Irish head coach Charlie Weis has said all the right things in interviews. He and the team are moving on. They're "diving right in." They've forgotten last season. This is a new season. But will it be the same old, same old for the Irish in 2008?
The talk means nothing at this point, and it will mean nothing when the Irish step on the field on September 6 against San Diego State. The interviews, the practice video, the hype leading up to the games….none of it will matter when the Irish strap on their helmets. What will matter is belief in oneself.
Weis' biggest job this off season was rebuilding the fragile psyche of a young and shell-shocked team. Being the butt of every national media joke is never fun, especially when you're the same butt the very next week.
But this is why Weis has been around—around all off season, around all summer. He knows that this 2008 Irish team won't beat anyone on their schedule unless they believe they can. And the team must believe in him and his coaching staff.
Weis can push the right buttons. He can play part-time psychologist. He can try to get into the minds of each and every player to find the right mixture to motivate, but I think, ultimately, the players need to do the motivating. If you look throughout history, every great team has outstanding leadership. It can come from the coaches, but to be truly great you have to have someone in the trenches leading….someone to look to when times are tough, someone to insist on the very best.
I've seen a lot of the right things happening thus far. I've seen leadership in guys like Brian Smith and Eric Olsen stepping up and demanding better from their teammates. I've seen it at all positions, players helping each other, older guys helping the young guys, older guys demanding more.
I've seen a lot of smiles and laughter, which is a good thing. I don't think you can truly be good at anything unless you're having fun doing it. I didn't see a lot of smiles last season, even before the losing began.
I've seen swagger, finally. I firmly believe you can't be a good team without some swagger. That bluster pushes others to new heights. When a cocky but good defensive player calls an offensive player out, the offensive player raises his game or looks the fool, and nobody wants to look the fool. The same holds true for the other side of the ball. I've seen such "calling out," and I've seen players respond.
Notre Dame needs guys who know they're some of the best players in the country on this team, and they have some. Now it's a matter of everyone else taking their game up to a new level, and the only way that happens is by leadership demanding it, and the players wanting to be great.
For Weis, he's let go of the offense, but will that be a good thing or a bad thing? Weis is known as an offensive genius, but he realized he can't be all things to all people all the time. Michael Haywood takes over calling the plays, Weis will have input, but I don't believe either will be successful unless they play to the strength of this team—the run.
Notre Dame has five massive offensive linemen whose strength currently is the run game. They have three and maybe four outstanding running backs. They have a young quarterback still finding his way. They have receivers still not sure-handed at this point. They have a defense that may struggle up front. Even a lowly journalist with zero football coaching experience can see that Notre Dame's best chance for success is running behind the much maligned offensive line. And wouldn't it be fitting if this unit led the way in turning this thing around?
However, nobody will be successful unless they believe they can, and successful teams have solid leadership. Do the Irish believe they can win in 2008? Have the proper people stepped up to guide this team? Has Weis rebuilt their confidence? These are the questions that I can't answer, Weis can't answer, nobody can answer but the players. And we won't truly know the answer until the pull on the jersey, lace up the cleats, strap on the helmet and start hitting when it counts. The rest is all entertainment up until that point.
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