Core Begins In The Trenches

It's pretty evident, as head coach Charlie Weis has pointed out recently, and every media outlet that covers the Notre Dame football team has likewise, that the Irish offense has no identity. Though the defense has struggled against the run through three games, the offensive woes are definitely the reason why Weis has his team going through training camp for a second time in as many months.

In three-straight blowout losses to begin the season, Notre Dame hasn't shown any ability to move the football. The offense has managed just two measly field goals, and ranks dead last or right near the bottom in every offensive category. Several times, they have put the defense in tough positions, turning the ball over and giving them a short field.

To fix the problems, this week in practice, the team has been playing full speed. Ones against the ones, hitting and going to the ground. There is a whole new tempo to practice, and this week it's about finishing plays.

None of that matters if the offensive line doesn't get it together.

This season, it seems like the offensive line can't go three plays without some kind of inconsistency that ruins the play. So what are the Irish linemen doing to get better?

"It's not like we're moving and blitz zoning on every play," Weis began. "Or we're scheming on offense on every play. It's more letting people tee off on each other, and see who's going to make a play. I think there is plenty of evidence on tape of guys who are showing up and guys that aren't showing up. And it's easy to go to a player who wants more time for example, and you say look at these five plays, how can I put you on the field.

"And I think that the last two days have given me plenty of teaching tools, you can call it ammunition, I call it teaching tools. Plenty of information I can show the players how to get better and why they're playing and why they're not playing."

Nobody played well in the loss to Michigan, and Weis rotated in nine different linemen. He had to replace three starters on his offensive line from last season, and he is still waiting for the unit to gel.

Sunday, the Irish hit the practice fields fresh off their 38-0 loss at Michigan. Weis just lined his guys up and let them play. Base offense versus base defense. There were no thoughts about this Saturday's opponent Michigan State. It was about getting better internally. The same can be said about Tuesday's practice.

The first half of Wednesday's practice will be more of the same. The second half, Weis and the team will get out of the base scenario, and move onto exotics as they start preparing for the undefeated Spartans.

"I don't think that in one day you can answer the problems, and I don't think in two days you can answer the problems, but there comes a point in time when you have to start moving on," Weis explained. "Tomorrow halfway through the practice, is that point in time."

As the Irish rank dead last in the nation in rushing yardage, points per game, and sacks allowed, the speed of the game seems to be the big issue. Blitzers have easily gotten to the quarterback, and holes have filled up fast, as the offensive line has been slow to adjust.

What might be the biggest help this week, is that usually the team goes at half speed against the show team. Well there hasn't been a show team in practice this week. As said earlier, everything has been going full speed. Perhaps the offensive line will be better adjusted to the speed of the game against Michigan State.

"We're really getting after it, going to the ground," sophomore left tackle Sam Young said. "We're really focusing on getting more physical. When you break it down and you get the training camp mentality, it's really showing who's being more physical out there."

Fifth-year senior center John Sullivan agrees.

"I think the approach helps everyone," he said. "You go out there, you get full speed reps. It's more game like than a normal practice. And it adds another level to the experience factor, and gets guys more game-like reps. So I think it's really important for all positions."

The Notre Dame offense and its line has to get it together quickly. Another challenge awaits this Saturday. The Spartans defense ranks 21st nationally (286.67 yards per game), 28th against the run (88.67) and 45th against the pass (198.00). The glaring stat is the 17 sacks, tying for first in the country. The Irish have surrendered 23 sacks already this season. They only gave up 31 all of last year.

"We're concerned about us this week," Young stated. He later said that the Spartans have come up in meetings. "It's about us, we have to get better. Eventually we're going to concern ourselves about Michigan State, but we have to set the base first."

Sullivan said he didn't even know Michigan State was tied for the nation's lead in sacks.

"I think we do need to find something that we can grow upon," Sullivan said. "I think we've gone about it the right way, going out trying to find that in full-speed practice reps. It has to translate through on game day, so we'll see come Saturday."

Against Georgia Tech it was supposed to be a dynamic rushing attack featuring the now transferred quarterback Demetrius Jones and freshman tailback Armando Allen. The following week against Penn State, the Irish went with a conservative attack to make things easier on first-time starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen and the offense. Last Saturday against Michigan, Weis wanted to take off the gloves and challenge the Wolverines down field.

What new form, base, core, identity will the Irish take following their second training camp? If the offensive line is better, you might finally see something. Top Stories