Weis OK Starting With Bye

The college football regular season kicks off the last weekend of August but Notre Dame won't begin its season until the following week. There are pros and cons of starting on a time or waiting a week and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said on Thursday that it doesn't matter much either way.

"You could have a bye in the middle of the season, or another bye in the middle of the season that kind of breaks up the flow there too. Wherever you have them it's unnatural," Weis said. "Football players are used to playing every week. Once you start playing they get into a routine and it's a seven-day week, they're used to doing the same thing. So whenever you have the bye it's unnatural for them. The pros, obviously, you get a chance to get healthy and work on fundamentals and techniques. The cons are you get out of a flow.

"I'm perfectly content playing when we're playing. I'm content with the bye being where it is. We planned our recruiting schedule and everything else around it. However the schedule lays out, you just have to adapt to it."

Weis did admit that he tried to get one team to move up the date so that the Irish would be playing on opening week, but with no success.

"I offered one school an opportunity to move the game earlier, but of course it was all pro Notre Dame advantages needless to say, so we'll just leave it at that."

Purdue is the only team on Notre Dame's schedule that does not have a game on the first weekend of the season.

Still, Weis maintains that it doesn't make much of a difference and offered an advantage for his team to have the opening week off with school starting.

"You're kind of glad that the first week isn't a game week because it gives them kind of a trial run. It isn't so much for the older kids and now the freshmen that are now sophomores, they're kind of the older kids. I've said it a thousand times, the biggest transition that takes place is the first couple of weeks of your freshman year," Weis said. "These football players, think about it, they come in here on June 15 for summer school on June 17, they just finished high school. They come in here on June 15 and they go until August 1, taking classes, working out with Ruben (Mendoza), not having any coaching. Then they come back on August 7 and from six o'clock in the morning until eleven o'clock at night nothing but football.

"This weekend this is the first time where they're getting close to being normal and they're going to find that the 20-hour work week with football combined with 15 hours plus of classes, that's schedule's pretty grueling."

The team will have its first day off on Saturday after practicing for 15 straight days.

"With freshman orientation, which takes place starting Friday evening, it gives the rest of the team a little chance to heal up some bumps and bruises. It's been a very physical camp and they're not going to practice on Saturday and then they're going to practice on Sunday night," Weis said. "So really they get a full 48 hours, 48 hours and some change before they have to do anything physically again which gives them a chance to heal up some. After Sunday night, it'll be from there on out, just San Diego State for the next two weeks.

"Even though Monday will be a little unorthodox because it's the day before school starts and we're trying to get on to a normal schedule. Especially the young guys who have never gone through the routine can go through the first week almost like a practice week as if we were playing the game that coming Saturday. Then the next time around there will be a lot more familiarity."

The light weekend, coupled with the late start should allow Notre Dame to come into its first game ready to go.

"Because we're going to practice for San Diego State for two weeks, it allows you to really start getting their legs back the second week because it's the second time around after you've already done it the first week," said Weis. "That's kind of the gameplan."

As the staff studies San Diego State's games from 2007, the coaches will also get a look at the Aztecs in their opener against FCS Cal-Poly and are sure to see the spread offense. Weis said that the spread is just the latest trend for offensive coordinators.

"The spread is in vogue right now. Over history there's things that come in - the Bear defense, the 3-4 defense versus the 4-3 defense, the run ‘n shoot – now it's the spread," said Weis. "They call plays at the line of scrimmage, check-with-me where they just stand there and the coach is there and then they look over to the coach and the coach says run the play or flip it to the other side. But what's going to happen, just as it always does is the defenses are going to eventually catch up with the offenses and then offenses will go to something else. It's a copycat game and whatever is working, people are going to try doing."

There is one key element of the spread that Weis believes has changed the game.

"Making defensive players play in space. People talk about basketball on grass, you're making them play in space," he said. "It used to be you'd go into the recruiting process and go get those big, big, big defensive linemen or big, big linebackers. Well, guess what, they better be able to run because this game has turned into a much faster game. When you play in space you have to cover the whole field."

The Irish are doing what they can to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to finding players with ability to defend the spread.

"We've been working in this direction now for the last three years about recruiting personnel to be able to match up against people playing in space," Weis said. "You're going to see it more and more until defenses show that they're capable of stopping it, you're going to see it more and more."

The Irish are in relatively good health right now and Weis is just hoping to keep in that way.

"We're actually in pretty good shape, knock on wood. We get some spasms and some tightness in the hams," he said. "(Starting center Dan) Wenger wasn't here yesterday, but he was just sick in the infirmary and he came back out there today, he wasn't hurt. We've had a couple that had concussions, they've started to clear up, we haven't had one of those here in a little while. Like I said, knock on wood, but at this point right now, I'm pretty happy from where we are. I don't think there's anyone on the injury list right now that has a concussion, we're more like tightness, tight and sore."

With quarterback Jimmy Clausen back for his second year as a starter, Notre Dame should be able to install more of its offense.

"It starts with the quarterback. The first thing you can't do is you can't put in anything more than the quarterback can handle, that's the first thing you can't do. If he can't handle it than you have to cut it back, which is basically what we did (last year) and then as he learns more you can add more. Now of course there's 10 other people out there and it's how much they can grasp collectively as a unit," he said. "Last year, (center John) Sullivan made all of the Mike calls, the quarterbacks never made them. When Brady (Quinn) was here, Brady made all of the Mike calls. Now it's back to Jimmy making all of the Mike calls because he's ready to do that, last year he wasn't ready to do that. It all starts with the quarterback and what he can handle."

When the head coach was asked about scaling the offense back he noted that Notre Dame would be moving forward while still be stressing the basics.

"We've already done that, we're growing from there. The more you can handle, the more you can do it," he said. "We're bigger this year on seeing if we can do fewer things better. We're starting from base, fundamentals and technically making sure we got things right before you start growing. But I have to feel that our base has been elevated substantially from where it was."

Giving up play-calling duties for this season has given Weis a chance to take a more active role on the defensive side and as he has mentioned before, he is able to give a different point of view.

"When I'm watching that end of the field, I get a chance to say things to different people on different subjects. What I try to do so I don't kind of step on toes during practice, because I think that you have to have a respect for all of your coaches and make sure you're not overstepping your bounds, what I'll do a lot of times is talk to a defense in a way of, ‘This is what an offense is going to do you fellas. If you do that this is what they're going to do. So if you want to take this chance, this is what is going to end up happening.'

"I'll give you an example. They can get a false sense of security right now in blitzing because we're not cutting. So when someone wants to just put his head down and bull rush every single time, I'll stop and say, ‘You know what he's going to do in that situation right now? He's not going to be looking at that number right there, he's going to be looking at those knees right there because that's where he's going for.'"

The defensive line is going to be a big question for the Notre Dame defense this year and Weis said that at the very least the unit would be deeper in 2008.

"The one thing I have liked is they look like they're playing fast and it looks like the defensive staff is starting to develop some depth that we can trust in. That was one of my biggest questions because we've got so many guys that you're interjecting into this mix. Everyone knows about Ian (Williams), but Ian is in his second year playing. He basically started the last few games of the year and was a part-time player who has now become into a mainstay," Weis said. "Everyone knows about Ian and everyone knows about (Pat) Kuntz, Justin Brown has been here for awhile and everyone knows a little bit about those guys. But it's the fact that the other guys, the Morrice Richardson's of the world and the Paddy Mullen's of the world and throw in some of the freshmen on top of it, we're starting to develop some depth. The way the game is played, you better be able to play more than one group."


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