With a team like this year's Notre Dame team, a team whose best days clearly are in the future, it is sometimes difficult to balance the need to get young guys ready for the future with making the veterans feel important to the process. But Charlie Weis thinks that the Irish have a perfect technique to make sure that the two are not mutually exclusive.
The 2008 Notre Dame team is loaded with talent in the freshman and sophomore classes and in order for the program to succeed in the long term, those are the players that need to take ownership of the team, but that does not mean that the older guys are not the leaders.
"What we do is we assign older kids to younger kids when they come in here in the summertime," Weis said on Tuesday. "Really the older kids take the younger kid under their wing… Part of the reason why (the younger guys) develop is because they are helping them develop."
The Purdue game was the best evidence so far that these young guys are developing and there are players that are being groomed now for a payoff that may be a long way off.
"For example, one of Evan Sharpley's main jobs in practice is to main sure Dayne Crist knows what to do," Weis said. "He's not worrying about making sure Jimmy (Clausen) knows what to do. That's what Ron (Powlus) and I are doing, that's what Coach (Michael) Haywood is doing. One of Evan's jobs is to make sure Dayne knows what he's doing even though Dayne isn't getting any reps."
The staff gets a look at all of the young guys at the end of practice on Thursday.
"All of the guys that are playing in the game are done with practice, and now all of a sudden it's Dayne Crist at the quarterback and all of those young offensive linemen in there. (Joseph) Fauria at the tight end and (John) Goodman and (Deion) Walker at wide receiver. Jonas (Gray) at running back and you've got Kapron (Lewis-Moore) and (Brandon) Newman and (Sean) Cwynar and (Anthony) McDonald and (Dan) McCarthy and (Jamoris) Slaughter," Weis said. "You have to get the team ready to play the game, but we make sure all of the guys don't get stale just being on show team all of the time."
The system, according to Weis, allows the veteran guys to feel more involved with the entire process.
"If your older guys are working hand and hand with the younger guys and the younger guys end up moving by him, they feel partially responsible for the success of those younger guys," he said. "They are not trying to get beat out, but it's sort of like a coach grooming a younger coach. You can't worry about the other guy taking your job. All you have to try to do is try to make them better."
Weis did admit that it can have a negative impact when it comes to guys that are not separated by many years in terms of eligibility.
"We have a few guys that have left here, and what usually is the case, when a fairly young guy gets passed by a younger guy, they see no light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "Whereas an older guy, a senior, that ends up happening, they understand it. They understand it from a totally different perspective."
Weis truly seems to get a kick out of this year's freshmen class and cornerback Robert Blanton in particular.
"He had an interception in a one-on-one yesterday, so he intercepts the ball and he runs about ten yards to where the offensive guys are and then he just dives over the line like he was diving into the end zone and spikes the ball," Weis said. "Now, you don't think that aggravates the offensive guys? It does, but I tell you what, I thought it was hilarious, sitting there watching that, because he's simulating scoring."
There are times when rookies need to be reminded where their place on the totem pole is.
"In R.J.'s case, that also has happened, and I can cite more examples on that side in case you're wondering," Weis laughed. "Like I've had an incident, players have had incidents, because sometimes you have to pull them aside and say, ‘OK, you're a freshman and if you want to do this, this is what's going to come with the territory.' We have had that side of the story as well."
One of the benefits of having young players is that it is not as hard to keep them from getting complacent.
"I think one of the best things is because we had not been winning last year, this is not a team that's set up for a letdown," Weis said. "We already know that we are not good enough to do that. We could lose to anybody on the schedule if we just show up."
But this team is definitely showing that it is maturing and the best evidence of that this weekend may have come after the game ended.
"After the Michigan game, you would have thought they won the Super Bowl. But I think that now, instead of it being just one game, now you get over there, sing the alma mater, enjoy it," Weis said. "But I think that then, and right into the locker room, as happy as they were, it was much more matter of fact. Not that they weren't happy, not that they weren't enthusiastic, because they were. But, you know, it was more, Okay, we got Stanford coming up. That's the way they acted."
