IE Notebook

Maybe the biggest difference between this year's fall camp and the one from 2007 is the amount of hitting that has taken place. Charlie Weis really started implementing the more high-paced, hard-hitting environment in the spring and has kept it up through preseason camp.

With more hitting comes the chance, in fact the likelihood, of more injuries, but Weis has said that the staff has already evaluated that and there will be no looking back. Junior right tackle Sam Young may have summed the approach up best.

"Football is a physical game, ice bags come with the territory," he said.

Offensive line coach John Latina wants to get his players accustomed to the contact so that it becomes the norm.

"We're trying to create an environment where they have to experience that a lot," Latina said. "We're trying to create that environment so that it's a second nature environment for them where it's not a some-of-the-time type of thing."

Young has noticed the difference probably more than most others.

"It's definitely been more physical, as an offensive lineman whether it's live or thud, you're still going full speed," he said. "You can kind of just tell by the popping of the pads and some of the collisions that have been made that there's definitely a different attitude this year."

The right tackle is confident that the increased contact will pay dividends in the end.

"Obviously, we want to try to prove something. It gets back to having that physicality in practice, you've got to go in there everyday trying to get better," Young said. "The better we get each day, the better we'll be in the long run."

Latina has coached at Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Temple, Kansas State and Ole Miss and says that each system is different.

"I've been in some systems where it's been extremely physical, back in my Clemson days it was that way," he said. "Of course when I was at Ole Miss and we had the (Eli) Manning kid, obviously we were going to be more of a passing team, so it wasn't as running game physical. You've been in so many different systems and every one of them has its own identity."

Latina says that the decision of which identity to adopt depends on various factors.

"Your philosophy, the talent that you have and your program at the time, you gear it to that," Latina said.

For Young, the new mentality is just another way for the team to prepare for gameday.

"Having that physicality in practice gets you a little bit more ready for game speed, you're never quite able to emulate it," Young said. "I know Coach Weis, having the kicker with the pressure cooker for the running and what not, you try to emulate as best as possible, but until that day comes we'll have to see.

"Having it as close to game speed as possible definitely helps."

Even the running backs have seen the difference in the guys up front. Sophomore running back Robert Hughes gets excited when he sees his guys excited.

"You're happy when you see offensive linemen happy and you see some success," he said.

YOUNG: O-LINE GETTING BETTER: Along with the increased physical nature of practices, the other key thing for the offensive line in 2008 is the unity of the group.

"The comfort factor, all of the guys have been able to play together. I think a lot of the offensive linemen kind of know what each other are thinking, so everyone is on the same page and it definitely helps," said Young.

Young has consistently downplayed any talk of him being a leader, which sounds like something a leader would do.

"The great thing about our offensive line is that we have five guys who are all leaders," he said. "At any given time someone may have to step up or bow down to someone else for whatever reason, maybe someone's not having a good day. But it's a nice dynamic that we've been able to get together."

After a terrible 2007, the offensive line is one of the units that needs to show the biggest improvement this year and according to Young that is exactly the case.

"I could go right down the line from Chris (Stewart), Danny (Wenger), Eric Olsen and Turk (Michael Turkovich). Everyone's been just making tremendous strides since last season, since spring ball," he said. "Having a bunch of guys that are back that know the system, whether it's their third or whatever year, it definitely helps with the comfort factor. Having everyone know their assignments, we've kind of gotten to a point on the line where we can just get up to the line, everyone already knows what calls need to be made.

"I think it's a big step considering the defense we're going against."

That defense has been stepping up the aggression with the addition of John Tenuta who has brought that style to South Bend.

"So far I think it's really been helpful," Young said of going against the new defense. "His defense really likes to bring the heat, so if we're able to block that I think we'll be all right."

FRESHMEN CONTRIBUTORS=SOPHOMORE STUDS?: Running back Robert Hughes and wide receiver Duval Kamara were two of the few bright spots in 2007 as freshmen. While neither of their numbers could be considered eye-popping, they both showed the potential to be future standouts. The only real question is whether or not the future is now.

"The experience definitely really helps, just from being so young and being a freshman with everything getting thrown at you, it can be a little bit overwhelming," Hughes said. "Having a little experience, you know the coach, you know the coach a little bit better, you know the players around you and you've got a little camaraderie with everybody, so it actually helps a lot."

Kamara also said that he is going to be able to build off of his freshman season.

"It's very beneficial. You're not as tight, you're not as nervous, you know the system a little better," he said.

Weis has talked about the game slowing down for Armando Allen, but Hughes said that Allen is not the only sophomore running back going through that phase.

"The game is definitely slowing down. You have so many assignments and you're trying to do this and you're trying do that," Hughes said. "Now that you've practiced and you went through spring ball and you did all that, now it's just like the game has slowed down and you know your assignments and you're not afraid to make mistakes."

Hughes admitted that it was a lot to handle everything as a freshman.

"You're definitely nervous because the playbook is huge and there's so many responsibilities, there's so many things that you've got to do," he said. "You're up late trying to study and then you come out there and then everything is not like it is on paper, it's moving around and you're trying to do your best job. You're a little nervous, but eventually it will work out. Now it comes a little more natural. You're thinking about the next thing, you're always a step ahead now."

"Everything was thrown at me new. That was my first time being in a Notre Dame environment, so it was pretty overwhelming at first."

Kamara has the ability of a number one receiver, but it's obvious that senior David Grimes is the leader of the position and the sophomore only wants to do what's best for the team.

"It's really important for me to produce. It's really important for us as a team to come out and show we're trying to move on from last year," he said. "Everyone expects to be number one, but you just got to help the team as much as you can."

Kamara was asked about how crucial it is for the incoming freshmen receivers to develop.

"It's really important because we want them to help the team as much as they can. So helping them know the playbook overall helps the team," he said.

Meanwhile, Hughes is locked in a tough position battle with junior James Aldridge and has had little time to worry about younger guys like freshman Jonas Gray.

"I really haven't evaluated (Gray), I'm still trying evaluate myself," Hughes said. "Freshmen always go through their overload stage, because it's so much stuff and so many things that get thrown at you, but you've got to let Coach coach."

KAMARA SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Weis joked that he thought Kamara had some ‘artificial help' in getting below 220 pounds.

"Artificial help? I wouldn't say that was it. I'm still working at losing weight day by day," Kamara said.

Weis said that he was skeptical that the wideout could go from 223 pounds to 217 in one day, but Kamara says that is because that's not what happened.

"I was 221 the day before." Top Stories