Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis kicked off the spring season with a press conference on Friday afternoon in which he outlined four clear objectives of the spring.
First for Weis is to get the coaching staff, which includes three new full-time assistants, to gel.
"Obviously, I brought in three new coaches with Frank Verducci, Tony Alford and Randy Hart," Weis said. "In addition, there's been a change of job responsibilities of different coaches as well. So one of our objectives in the springtime is to get that all worked out and meshed so as we go into training camp and into the season, everyone is set and ready to go."
Second is for the staff to implement its offseason self-scout into the spring portion of the schedule, although Weis expressed his displeasure with the lack of time allowed.
"Why things were working or why things weren't working and why. We identify them and then we decide, ‘Are we going to try to fix it? Are we going to throw it out? What are we going to do?'" he said. "I'm a little frustrated these first couple days of spring because the way spring's laid out, you get 15 practices, one of them is the spring game and then you get three days where you can't wear pads.
"We've identified as one of things we really want to work on right off the bat, offensively, is our running game. You get a little frustrated these first two days because when you go with no pads on, to work on your running game, it just doesn't mesh to well."
But Weis is not going to waste any time once the NCAA regulations are lifted.
"Come Monday, I think that there will be a high level of hitting on both sides of the ball very early in training camp, very early in the spring," he said. "This isn't something that we're going to be easing into because both offensively and defensively we've identified that as things that can make a difference between us winning and losing."
The third thing that Weis wants to see is his players competing, especially the ones who need the spring to prove themselves while others are out and before the full arrival of the incoming freshman class.
"I think some of these guys, it's time for them to step up," he said. "Some of these guys, this is their last opportunity to put themselves in the mix. I think this is going to be a very competitive spring."
And finally, Weis wants to see his players start to grow up. Weis acknowledges that some of the lack of success over the last two years has to do with youth, but that will no longer be accepted as an excuse.
"Players can very easily fall into the excuse of ‘We're young, we're young, we're young.' And for the last couple of years you can validate some of that," he said. "But the bottom line is we have a lot of guys that aren't that young anymore and it's time for them to step up and mature as a group and mature as a team."
Weis also addressed his coaching situation, as far as where he will be located on game days. Despite the success that he enjoyed as a play-caller from the coaches' booth in Notre Dame's win at the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl, after flirting with the idea of heading back upstairs, Weis has decided against it, at least for now.
"My intent is to coach the game from the field," he said. "As (Bill) Parcells said years ago, I reserve the right to change my mind, but that's my intent. I've talked to several people both at the collegiate level and the pro level. Whether it be (Bill) Belichick and Andy Reid at the pro level right on down and by a very, very, very large majority, almost everyone I talked to was thinking that I was thinking way outside the box."
Weis will rely on wide receivers coach Rob Ianello and tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee's eyes in the sky to relay him the information he needs before calling each play. Even with two assistants feeding him information and another, running game coordinator Verducci, handling the ground game, Weis quickly shot down any idea of there being too many cooks in the kitchen.
"There's one cook," he said. "There's some helpers, but there's one cook, let's get that out of the way now."
Defensively, the Irish have switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3, at least in name. Because Notre Dame played so much Under last year on defense, there will not be very many changes this season.
"Rather than saying we're a 3-4 with a reduced weakside, we're now just calling it a 4-3 and playing the exact same front," he said. "It's almost exactly the same…It's a terminology thing as much as anything else."
Notre Dame released a spring depth chart, but it is incomplete since the process that seniors go through when applying for a fifth year has not been completed yet. So the depth chart is slim at left tackle without Paul Duncan, Sam linebacker without Scott Smith and strong safety with no Kyle McCarthy.
All three players are expected to be back for another season, but since the process has not been finalized, Notre Dame can not say whether any of them have been accepted.
There are also a number of players on the depth chart who are listed as ‘limited' and at the bottom of the depth chart because of injuries, academics or baseball. Golden Tate is listed as ‘limited' because of his commitment to baseball. Weis and Notre Dame baseball coach Dave Schrage have already worked out a schedule for Tate as to when he will be with which team.
Also listed as ‘limited' are wide receivers George West and Barry Gallup, offensive linemen Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever, defensive linemen Kallen Wade, Sean Cwynar and Kerry Neal, linebackers Darius Fleming and Anthony McDonald as well as early enrollee cornerback E.J. Banks.
Fleming's limitation coupled with Smith's absence from the depth chart has early enrollee Zeke Motta listed as the starter at Sam linebacker despite the fact that he has only been on campus for two months.
Weis also addressed other personnel issues.
He said that Jimmy Clausen is the clear starter at quarterback, but that if Dayne Crist pushed him, ‘that would be a nice problem to have.' With only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, Notre Dame will give wide receiver John Goodman a shot at playing quarterback some time later in the spring after he gets a chance to compete for a spot in the two-deep at wideout.
"He's getting closer to the end of his career here and if he's buried behind Armando or if he got behind Robert, rather than sitting there at third, we talked about using him as a regular fullback," Weis said.
Robinson, who will be limited during the spring, is listed as a right guard, but could get a chance to compete for the left tackle position if Chris Stewart wins the job on the inside.
"If he can beat Chris out at right guard then he'll play right guard," said Weis. "If he can't and he's one of our five best guys, we wouldn't be opposed to putting him at another position."
Another interesting position battle will be cornerback. Raeshon McNeil and Robert Blanton are listed as the starters now, but they will be pushed by the return of Darrin Walls in the spring, the expected return of Gary Gray this summer and Jamoris Slaughter.
"With Darrin first coming back, obviously it's only right to let RJ and Raeshon be out first," he said. "We're really high on Jamoris Slaughter, that's another guy that gets into the mix and then we've got that other guy who we think will be back here in the summertime."