Weis: Decisions Coming Soon on Depth Chart

Among other things on Saturday morning, Charlie Weis talked about the process that goes into deciding whether or not to burn a year of eligibility for a freshman. Weis said that barring injuries, the staff will have a fairly good idea of what freshmen they expect to play this year and what newcomers will likely be used for the scout team.

With the season opener three weeks away, Notre Dame has yet to start focusing on its first opponent.

"We're still in training camp mentality here. These guys don't see the light at the end of the tunnel until next Friday," Weis said. "Due to the freshmen schedule with freshman orientation that's the first time they really get a light at the end of the tunnel. I think the coaches are looking for that time frame too because that's the time when you can settle down to start getting ready for San Diego State, two weeks prior to the first game."

When the staff does start planning a gameplan for Sept. 6, it will need to have a pretty good idea of which players fit in where.

"My big thing is personnel. That's our 7 o'clock meeting this morning, we talked about personnel. On Monday I'm going to spend an hour on just personnel. From 8:30-9:30 on Monday, I have the offense on just personnel. 9:30 to 10:30 on Monday, I'm going to be with the defense, just personnel. From 10:30 to 11:30 on Monday, I'm going to meet with Brian (Polian) just on special teams, just personnel," Weis said. "Those issues are major issues that we're confronted with at this stage. You're getting closer to flipping the switch to when you starting carding stuff. When you start having show teams instead of just going offense against defense, you have to have already in your mind tentative depth charts…Is a guy a 4 or 3? Is he a 3 or a 2? Is that guy a 1 or a 2 or is he moved down to a 3? You have that initial depth chart and it changes on a day-to-day basis. Some of it also dictated by guys getting banged up."

Weis was asked about freshman linebacker Steven Filer and said that if a rookie can show that he can play on special teams it goes a long way toward preparing them to play on offense or defense.

"One of the things that guys like Steven have to do is, they have to earn their way on to the field and usually the easiest way of doing that is special teams," Weis said. "If you know you're going to use him, that's more of a reason to groom him at linebacker."

It seems likely that freshman Dayne Crist will not be used this season as Evan Sharpley has a firm grip on the backup quarterback position.

"At this stage right now, there's a wide separation between Evan and Dayne," Weis said. "Evan's closer to Jimmy than he is to Dayne."

According to Weis, Crist has been hard on himself for not picking up the offense right out of the gate.

"As a matter a fact, I had to call him in and have a ‘Relax, you're a freshman' conversation and I think we've pushed past that already," Weis said. "When all of a sudden now you're the guy with the ball in his hands everyday and you see these other guys who are more experienced in the system. They make it look so much easier than you do, I think it's more the frustration where you know you've got a ton of ability and you're smart, it looks so easy for them and why isn't it so easy? Because it's not, that's really the reason."

One freshman who could have chance at cracking the two-deep is offensive guard Trevor Robinson.

"The arrow is pointing up on Trevor," Weis said. "He had one advantage that some of these other guys didn't have, he came at midyear. So a lot of those doldrums that some of these other guys are going through now, he already had those, he already lived through those. That is one of the benefits that you have of coming at midyear, some of those growing pains take place in the spring."

If a player is injured in any of the first three games, he can apply to the NCAA to regain that year of eligibility later, which is something that sophomore offensive lineman Matt Romine is expected to do after playing in the first two games in 2007. While Notre Dame does not technically redshirt players, Weis also talked about what goes in to deciding whether to bring a player back for a fifth year.

"That's something that you're going to have to manage from year-to-year. You have a number that you're going to be able to work with for next year. Within that number, you have to deal with both fifth-years and recruits and the number is the number," Weis said. "We're still in the 76, 77-range, so we're sitting with dead scholarships. Of course a walk-on or two or three will end up getting a scholarship, but you're still at the end of the day you're going to be sitting there light on numbers.

"By next year, it will be the first time where you can't go in saying, ‘Well, I can take 25 (recruits.)' Because whatever that number is, it's a combination of fifth-years and recruits…Anyone who has really wanted to be here has really had the opportunity to do that at this point because the numbers have been so low. But that whole thought methodology could change as we approach getting to the 85 number this year… I'm always in favor of having older, experienced guys if you have enough options to choose from."

