***The four quarterbacks. The main story of the spring, by a wide margin, is who'll replace Brady Quinn at quarterback. Head coach Charlie Weis intends to cut the group from four to two heading into fall camp next August. The announcement of the decision will come sometime at the end of May. So after Saturday's game, Notre Dame fans will have to wait another month as to who Weis selects as the two contenders.
Weis has intentionally been mum on the competition in his public comments, not wanting to tip his hand. Outside of the Notre Dame football program, it's anyone's guess as to how the race is coming along. Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer have been well coached in their answers to the media this spring. The best sound bite came from Frazer, who said last week that he was hands down No. 1 in the pecking order. But what else was the sophomore supposed to say? At least it shows that Frazer is a confident individual.
Weis doesn't allow freshmen to speak to the media, except for one time in fall camp. The freshman with the biggest hype is quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who enrolled early with the intention of getting a head start on the quarterback race. Saturday's Blue-Gold contest will be his public unveiling to Notre Dame fans. Clausen, the top prospect in last year's recruiting class, is the most anticipated freshman player to arrive with the Irish since Ron Powlus, who coincidentally is his quarterbacks coach.
Weis said the Blue-Gold game will count just as evenly as the other 14 spring practices. But the magnitude of the contest, with tens of thousands of fans packed in the stands eagerly dissecting every throw, should give the Notre Dame head coach a good idea on how the four handle pressure. Sharpley has the experience. Jones is a dual threat. Frazer is in the mold of a classic pocket passer. Clausen has the hype and pedigree. It should make for an interesting afternoon of viewing pleasure. Clausen and Jones are on the Blue team while Sharpley and Frazer will lead the Gold squad. Each quarterback will alternate series.
***Corwin Brown's new defense: Notre Dame has had 14 practices to prepare for the defensive switch. With Rick Minter, the Irish ran a 4-3 base package. Under Brown, it's a 3-4 personnel defense with the ability to go back and forth from a 43 to 34. There's still some unknowns as to how it'll look and the Blue-Gold game will give Notre Dame fans their first chance to see the new scheme.
In Minter's short two-year tenure, the Irish constantly gave up big play after big play. Defensive performances against Ohio State, Michigan, USC and LSU immediately pop into the memory bank. A change had to be made and Brown, with his background in the Bill Parcells coaching tree, was the man pegged with the job to turn it around.
There will be some new faces on the defense. Sophomore John Ryan and junior Scott Smith should be patrolling the two outside linebacker spots with the first-team. Defensive linemen Patrick Kuntz, at nose tackle, and Dwight Stephenson, Jr. at end, have been running with the first group this spring. Sophomore linebacker Toryan Smith and junior David Bruton both saw limited playing time in 2006 but should be heavy contributors next season.
Brown's new defensive alignment will be closely watched on Saturday. Will they be able to stop the big play? How does Brown move the pieces around on the chess board? Who is flying around? Most of these questions will start to be answered next fall. But Saturday gives fans a glimpse of what to expect from the defense in 2007.