pressure on him at the end. When you have 85 guys about to run a whole bunch of gassers and it's one kick and if you make it they don't run, he's the most popular guy in the clubhouse right now." Top Stories