At right guard, sophomores Dan Wenger and Matt Carufel are duking it out to see who'll start against the Yellow Jackets. At running back, Weis has said all five have looked good. There's room to move up and down the depth chart at wide receiver after junior David Grimes. Defensively, senior Anthony Vernaglia and junior Scott Smith are in a race at one of the outside linebacker spots while on the inside, fifth-year senior Joe Brockington and sophomore Toryan Smith are in competition for the majority of snaps. These are just a few of the battles going on in training camp and it's almost time to start narrowing down the list.
"There is very little time for players to play their way into the two-deep rotation," Weis said on Thursday, who met with the offensive and defensive staffs this morning to go over the depth chart. "There are a couple of positions where it's not just going to be the two-deep. At corner, we'll have the possibility of playing six. At quarterback, we have three guys involved. There's a couple of positions that's more than two-deep but you have to start getting the guys ready to play with some type of continuity to know what the rotation will be like."
So far in training camp, it's been the first-team offense versus the first-team defense. But starting Monday, the preparation for Georgia Tech will begin. That means show teams will start to be used in practice, eliminating most of the best on best competition. But it's not just the two-deep that Weis has to trim the roster down to. It's finding out who will take the road trips, especially on September 8th to Penn State.
"A home game is a little different than a road game," Weis said. "You have to look as if you're cutting the team down to a more manageable size. There are players, a) if you're going to an away game and even to a smaller size with who the two-deep are. At this stage, you're trying to get who'll go to an away game or on the bus or plane versus who are the core guys that will be playing. There are two different sets of evaluation."
***Just by talking to quarterback Demetrius Jones, one can quickly deduce the sophomore has an outgoing personality. In practice, Jones is one of the more vocal players before stretching commences. The Chicago, IL native is competing with junior Evan Sharpley and freshman Jimmy Clausen for the right to start against Georgia Tech. Jones can not only dish it out but not let criticism affect his play on the field.
"He's got that bubbly personality," Weis said of Jones. "He's fun to be around. He can take it, too. He's one of the guys you can ride hard and he won't go in the tank. A lot of times, there are quarterbacks whose feelings are temperamental. But he's not one of them. At the quarterback position, if you don't have those leadership abilities, then you shouldn't be there."
Jones isn't the only one that can take it. Weis said all three of his signal callers won't go into the tank if the head coach's ire is drawn their way. Weis has had to learn each of their personalities and some of the stereotypes out there don't match the reality.
"It's interesting," Weis said. "Evan, who everyone thinks is a quiet guy, is kind of a fiery guy. Jimmy, who people think is a flamboyant guy, is more of a quiet guy. They're all competitors now. When the personality comes across one way, that doesn't mean they're not fierce competitors."
***At Saturday's open practice, the kickers, with the exception of Brandon Walker, had trouble putting the ball through the uprights on field goals. Weis said after practice, sophomore Nate Whitaker had been the best so far through training camp in place kicking. The fans and media in attendance added pressure on the players, a feature Weis wanted to see. This pressure aspect has continued in training camp.
"You have to keep putting pressure on them because you have to see if they're going to handle the pressure or crumble under it," Weis said.
***This year, there's a different twist on special teams. All the coaches are involved with the unit in the hope that the results will be higher. Brian Polian and Bernie Parmalee both have the official titles of Special Teams coach but as was evidenced by Saturday, the entire staff is in the mix. While Geoff Price helped the Irish to 11th nationally in net punting last season, the team was 88th in punt returns, 101st in punt return defense and 50th in kickoff return defense.
In addition to this, Weis has said repeatedly that he won't hesitate to use a starter on special teams. The Notre Dame head coach referenced John Carlson on punt protection as an example of a front-line player seeing action on the unit. Weis said if there's not much separation between the starter and the second guy, more than likely the second guy will get the nod. But if it's clear that a starter is head and shoulders the best, they'll find themselves somewhere on special teams. Case in point: Travis Thomas, last year's special teams captain."Travis will be on all four coverage units," Weis said. "One of the reasons Travis came back was he'd like an opportunity to play in the NFL. The easiest way for him to play in the NFL walking in the door as a backup running back and being on special teams. You can bet that he wants to go out there and perform at a very high level, which I think he's capable of doing." ***Weis on the defense's progress in training camp: "I'm pleased with where we are now. Obviously we'll find out September 1st but with what I've seen in practice, I'm pleased."