Day Two Better than Day One

Wind and wet weather kept the Irish inside for the second day of practice on Friday. The Irish have now completed two days of spring practice and head coach Charlie Weis seemed somewhat content with Notre Dame's progress thus far.

"I was more pleased today than I was Wednesday," Weis said. "What happens, first day out, everyone is a little rusty. They ran around real well, and the execution was okay, but I would've been concerned if on the second day, the natural progression was they weren't better than the first day, which they were.

"On Wednesday, at the tail end of practice, the execution started to wane a bit. Today that didn't happen. That was one of the things I was looking for."

Today was also the media's first contact with second-year starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen. There were plenty of questions about the Westlake Village, Calif. native on Friday.

"The two main things are he knows how to read coverages and he's tough," Weis said of what he knows about Clausen currently. "He got beat up pretty good, but he knows how to read coverages. You could see that as a quarterback coach, when you can see a guy really understands, ‘hey that was cover 2. No, that was quarter/quarter-half. It was weakside rotation. It was strongside rotation.' He already knows how to read coverage, which gives him a big advantage over a lot of young, more inexperienced quarterbacks. Throw that on top of the fact that he obviously showed some willpower and stamina because he took a whole bunch of hits. They were the things I'd say were the knowns, not the unknowns."

Weis also spoke about how now having an experienced quarterback changes things with what he can do from an offensive play-calling standpoint.

"I like to take a play and run it from multiple looks but run the same play," he explained. "If the quarterback can't handle the multiple looks, then you really gain no advantage yourself by doing it because then all you're doing is confusing your own guy.

"Now we're at a stage where last year you take that play and you might run it from one formation and then you're on to the next play, you never got repetition of plays over and over again because you didn't have a form of disguise. Now, because he has a better understanding, he understand; ‘oh, that's just a different way to run the same play,' it makes it a lot more simplistic."

Clausen is clearly thicker in the torso and lower body than he was at any time last year. Weis said that his added size will help him in many ways most people don't realize.

"I think he's made more development physically than he has mentally," he said. "I think he already had a lot mentally. I think that his body is going to help him in a lot of facets. It isn't just arm strength and being able to deliver the ball, it's also being able to shrug off guys. When you've got bodies around you, and you've got a hand on you….there was way too many times last year that he'd go down too easy or he'd get pulled too easy or he'd get knocked off too easy. When you add some girth now, he's a lot more solid than he was at any time last year."

The freshman quarterback's improvement is vital to Notre Dame's future success, but Weis said it was too early to say much about how much progress the former USA Today Offensive Player of the Year has made since last season.

"We're two days in," said Weis. "It's a bit premature for me to get too critical at this time. All I know is that he's slinging the ball well. He's reading coverages well. He's making a few mental mistakes on identifications because he's trying to be even too insightful. We have to calm him down a bit because he's trying to jump about three levels all at one time. We've got to make sure he doesn't try to do too much too fast."

Lastly, Weis spelled out what he was truly hoping to accomplish with Clausen this spring.

"The two things I'm pushing hardest on right now are pushing him along mentally, development-wise and leadership-wise," Weis said. "I don't think you can force leadership on anyone, but the kid has it in him. It's just that a lot of times when you're a younger guy, you're afraid to let it out because you really haven't earned your stripes yet. I think at the quarterback position, if you don't show some leadership, then you really have a problem as an offense.

"I talked to him the other day about the difference between players looking at you and players looking to you. I had a half hour conversation on really just that phrase. When your offensive players are looking at you, they're not looking at you as a leader, they're just looking at you as the guy running the plays. When they're looking to you, now they're counting on you to be the guy. That, probably of all the things we could talk about the entire spring, if we can get the offensive players to look to him instead of at him, then we've really turned the corner."

The other hot topic of spring has been Weis stepping away a bit from the offense and becoming more of a head coach both on the practice field and in meetings with his staff. "It's actually been kind of fun to tell you the truth," Weis said. "I get to see more. When you don't have to zone into one aspect you can see a bigger picture.

"If I didn't have confidence in Michael and the offensive staff I wouldn't be doing this.

"These guys have been with me now for three years. We're on the same page. This is pretty smooth sailing here. Tomorrow morning I'm making myself available with the offensive staff and I have no agenda. I'm going to go in after our morning meeting and say, ‘okay, do you guys have any questions or thoughts' and just give my insight into what I feel problem situations are."

Another critical area that Notre Dame must improve this spring is offensive line play. Like Clausen, Weis said it's too early to tell how much progress this unit has made in the off season.

"I think that the offensive line is tough to critique until you put pads on," said Weis. "Remember now that we're blocking against the defense, and they're rushing, and there's a lot of physicality going on, but you've got no pads on. There's a lot of players you can't tell. I think that a few days from now I'll be better suited to answer that question."

Weis also conceded that this unit has a ways to go before they'll meet his expectations of performing well.

"I think we have a big climb to go," he said. "People don't understand sometimes how important experience is as an offensive lineman. Experience is invaluable as an offensive lineman, especially when there's some form of continuity where guys get used to playing the game with each other. The communication gets better. Guys start looking out for each other.

"They understand that we didn't perform very well last year. No one has to tell them that. These guys are very prideful young men. When you've gone through a tough year, when you get punched in the face you've got two choices. You can go down or you can punch back. The signs I've seen, at this point right now, is that they prefer to punch back."

Notes: Senior defensive lineman Pat Kuntz was seen on the sidelines and the practice field today but in street clothes. Kuntz is not enrolled in Notre Dame this spring, but most expect him back this summer. Kuntz was sporting some nice locks of black hair--a change from his usual shaved head. Weis certainly took notice of Kuntz, and his hair, and in typical Weis fashion, critiqued Kuntz and his new look. While we couldn't hear the exact words, it didn't sound as if Weis approved of his new look.

Also seen at practice was 2009 linebacker prospect Carlo Calabrese. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Verona, N.J. prospect is in town to visit Notre Dame and participate in junior day being held tomorrow by the Irish coaching staff. Calabrese has been offered by the Irish staff and is expected to be around campus all weekend. The Irish will host between 10-15 prospects tomorrow for junior day. Top Stories