Implementing Change

At Wednesday's press conference, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis touched on a wide array of topics regarding the team's progress throughout the spring. Although many of the starters are already set, Weis was sure to point out that he is still assessing his players' talents — especially at running back and safety.

With a crowded backfield that's about to receive a boost form incoming freshman, Jonas Gray, Charlie Weis is certain that next year's ground production simply won't be a one-man show.

"Oh they'll all play," Weis said. "I think they'll all dictate how much they'll play. James [Aldridge] won't be stagnant now, because those two young guys are very, very, very good. I mean its one of the positions on the team where you've got three guys that you know you can put out there and you're very confident that you're putting a top flight player out there."

Coach Weis isn't sure exactly what the distribution of carries will look like; that will come at a later time — he's simply analyzing each player's strengths, as well as their weak points.

"I'm just looking, period," Weis said. "I'm just watching. I'm watching blitz pickup, you know, I'm watching run reads. I'm watching routes. I'm watching their hands. I'm watching their knowledge. I'm watching for mental errors. I mean it's all encompassing. I'm looking at everything they do."

When looking at another position that exhibits excellent depth, the strong safety spot has several players who are pushing each other for playing time, as well as the starting nod. Although there are a handful of players vying for the spot, junior Kyle McCarthy has separated himself from the pack and established himself as the number one player.

"Sergio [Brown] has had a great camp," Weis said of the sophomore. "But Kyle, right now, you're going to have to do a lot to beat him out. He's running first and you're going to have to do a whole heck of a lot. First of all, he's very knowledgeable at the position, even though he hasn't played it that much. But he's brought a lot of toughness and probably the thing that I like the most more than anything is how sound of a tackler he's been in this camp. He's been a very hard-hitting, sound tackler, which is something that lifts my spirits."

Last season, McCarthy found his way into the action on third down packages towards the middle of the year. Strong safety Tom Zbikowski would move into the box and act like a linebacker, while McCarthy hung back and covered his zone spot. That game experience helped the Youngstown, Ohio native learn about the position, and become more comfortable on the field.

"We saw signs of it as last year was going on," Weis said. "As the season was progressing, he was getting more and more time, especially when we were dropping Zibby down in the box, and playing [McCarthy] at safety. We were gaining more and more confidence in his as a player."

Coming out of high school as a cornerback, some thought McCarthy might not be big enough to play with the physicality that the position demands. "Oh he's plenty big enough, he's plenty big enough," Weis said to doubt the claim. "I mean, he looks like a safety out there."

To give an idea as to the breakdown of the safety position, Weis briefly summarized the order in which the safeties stand.

"You know, David Bruton is obviously the leader of that group," Weis said. "Kyle is moving ahead of the pack right there, but he's getting pressed hard. And I would say Sergio is the leader in the club house as far as pressing goes as the third guy in."

With the Irish baseball squad taking part in an exhibition game against the South bend Silverhawks while practice was going on, Weis was able to have his three dual sport athletes, Evan Sharpley, Golden Tate and Eric Maust at Cartier Field today.

Coach Weis is certainly glad to have them back in action, but understands that they are at a slight disadvantage because of their absence in meetings.

"Golden's been running around really well," Weis said. "He's been catching the ball pretty well… He didn't get a whole bunch of balls thrown to him in team that I noticed… We were back there working on kickoff returns so he was getting that action."

Although Tate has certainly enjoyed playing with the Fighting Irish Nine, he is glad to be back on the practice field, and has found the transition a bit easier than he anticipated.

"It was a great feeling to get back and catch balls and be around the guys, you know, learn some more plays." Tate said. "It was actually easier than I thought it would be. I thought I was going to come in and be tired after warm ups, but it turned out to be alright."

Weis alluded to Golden's "straight-line speed" as a receiver as one of the main reasons for his playing time last season as a freshman. The Tennessee native hasn't lost a step — in fact, baseball has come to help him develop that quickness.

"[Playing baseball] certainly didn't hurt me," Tate said. "When you're running to first base, you're running in a straight line, so I think it's helped me, but also, it's helped my vertical and horizontal speed. In the outfield you kind of have to run at an angle, so it's definitely helped me."

Sharpley's standout season on the diamond has also led to a smooth transition on the gridiron.

"Not bad," Weis said of Sharpley's progress in practice. "As a matter of fact, what I did today, at the end of practice we had a full speed scrimmage where we went ones against ones and twos against twos. And when the ones went against the ones again, cause I won't have him Saturday, I gave him half of that next drive… but he certainly doesn't look as though its hurt his arm. I guess at first base, you don't throw the ball too much," Weis joked.

Sharpley spoke about sharing time with both sports, and how he feels after the first couple of practices.

"It's been quite a long time since I've been on the practice field, or even playing at all," Sharpley said. "It was different. Just the movements and throwing motion is slightly different. It was just a different experience."

"I think getting as many live reps today as I had, the rust was there," Sharpley added. "I could definitely feel it. I kept saying that I was throwing a couple of fastballs that kind of kept rising, but it was good to get back out there and in the flow of things."

Switching gears to special teams, Weis briefly spoke about his visit to Blacksburg, Va. to discuss Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer's strategy, in return for some offensive tips. Although a portion of the meeting was to discuss x's and o's, Weis said that he was more interested in understanding of how to coach special teams more than anything.

"We spent a whole day and got there early," Weis said. "Coach Beamer made himself available to us and it was him running the clinic and not one of his assistants. Of course we had to trade off where I had to give his offensive staff a couple of hours, but you never do something for nothing… Well one of the reasons I went is because of my involvement this year with special teams, one of the things I wanted to understand was his mentality about involvement, his personal involvement with special teams."

Weis believes that coach Beamer went through many of the problems that the Irish coach is suffering through now.

"I think that he's sort of had a lot of the same problems I had years ago," Weis said. "At one time he was a defensive coordinator and he got involved on calling plays on offense and then he kind of moved away from both those things other than to give his two cents on everything and became much more involved in special teams. And his feeling is that his special teams really didn't pick up the tempo until he had direct involvement where the kids knew that they were answering to the head coach."

For Irish fans across the nation, Weis' ability to implement change and new direction within the program was great news after last year's 3-9 debacle. After the first week and a half of spring practice, it appears as though the head coach is sticking to his guns and remaining consistent with regards to shaking things up around the program. Increased physicality in practices, greater involvement in the weight room, handing over the play calling to coach Mike Haywood, and now taking special teams tips from coach Beamer are all making this spring look like tides are turning for the Irish.


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