The two previous years, the Irish employed a base 4-3 package under former coordinator Rick Minter. In the spring time after the move to Brown was made, the players, almost in unison, said the old system was too confusing with too many checks at the line of scrimmage. Brown wants his players to use fundamentals and athletic ability to get to the ball. The learning process of the new system is underway. On Monday, the defense put in base packages and followed that up with nickel groupings on Tuesday. As the offense goes over its play and packages, the defense counters.
"Today, we're putting in multiple tight end groupings" head coach Charlie Weis said on Wednesday. "You're dealing with loading up front to stop the run. Tomorrow, we're going to put in third down. The next day, it'll be red zone and two-minute. In the first five days, it's multiple personnel groupings on offense and a corresponding response from the defense as to how they'll play that."
The first two days of camp, the team was in shorts. This will continue until Friday when the players will strap it up in fall pads and get after it. Weis doesn't want to start handing out compliments until the hitting commences.
"There are guys that look real good in shorts that when you start hitting people, they don't look very good," Weis said. "I don't try to prejudge anyone, good or bad, when we're in shorts. Someone asked me about Asaph (Schwapp) yesterday. Asaph is not a shorts-type player. He's a type of player, in his role, a pounding type of fullback and the more pads he has on, the better."
***For players like George West, Toryan Smith, Matt Carufel and Dan Wenger, training camp is no longer a strange event. All these players are sophomores now and expected to contribute in 2007. After two days in training camp in 2006, some of the then-freshmen players might have been hitting the "information overload" stage. The group knows what to expect and, by the look of it, they're physically ready as well.
"Your second time around, you don't feel the tension and the nervousness," Weis said. "I wouldn't isolate one guy because on Saturday you'll see a whole bunch of guys that fit the bill. There's a number of guys in that mode in the second year here that are different players."
Weis had a cookout for his team on Sunday. A comment from his wife, Maura, further illustrated the progress made in the weight room in the off-season.
"After we're done, my wife said, ‘I feel better,'" Weis said. "I said, ‘Why do you feel better?' She said, ‘These guys are big.' She's been around big guys for a long time. When you look at those linemen, those same linemen that were here a year ago, you look at them now and see why I'm encouraged."
***A player who has been here a little bit longer than the sophomores is junior David Bruton. The safety made a big leap in the spring time for playing time. Relegated to mostly special teams duties his first two seasons at Notre Dame, Bruton had a solid month of practice in the spring time. It culminated in a fantastic Blue-Gold game performance, where the junior was named Defensive MVP for his interception return for touchdown. Bruton has put in a lot of hard work to carry over the spring momentum.
"David has gotten a lot bigger and not lost any of his speed," Weis said. "That's allowed him to play the game even more aggressively. We've all seen glimpses as a punt cover guy. But at this point, until the spring, we hadn't seen enough of it on defense. He came in at 180. He's 210. That extra size without giving up speed has given him confidence physically to play."
***Corwin Brown made one of the best comments in the spring time. The new defensive coordinator talked about giving up the big play and if the opponent's band was playing, someone in the secondary was coming out of the game. This has been a major problem the past two years for the Irish. There are too many examples to cite.
The answer to the problem could be in the numbers. Weis said on Monday that the secondary is maybe the deepest position on the team. Competition drives players to be better and to keep their spots on the depth chart. Weis hopes that the wealth of talent and numbers in the defensive backfield takes away the big play for opposing offenses.
"Our players that are out there are very competitive" Weis said. "There's a lot of competition out there to get on the field. Sometimes, inherently, that takes care of the problem. If guys gets beat, you put someone else in. The problem is when you don't have another alternative and when you're living and dying with what they're doing. Competition sometimes answers that question. We have depth at the position that we were sometimes shy at."
***There's an old face back with the team. Darrin Bragg, who did not practice in the spring time and seemingly was done with football, has been out on the practice fields sporting the No. 12 red jersey. The senior has come full circle. Bragg came to Notre Dame as a quarterback, was moved to wide receiver and now returns to his original position. The transfer of Zach Frazer to Connecticut in the summer made the return possible.
"I told him I didn't want him to leave Notre Dame with a bad taste in his mouth and me having a bad taste in my mouth about what happened here," Weis said, who first talked with Bragg about the chance in late May. "I wanted him to give him an opportunity to be part of this program."
***The Brady Quinn contact ordeal is finally over. The former Irish quarterback, drafted by the Cleveland Browns at pick No. 22, held out for two weeks over an impasse in contract negotiations. But on Tuesday, a deal was struck and Quinn is in camp today.
Coincidentally, Weis was talking with Quinn on the phone when the quarterback's agent, Tom Condon, called Quinn to tell him the good news about the deal getting done. Weis knows Quinn has to mend some fences, not only on the Browns team but with the fans as well and gave his former signal caller some advice on how to handle the situation.
"He's a very intelligent guy," Weis said of Quinn. "In a very short amount of time, no one will be talking about him getting in late to camp. Obviously, it'll be an issue today, tomorrow and Saturday when they play preseason. But in a short amount of time, after the players razz him for a few days, he'll move on. As long as you go in there and go to work and don't try to look like you have all the answers when you're a rookie, keep your mouth shut and play, you'll win over the teammates."