That is a positive thing according to the head coach.
"I think it's a good thing, because it wasn't like they weren't excited. If they weren't excited over a win, that would be one thing, so they were excited," he said. "When you're starting to think that that's what you're supposed to do, that you're supposed to win a game, that you're supposed to make some plays, that is a good thing."
SCHWAPP HELPS YOUNG BACKS: Senior fullback Asaph Schwapp is the most veteran member of the backfield and he has helped the group all season. Schwapp played a role in Armando Allen's big day, both on the field and off.Before each game the running backs meet as a unit to watch film together without any coaches.
"They have film nights once a week, in which they study film together," Haywood said. "I think Asaph Schwapp is probably the smartest player at the running back position and he really helps these guys from a fullback position and a running back position. (He helps them) understand protections better, understand free defenders and what they're trying to do. I think when you watch film together as a unit outside of your coach being there, sometimes guys can say things that they might not say in a meeting room to help younger guys understand a little bit better."
TREVOR TIME: Freshman right guard Trevor Robinson played the entire second half in the Michigan game and his play in that game as well as in practice has earned him playing time going forward. Weis said that it is not a situation where Robinson is competing for the job against Chris Stewart, but that the freshman has shown that he deserves to be on the field.
"I wouldn't say that he's taking over for Chris, but what we are doing is playing him a little bit more," said Weis. "He's a guy that will not sit on the bench the whole game waiting for something to happen to Chris, he's earned some extra playing time. We're not trying to unseat somebody that doesn't deserve to be unseated but at the same time, Trevor is playing well enough to make sure that we get him on the field."
"He's probably one of the harder-working freshmen I've ever been around, and it's important to him," Weis said. "He knows his strengths and he knows his liabilities, and as he's gotten bigger in a hurry, his body is catching up with him and I think that he spends a lot of time with Bernie on fundamentals and techniques and doing the little things the right way. Also, he knew that the team was counting on him. Not only had he been starting all year but the team was counting on him and he knew that he didn't have a security blanket going into this game where he wanted to go to the next guy. We wanted it to be him, and I think that he stepped up pretty big for us in that game."
Haywood also mentioned that Rudolph seems to be maturing.
"I think he's getting better," Haywood said. "When you line up and you play and you start to build a little confidence because you come off and hit a certain guy in the mouth and you feel good about it and it doesn't hurt anymore. Because sometimes it hurts when you're starting to do it. When you bring you're play up to a certain level, it's not the best feeling to hit a guy in the mouth.
DEPTH CHART CHANGES: There have been some slight changes to this week's depth chart, one of which was pointed out by Weis himself.
"You'll notice this week you have (Steve Filer) slated over there at Sam linebacker," Weis said. "Because now instead of him being on a show team, he's now working with the big boys getting ready to play in the game."
Filer did not pass anyone on the depth chart, but was added to it behind Harrison Smith and Scott Smith. Other changes to this week's depth chart include the additions of Andrew Nuss at left guard, Joseph Fauria at tight end and Emeka Nwankwo at defensive end. Also, freshman Braxston Cave's name no longer is featured on the depth chart as Thomas Bemenderfer now owns the backup center job by himself and Paul Kuppich is listed as the backup long snapper. Schmidt has also been removed from this week's depth chart.
CRUM UP FOR INAUGURAL AWARD: Fifth-year senior linebacker Maurice Crum is one of 30 Division I football players to be nominated for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.
Nominees must be classified as a senior and have notable achievements in the classroom, community, competition and character.
Crum is enrolled in the graduate studies program after graduating with a degree in sociology in May. Crum traveled to Ghana over the summer to help set up a library and computer lab for an orphanage.
CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. The honor was first handed out for basketball players in 2002, but has expanded and will include football for the first time this year.
KICK TIMES: This week's game is and the rest of the home games are scheduled for 2:30 with kickoff slated at 2:43… North Carolina announced that the time for next week's game in Chapel Hill will be 3:30. The game will be shown on either ABC or ESPN, with the coverage map coming out next week.