The Renaissance Man

Perhaps the largest storyline this spring for Notre Dame is the renovated approach head coach Charlie Weis is employing with his squad. A larger, more diverse role in addition to increased physicality in practices have been the most palpable changes thus far. After watching Saturday's practice in its entirety, its clear that his players are buying into his renewed coaching style.

"I mean, I get to do a lot more coaching," Weis commented on his presence in all areas of the team this spring. "When you're zoned in just at one position, or one area all the time, especially, for example, if you're following the quarterback and wherever he goes and wherever he is, that's what you get to see. The rest of the time, you just have to count on watching it on tape. But there's a lot of little things that come up. It might be a technique thing. Somebody might do something that might not seem significant in the drill at the time, but to me it might be significant enough to walk by and say something to him. I think I've been getting a lot better feel for what guys can do and what they can't do."

As Weis has taken a more active role, it has become frequent for him to roam across the practice field and focus on a portion of the practice for each of the position drills. Today, for example, he started on one end of Meyo Field at Loftus to watch the offense, and as the practice progressed, made his way to the other side eventually finishing with coach Jappy Oliver and the defensive line. Although Weis has been far more active, he admits that he doesn't say all that much to the players, but rather observes their technique and development from day to day. Thus far this spring, he has made his point — and his players are listening too.

"Oh most of the time I don't say anything," he said. "It isn't like I feel compelled to go there and say something. But I think that it's important when you feel the time is right to make sure you interject when you think the coaching point has to be made."

Saturday's practice could be characterized as a fast-pace, intense and physical session, with moments of comic relief to loosen the mood. With Weis becoming more of a players' coach, it is a fine line to cross, and he feels that a balance is necessary between instruction and jest to maximize the team's potential.

"That's a loaded question," Weis half-joked as he thought about achieving this balance. "I think that I want to make sure that they can differentiate between how football coaches have to be on you, and the fact that when they're on you, they try to make you better, not to be on you just to be on you. And I think the team is starting to get a better understanding of that. I think that you can do some things to lighten them up but really when it comes right down to it, it still comes down to getting players to make plays. And I think that as coaches, we have to put them in position to make plays, and then we have to demand that they make them. And I think that we're slowly starting to get that across."

A perfect example of Weis' jovial manner from Saturday's practice came on the last play of the punt drills. With David Grimes, Armando Allen and George West all having caught enough punts, right tackle Sam Young got his chance to run one back.

"He didn't look too bad did he?" Weis joked. "And you thought Zibby could run through arms."

With all these new modifications in his coaching style, coach Weis is still measuring the progress of the intensity and tempo thus far in spring practice.

"Well the tempo today has basically been the its been since the third practice," he said. "It's been basically like this everyday. And I didn't cut anything back from you, as you noticed. You got the full practice. That's what we've been doing. The only thing that I lose some sleep at night about is whether to pull off of them a little bit. Because you want to push and push and push them and, you know, sometimes you say ‘should I back down here, or back down there and certain areas right there.' So that's really the only thing that really goes through. Because remember now, you play a game Saturday, you really don't have to go full speed again until the next Saturday. Here, you go full speed on Saturday, and then you go full speed on Monday and then you go full speed on Wednesday again, so there's less recovery time with their bodies."

During Irish Eyes, Notre Dame's version of the Oklahoma drill, the players were fired up, as the atmosphere intensified. A number of scuffles even broke out, but Weis doesn't necessarily see that as a negative aspect.

"You know, sometimes a fight's not a bad thing," he said. "Especially when you know it's not people cheap-shotting and ripping off helmets or stuff like that. I think that they're starting to not only be more physical, but more competitive."

One thing to be expected with the frequency of the full contact practices is a higher incidence of injuries among the players. Today, in addition to the players who have been held out all spring, Matt Romine, Mike Ragone and Luke Schmidt were all on the sidelines, riding the stationary bikes to loosen up.

"Oh he got banged up in practice the other day," Weis said of Romine. "As a matter of fact, I held him last night too… You can see by the tempo, we're banging them around pretty good. The tradeoff is, you end up with more guys in the training room. So that comes with the territory."

In terms of the ailing pair of tight ends, Weis mentioned that Schmidt suffered some sort of head injury, and was held out for precautionary reasons more than anything. Ragone tweaked his knee in a one-on-one drill yesterday and could have practiced today, albeit in some pain. Weis said he didn't want to expose the freshman to the tempo and intensity of the practice, however, and chose to let him rest until Monday.

In addition to building a certain amount of swagger in the locker room, the physical practices have also served another purpose — one focusing more on the mentality and confidence of the players.

"Well the two points of emphasis, besides x's and o's and scheme, the biggest points of emphasis are, number one, getting the team to be more confident," Weis said. "And to be more confident, as we said from day one, it all correlates to making plays. And I think that the whole trickle down effect has to start with making plays. And I think that you can start to see some guys out there who are starting to play with some confidence… Secondly, and almost as important, is to play the game with passion and emotion."

Weis did want to make something clear, however. He is not trying to force a new philosophical style on any one of his players, but rather coach them into it.

"Not coax," Weis stressed during his press conference. "We're trying to coach. What we're really doing is, I'm spending a lot of time with the assistant coaches about using their own personalities, not mine, with their own position guys to try and get those reactions to be instantaneous. To not have to think about reacting. Just like making a play, I want them to not have to think about it… I think what we're trying to do is get these guys to enjoy being around their teammates and make a play."


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