Opener Approaches for Irish

It would be an understatement to say the quarterback competition has dominated fall camp at Notre Dame. With Brady Quinn gone to the NFL, the three way battle between Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones and Jimmy Clausen has everyone's attention. Head coach Charlie Weis has had to answer dozens of question on the race, even though he's not in the business of giving out free information.

Weis got a tad angry at a reporter last week after being pressed on the issue. The Notre Dame head coach said after week one that he would refrain from naming a starter to give his team an advantage over Georgia Tech, who has to prepare for the likelihood of either of the three to take snaps on Saturday when the Yellow Jackets come to South Bend for both teams season opening contest. Kickoff is set for 3:43 PM and NBC will have the national television coverage. But the questions continue to come and in just four days, a relieved Weis will finally unveil the big secret.

"I'm going to be glad to get to the game and get this stuff over with because I don't like this either, just so you know," Weis said of the quarterback competition guessing game. "I'd rather have this over with. Let's get to the game, get playing.

"Now we can just move on with the season and I'm not causing a distraction outside. Now, the team's not distracted by it because everyone knows what the deal is. The only one that's distracted is everyone else. I can't wait to get through Saturday, hopefully with a very positive outcome and we can go from there."

Weis has made a decision as to who'll take the snap on the opening series on Saturday. But the Irish head coach isn't telling, not even the quarterback. Weis doesn't want to put the quarterback in a position of lying to the media when asked about it. But the Notre Dame head coach thinks the three signal callers have a good idea of what's going to happen.

"If they don't, they're brain-dead," Weis said with a laugh.

Whoever the quarterback is for the contest against the Yellow Jackets, the task will be a formidable one. Georgia Tech returns eight starters from a group that was ranked in the top-30 in pass efficiency defense, rush defense, total defense and scoring defense. A lot of people are familiar with senior middle linebacker Phillip Wheeler, a second-team All-American in 2006 after registering 89 tackles, 14.5 TFL and nine sacks.

Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is a respected mind in the coaching business and is known for blitzing early and often. Protecting the Irish quarterback will be three new starters along the offensive line. Whether it's Sharpley, Jones or Clausen, the Notre Dame signal caller can expect Georgia Tech to be hyper aggressive in the hope of rattlng the first-time starter.

"It kind of disrupts your practice schedule because normally what you'll do in a practice is you'll separate a period just to blitz," Weis said, who said the Yellow Jackets blitz around 75 percent of the time. "Say you're working on blitz, but when a team's blitzing at that type of volume, you just have to integrate it within your whole practice, because if not, you'd be diagramming certain plays to beat the blitz and the rest of the plays wouldn't be.

"It's one of those game plans where you got to be ready for them to blitz or blitz zone on every single play."

Last season, in Notre Dame's 14-10 victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the Irish had a lot of experienced players in that contest. Quinn was relied on heavily in 2006 to make things happen for the Irish offense and put points up on the scoreboard. This year, with a full stable of talented running backs and inexperience at the wide receiver position, a pendulum shift over to the running game might be in order. If the ground attack can get going, it'll take a lot of pressure off the new starting quarterback not to win the game all by themselves.

"The most important thing, when you get into this situation right here, is you don't go into the game expecting the quarterback to have to do it by himself," Weis said. "You have to share the wealth. You have to share the work. You have to share the blame. You have to share the credit. I think you have to make it a more collaborative effort so you don't hang the quarterback out to dry. I think that's very, very, very critical."

The quarterback watch won't be the only subplot on Saturday afternoon. New defensive coordinator Corwin Brown will unveil his 3-4 personnel style, a change from Rick Minter's base 4-3 scheme. Brown has impressed players and fans alike with his up tempo coaching style and successes off the field in recruiting. Players have stressed this new defense is less complicated than Minter's and they're in better position to read and react to the opposing offense.

This will also be Weis' first opener at home. In 2005, Notre Dame blitzed Pittsburgh 42-21 in the Irish head coach's first contest. Last year, it was the narrow win over the Yellow Jackets. This season, the home crowd will get the first shot at seeing the Notre Dame lineup, which is a tad different than 2006. The Irish must replace 12 starters from last year's team that went 9-3 and earned a second straight BCS Bowl appearance. The younger group, a lot of whom Weis has recruited, haven't gotten a ton of playing time the past few years. It gives the Notre Dame head coach a tough task, one he's fully willing to embrace.

"This is more exciting than the first two years for me," Weis said. "This is also more challenging. The first year you had a change in attitude. No longer are you changing the attitude of the team.

"Now what you're trying to do is get the players that you brought -- a lot of players that you brought in here or were already in the program paying their dues, it's now their team. With that comes a challenge of coaching those guys and putting them in a position to win."

Training camp is now over. It's game week for the players, who started classes on Tuesday along with the rest of the Notre Dame student body. No more two-a-day practice sessions. No more unlimited work weeks. It means a lot less time between the players and coaches, possibly for the better.

"They're sick of me, I can tell that,' Weis said. "To be honest, I'm kind of sick of them, too. I think training camp is a long, arduous process. They're the only ones on campus that are happy that school starts because that's when training camp can officially end. I can have them endless hours until the day school starts.

"There's no one happier than the players when school actually starts. They can get away from me till 2:30 in the afternoon every day." Top Stories