Ever since the graduations of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, wide receiver David Grimes has been the veteran presence among the wideouts. Grimes played in all 12 games as a freshman, mostly on special teams, but he did get a start at receiver against BYU. As a sophomore, Grimes appeared in 12 of 13 as the third receiver behind Samardzija and McKnight in 2006 and made 26 catches for 336 yards and a pair of scores.
With Grimes assuming the lead role in 2007, many expected his numbers to increase, but as the offense struggled mightily, Grimes did not have the breakout type of year that he'd hoped for. He mirrored his 2006 production with 27 catches for two touchdowns, but had just 224 receiving yards for an 8.3 average down from 12.9 in 2006.
Now in his senior year, Grimes is again the unquestioned leader of a group that should be better with a year of experience and some welcome newcomers. Grimes was named as one of three captains in the spring and is ready to take his leadership and his team to another level.
"It's an honor and I am grateful to be a captain," he said. "It adds a lot of responsibility and pressure but I just have to be a teacher to the younger guys so they can look up to me and come to me when they need help."
Sophomore Golden Tate says that as a captain Grimes leads the receivers.
"Grimes is the captain, so he's showing everyone what to do and what not to do," said Tate.
Grimes and receivers coach Rob Ianello recently spent some time talking about how far the two have come.
"We were joking about that today," Ianello said. "Now I'm relying on him to help with some of those younger Z's, but back four years ago we all were freshmen, me too. We all were freshmen four years ago coming in here and putting this offense in. So we've made some good strides in that.
"We have obviously a very good system here, offensively, that Coach has brought with him from New England and we have all been together now on offense, we've all been together for four years. I think we have a really good feel for how to install it now and how to work together with each other, maybe more so than we've ever had just because of time, no other reason than we've been through it together over time."
Tate said that he looks to Grimes a lot.
"His leadership is tremendous. He's always there, any questions you need. It's almost like another coach in a sense," Tate said.
Charlie Weis singled out Grimes at media day for his work ethic.
"You look at David Grimes, okay, and say physically, okay, leadership wise, all those other things. Here's a man on a mission," Weis said. "So you already know, you know, hey, David Grimes is not a perfect player, okay? He's not perfect. But he's the type of guy you're looking for."
Ianello echoed the thoughts of the headman.
"David is a very good leader. He's taken a good role with our team, obviously, he's taken a good role in our room," Ianello said. "Not saying David doesn't have things to improve on, because David does have things to improve on. But I also can look to him to say hey we've got a lot of this stuff going in tomorrow, let's make sure in the dorm tonight you spend some time with those younger guys to see what questions they have."
For Grimes, the younger guys keep him fresh.
"The young guys are keeping the older guys on their toes, they are looking real good but they still have a lot to learn and the older guys are willing to help teach them," Grimes said.
Junior Rob Parris is another older guy who wants to help the younger players.
"I think the younger receivers are progressing pretty well. It's a hard offense to learn quickly, so being one of older guys, I've got to help them out," Parris said. "I've got to make sure that they're ready to play because when they get on the field they've got to be just as ready as anybody else."
But even Parris still seeks out Grimes a lot of times himself.
"Because I'm a junior and David's a senior, I go to him for a lot of help, being a captain as he is. He's very helpful for me, So when I've got to help the younger guys, I ask him stuff and he moves me in the right direction," Parris said.
COMPETITION AT LEFT TACKLE: Seniors Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich are listed as co-starters at the left tackle position on the most recent depth chart and Weis said that they will both get shots to run with the first team at the start of camp.
"The competition right now, it's great to have two older guys battle for a position like left tackle. I think it's going great, we're both competing really hard, we're both trying our best," Turkovich said. "When you have a guy like Paul is a good player, he's pushing me to be a good player too. I'm practicing harder than I would if I felt job security."
Turkovich has gone back and forth between tackle and guard, but wants to play tackle in 2008.
"I came in and played left tackle when I first came here. Then I went to left guard and it felt sort of uncomfortable at first and then you get used to it," he said. "Now I go back out to left tackle in the spring and it's sort of uncomfortable again because they're two different positions. Left tackle for me, it's great to be in a competition and I think it's a good spot for me."
While it can be frustrating moving back and forth, Turkovich said that the cross training will be important to the team.
"They're trying to find who'll be the best person who will be the best person for the (left tackle) job, whether it's me or Paul and that (other) person will be the utility man and move around the line. It's going to add depth to our offensive line," he said. "Because me and Paul both know guard and tackle."
The players may want to get settled in at one spot or another, but they know that's not up to them.
"I'll say it's important to solidify who's going to be there, but how long it takes is how long it takes, is not my decision, it's Coach Weis'," Turkovich said.
Meanwhile, sophomore Matt Romine, who played in the first two games of 2007 before being sidelined with an elbow injury, is trying to make it a three-man race. Coming into the spring, Romine had hoped to get in the competition, but was hobbled by an ankle injury throughout.
"It was real frustrating. I felt like I had an opportunity to compete and I had opportunities there and getting hurt in the first week of spring ball, it was tough sitting around and having to watch everyone else practice when I couldn't real do anything at all," Romine said.
"Camp's been going real well. Just getting back from last spring coming off the injury and getting back over the summer and getting back in shape," he said. "Start of camp is shaking off some of the rust and getting out there and competing again and that's what I like to do and it's going real well so far.
"Throughout the board I think we've got competition, especially at the left tackle position. We've got three guys with Turk and Paul and I like the competition because we all push each other, all three of us. We're helping each other at the same time and we're pushing each other. Everyone is helping each other out."
SECOND NUMBER IS STILL A 2: Sophomore receiver Duval Kamara apparently is still tipping the skills at more than 220 and he has been getting some grief.
Earlier in the week quarterback Jimmy Clausen was heard at practice encouraging Kamara by saying, "Come on 60! Come on 60!"
Ianello says that nobody gives Kamara a harder time than he does, but added that he is doing the right things.
"Guys give him a hard time about wearing #60. About being an offensive guard out there blocking on the edge," Ianello said. "He's been working hard at trying to do the things that we've asked him, he just didn't do it a time-frame that we had."
Parris gets a kick out of it.
"It's pretty funny, people were calling him (former defensive lineman) Casey Cullen. He looks like a lineman out there, but he's still doing his thing at receiver," Parris said.
PRACTICE STARTS FOR REAL TUESDAY: Tuesday is the first day that the Irish can wear full pads and the hitting should start heating up. Weis and the staff have repeatedly said that not much can be determined with minimal padding. Fortunately for us, Tuesday also doubles as an open practice for the media. Check back at IrishEyes throughout the day for updates.