Weis was pleased to be asked if injuries are more likely to occur now that the Irish have imposed a more physically demanding training camp.

"That's what I've been trying to say. Thank you for asking the question, that's the tradeoff," Weis said. "Some of them would have happened regardless of what you were doing, but having more, we probably have three or four guys right now (whose) heads are dinged right now. Fortunately, it's just passing a cognitive test and easing back in. When you have a head…we definitely err on the side of caution when that ends up happening.

"Fortunately, knock on wood, anyone we've had tweaked, it's just days. We don't have anyone who looks like they're going to be out."

There have been no thoughts about reevaluating the decision to hit more, according to Weis.

"We're past that stage. You've got to live with the consequences," he said.

Notre Dame's offense struggled last year, but Weis believes that with a bunch of experienced players back things can turn around.

"(Last year) we were much more in a state of flux and very inexperienced. I think that state of flux is gone and even though it's not 2 or 3-year starters, they're returning starters," Weis said. "I think that alone is a settling feeling where that's not your concern now. Your concern isn't, ‘How are they going to handle this?' They been there, done that. Now it's, ‘How can we best put our players in a position to win and get them to play at a high level?'"

Offensive coordinator Michael Haywood will take over playcalling duties this season from Weis, who admitted that it was frustrating at times last year.

"The biggest problem is you're in a Catch-22 on what exactly to do. Do you come out there and just run the ball every play? You get down in a game by two touchdowns, three touchdowns, do you want to just throw in the towel to appease everyone? Could you have less sacks than we had? Absolutely. There's a lot of things you could do if you're just willing to throw in the towel, but I just don't believe in throwing in the towel. I have a tough time with that one," Weis said. "Frustrations? Yes, but some of them were self-inflicted too, so let's not just sit there and say it was just the players and the roster, there were things that you can always do better."

As a freshman Jimmy Clausen was on the receiving end of a bunch of hits, which according to Weis was the fault of many.

"There were times that there were things that (Clausen) didn't understand, but I think that there were so many different factors that lead to a total. Some of them are physical, some of them are mental on his part and some of them are mental on other people's part and then some of them are playcall," Weis said. "It's a collection of all of those things. For example, he might have known what to do, but let's say a tight end doesn't sight adjust or doesn't hot depending on whether it's a six-man protection or a seven-man protection and he's looking to throw it to him and the guy doesn't see it. Now he ends up getting hit. Sometimes people say, ‘Well, why didn't he throw the ball away?' Well, sometimes physically he should have thrown the ball away.

"But then there's other times where it's a fire drill that's in your face right now and you're throwing the ball away not knowing whether or not you can even throw an incomplete pass. That's a bad idea to throw the ball away that time and sometimes taking a sack is the right thing to do. It's a cumulative effect of all of those things added together. He was certainly part of the problem, but he was by far not the only part of that problem."

While adding John Tenuta to the staff was designed to make the defense more aggressive, Weis thinks that it will help the offense prepare as well.

"I feel much more comfortable. Another thing is you've got to be able to pick up the blitz and we're certainly seeing enough of it in training camp. So they're certainly getting enough opportunities," Weis said. "Picking up the blitz will be a little bit easier for (the running backs) once the season starts because I don't let them cut our defensive players."

Weis and the staff are obviously improved with sophomore linebacker Brian Smith. While Weis didn't gush about Smith on Saturday, it was clear that he has impressed.

"He's got a chance at being something pretty special," Weis said.

Receiver Golden Tate has shown signs of becoming a more complete player as a sophomore.

"He's head and shoulders above where he was last year at this time," Weis said. "He's much more dependable and he looks more like a receiver that knows how to be a receiver, not just a guy that runs fast."

The former pro coach has used his contacts in the NFL to keep tabs on the status of some of last year's seniors in the league now.

"(Trevor Laws) he's probably in a three for two rotation as an interior defensive lineman for the Eagles," Weis said. "I'd say the odds of (John Carlson) starting would be very high. By the way, J.J. Jansen, you can put him in the starting category too."

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