Making it the Same

In the first two seasons under Irish head coach Charlie Weis the Notre Dame receiving corps put up record-setting numbers and displayed plenty of explosiveness and firepower. Last season a young and inexperienced group of hopefuls all were eager to become the next Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall or Rhema McKnight…..that didn't happen.

What did happen was the once explosive Irish offense seemed stuck in first gear most of the season. A team that ranked as high as No. 4 in passing offense and threw for 32 passing touchdowns in 2005 slipped to No. 110 in passing offense and only managed 12 passing touchdowns on the season. That's what a new quarterback, new running backs, two new starting receivers, and a bunch of new and inexperienced offensive linemen will get you.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis was certainly aware of the many problems he had on offense last season, but there were some specific things that bothered him with the receiving corps he shared after Notre Dame's fifth spring practice.

"Besides our completion percentage, which a lot of times there's factors in there, but the receivers and the definition of their routes is definitely one of them," Weis said when asked about problem areas with his receiving corps after his end-of-season evaluation. "Dropped balls…..that was definitely one of them. I think the thing we probably lacked the most, and this is a combination of the receivers and the quarterback, is chemistry. I think that it's very, very important, just as we talk about the offensive line in runs and protection, the quarterback's chemistry with receivers is always a critical thing."

"When you know you can count them," Weis continued. "I've coached quarterbacks before that wouldn't throw to a guy because they felt they couldn't count on them. Even if the rotation told them to throw it to a guy, he'd say ‘I'm not throwing it to him because I don't know what he's going to do.' I think that's the one thing they're doing is working on dependability and chemistry. I think in the passing game, you can't be efficient if the receivers aren't dependable."

Weis did say he's seen definite improvement thus far this spring with his wide-outs…at least from some of them.

"With several of the receivers…not all of them," he said. "Several of them are moving up the ladder."

2007 wasn't the first time Irish wide receivers coach Rob Ianello found himself in a position where he had very little experience heading into a season.

"It was unique last year because we had so many older guys that were veteran," Ianello said. "I had a year at Arizona where I had one veteran player in Dennis Northcutt and nobody else that had played much or emerged much. I had to play freshmen, Bobby Wade, it's not unique. College football, you kind of turn over your guys, every so often they graduate. You're going to have some guys sometimes play that don't have as much experience that kind of gain it on the run."

The Irish receivers did gain experience on the run, but they didn't gain the production of the previous regime. True freshman Duval Kamara was the team's leading wide receiver in receptions (32) and touchdowns (4), but those numbers were quite a drop from 2006's leading receiver, Jeff Samardzija, who logged 78 receptions and 12 touchdowns on the year.

"We went through a complete evaluation of every pass," Ianello said when asked how he and the staff plan to right the ship. "I watched every pass multiple times, as did a lot of us, to determine what are the things individually that the guys had to improve on, and what are the things as an offense we wanted to improve on.

"I sat down and I visited with every player and told them where I thought they were at, what they had to improve on, what their strengths were, with all of them. We just tried to address them, every guy, from the coach to the player. We all know we had to improve and get better. We've had 1/3 of the way through spring practice. We've really done a nice job of working and trying to pay attention to the details of playing the position and not letting a day go past where we don't try and improve.

"I see all our guys making strides, competing and working. I'm very encouraged 1/3 of the way through. We've got 2/3 of the way to go and we'll see where we are at the end. I'm encouraged with where we are so far."

One player many believe will be the next great receiver at Notre Dame is Kamara. At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, he sure looks the part of Maurice Stovall and showed glimpses of greatness at times last season. Weis says the Hoboken, N.J. native has some skills one doesn't usually see in big receivers.

"He has to a chance to be very good," Weis said of Kamara. "One of the key reasons for that is, even though he's tall, he's capable of getting in and out of breaks and sinking his hips. I think that's one of the things tall receivers have a lot of problems with, getting in and out of breaks."

"He came from a very good high school program and was coached very well in high school," Ianello said of Kamara. "Coming from a Wing-T offense to our offense, he really was further ahead than we anticipated. He's a very coachable player. He takes corrections and will try to apply them and work at them. He's very conscientious that way."

Besides Kamara, the Irish do have some excellent prospects enrolling as freshmen this summer but Ianello says he's not focused on anyone but his current group of receivers.

"I am only concerned with coaching the guys that are here right now and getting the guys that are here right now as good as they can get in spring practice," he said.

"Not at all," Ianello said when asked if he uses the talented freshmen class as an inspiration with his current crop of receivers. "The motivational tool is we've got to be better. Nobody liked the tastes in our mouth at the end of last season. That's the biggest motivational tool we have.

"We all know that we have a lot of work to do. We're taking a lot of time on fundamentals, which is important to the position of playing receiver. We're watching those one-on-one tapes and those periods against those DBs very, very intently, trying to look at things that we can do individually as a player, and then taking that to a team setting and growing it from there."

One thing that will certainly help the Notre Dame receiving corps is having just one quarterback throwing to them most of the time in Jimmy Clausen.

"I think it helps our team that the quarterback is settled, absolutely in timing and rhythm and things of that nature with the receivers," Ianello said. "But above all, we have litany of things as a receiver corps that we need to improve on and go down our list and keep working at them. I'm very encouraged so far.

"I think that's a very positive thing," Ianello said of having his receivers working mostly with Clausen this spring. "It's a very positive in our development of our team, our offense, certainly the receiver/quarterback relationship. What we have to be able to do is, when we run a comeback, it has to be the same comeback every time. When we run an out, it's got to be the same type of out every time, so the quarterback doesn't have to wonder who is he throwing this route to, it's the same."

And if the Irish can get it the same, they should get back to the same old explosive offense Irish fans have been used to watching under Charlie Weis. Top Stories