Talk to any Notre Dame defensive player and they'll rave about how the group is flying to the ball and how the attitude of the unit is new and improved. Brown has got the defense thinking in the right mindset after two sub-par years under Minter. It remains to be seen whether or not the play on the field will improve in 2007 in the new 3-4 personnel scheme.
The alignment has created opportunities for players who have seen scant time on the playing field. Fifth-year senior Dwight Stephenson, Jr. and junior Patrick Kuntz have been getting first-team reps on the defensive line. Junior Scott Smith and sophomores John Ryan and Toryan Smith are in the mix at linebacker while junior David Bruton is in contention for the starting free safety position. There's still work to do but there has been progress in the spring time.
"We have a lot fewer questions marks at this stage then we did at the beginning of spring," Weis said on Monday. "Now, after being able to go through the spring, we can go through and identify the major problems. There are some. But there are less problems than when we started. We didn't know exactly what we had at the beginning of the spring."
***Another Weis press conference and another day devoid of any new news on the quarterback front. The Notre Dame head coach is doing this by design as to not tip is hand and make any of the signal callers comfortable during spring ball. Weis's plan is to come back to campus after hitting the recruiting trail for a month after the Blue-Gold game and make a decision sometime in late May or early April.
The quarterbacks have one more practice session Wednesday and the B-G contest on Saturday to make a final impression to get into the top two heading into the summer and fall camp. Junior Evan Sharpley, sophomores Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer and freshman Jimmy Clausen all have had equal reps in spring ball to show Weis and the coaching staff they're the man to lead the Irish in 2007. Weis said he won't wait too long on a decision and keep the quarterbacks in limbo. Once he tells them who'll be in top two, the Notre Dame head coach doesn't expect the decision to be private for very long.
"Here's the problem with that process," Weis said. "Once you tell them, it's like telling you anyways. Somehow it magically gets out on the street. It'll be fairly close in time. I might get four or five guys from saying anything. When the teammates know, it's national news."
***It's been a toss-up at the wide receiver position. There are only a few givens in the race to replace Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight. One, David Grimes is clearly established as the No. 1 receiver. The junior from Detroit, MI caught a pair of touchdown passes in 2006 and has sure hands. Weis said Grimes has had an outstanding spring. The other certain is that sophomore George West has made strides this spring. Weis mentioned West a few weeks back as a guy who has separated himself from the pack for the No. 2 wide receiver position.
An unfortunate incident has slowed West's progress. The sophomore wideout hurt his hand in a car accident and missed a couple of practices last week. West was back out on the field on Monday but had a soft cast on his right hand over the stitches. Weis said he'll make a decision on Saturday as to whether West will play in the Blue-Gold game. As for the others competing for playing time at wide receiver, there has been progress but not like West has displayed this spring.
"There's a whole group of players that have all gotten better," Weis said. "Rather than single out an individual, the whole group of players have taught us that we wouldn't be afraid to play them in a game. Being afraid to play them in a game and winning a game are two different things. I haven't gotten to the point where I jump on the table and say, ‘We're going to win now with the way we're playing.' There's more guys at the end of spring who are in a position to play than at the beginning of spring."
***John Carlson is the top dog at tight end. The fifth-year senior should be one of the premier tight ends in college football. As for who'll be the second tight end, that's still up in the air. Sophomore Konrad Reuland and Will Yeatman are in position for the job. Yeatman has been pulling double duty this spring as he also plays lacrosse but was at practice on Monday. Weis expects the competition between the two to go deep into fall camp.
"I really can't evaluate the competition between the two guys fairly because I haven't had Will here enough to judge," Weis said. "That'll be an interesting battle. Will has done some nice things in a limited amount of time while Konrad has been consistent everyday. We all know who No. 1 will be. Let's see who No. 2 will be."
***Weis's comments on the tragedy that occurred Monday morning at Virginia Tech: "I think it's only appropriate that I make a statement from the Notre Dame football family and the University of Notre Dame. I think everyone is aware of the tragedy that took place at Virginia Tech today. Before we start talking about something, on this day, that would be insignificant, I think I want to make sure we express our condolences to everyone from the Virginia Tech family.
"We heard about it prior to our team meeting today. We had a chance as a team to talk about it at our team meeting. We talked about society and how things like this can happen. I'm not quite sure how they can. But for the students, for the families, the professors and administrators at Virginia Tech, including the alums and everyone associated with it, heartfelt sorrow goes out to them and we wanted to express our condolences to their whole organization."