"I'd prefer to be practicing rather than not practicing, but I think that it gives you an opportunity to get a lot of young guys that haven't had as many reps involved in your system," head coach Charlie Weis said on Monday. "But fortunately/unfortunately for us a lot of those young guys were playing a good portion of the year, and I think that it's almost as important to get started on your weight program, a heavy dose of the weight program, so we're just countering that lack of practice time by the increased early start on strength and conditioning. And I think that that's all you can do based on what the legislation is at this time is utilize it properly and get going like we did this morning on the strength program."
Coincidentally, Notre Dame's last two bowl opponents will be squaring off in the first week of January for a shot at the national championship. The Irish lost to Ohio State 34-20 in the Fiesta Bowl and were routed by LSU 41-14 in last season's Sugar Bowl. Weis, who has a vote in the coaches poll, had the Buckeyes first and Georgia second. The Notre Dame head coach thinks it'll be an interesting match-up.
"I have a lot of respect for both programs, and I have no rooting interest for either team," Weis said. "I really don't care. It could be a 0-0 tie and I'd be happy with that, too."
***Jimmy Clausen ended his freshman season on a high note. The freshman quarterback started slow but finished strong, leading the team to two straight wins to end the year. In Clausen's first six starts, the young signal caller was constantly under pressure and could not make the offense productive.
Clausen then sat out the losses to USC and Navy. Weis talked about the value of learning on the sideline and the game slowing down. The experience apparently paid off as the freshman looked like a new man in the last three starts. Clausen threw six touchdowns to one ill-advised interception in the final three games. The freshman ends 2007 completing 56 percent of his passes and throwing seven touchdowns to six interceptions. Weis wants Clausen to gain a few pounds in the off-season in addition to assuming a larger leadership role.
"I think that the kid has a very good mind," Weis said. "He has a very good arm. He has a pretty good understanding about the basis of our system that we're going to be able to expand going into the spring. But I think for him, more than mentally, I think that his biggest task is going to be to get himself fully healthy and physically ready to go and add some muscle. I think that for him that's as big a thing as everything else in addition to becoming more of a leader.
"I think that any time you're a freshman it's tough to be a leader or show leadership abilities when you're a freshman because it's tough for a fifth=year senior in a huddle to look at a freshman and say, okay, I'm going to listen to everything. It's a little tough just naturally doing it that way, although he got a lot of help from guys like (John Sullivan) and (John) Carlson to make sure that that's the way things went around here. But I think that they are the two biggest things for him."
***Weis wouldn't talk about his plans for the coaching staff and if there will be any changes made. The Irish head coach wants to finish up recruiting first and then evaluate the staff. But one coach could be on the move sooner rather than later.
Offensive coordinator/running backs coach Michael Haywood is a candidate for the head coaching job at Houston. Haywood is a native of Houston and told the Houston Chronicle that he "would very much like to be a serious candidate for the head coaching job." Haywood was hired by Weis in 2005 as the offensive coordinator/running backs coach.
"All I know is I spent about a half hour on the phone (with the Houston athletic director) prior to (Mike) being involved with that," Weis said. "I spent about a half hour on the phone, which was followed up the next evening with them getting together and having a few other people that they're talking to, and then they'll be moving the process along probably, and probably later this week. That's as far as he knows and I know."
***The finish of the 2007 season ends the first-year of Corwin Brown at Notre Dame. The defensive coordinator replaced Rick Minter after the 2006 year and there was some good and bad. The good: the pass defense. The Irish allowed 161 yards per game through the air, which was third in the nation and the lowest total for a Notre Dame team since 1996.
The bad: points allowed, sacks and rushing defense. The Irish, whose offense finished dead last in the nation, surrendered 28 PPG and was 95th and 96th respectively in the country against the run and in sacks. There's hope, though, because eight potential starters return in 2008 as Brown will try to make this group a stout unit.
"Corwin is very, very disappointed in the year just like I am, and more than anything I can say is I'm exactly on the same page with Corwin about where we are and where we need to go," Weis said. "I think that he's driven just the way I'm driven, to make sure that not only will we not ever be in this position again, but we're driven to get to the top, and that's where we intend to go.
"We can go over pros and cons in the defense, but statistically you know what they are. You know what the past defense was, you know what the rush defense was, you know what the stats are. I think more than anything else what he has done is given me a guy that I've known for a long time, who I'm very close with, that I know feels things and sees things exactly the way I do. I can't get any more glowing a recommendation than somebody that is eye to eye on everything I do."
***Weis on the special teams arrangement that had all the coaches involved with the unit: "It has to be changed. I was not pleased with the way it went."