When asked about the health of his knees at the conclusion of today's press conference, Irish head coach Charlie Weis had an upbeat report:
"The right knee, the one I had surgically replaced is doing much better. Three weeks ago I would have said there is no way I could stand on the sideline for a game yet. But I'd say in the last three weeks its taken a drastic turn for the better. My right leg feels way better; I still don't have great staying power, but everyday it's getting better and better. And then after the season is over I'm replacing the other one.
"After we get done with recruiting (and a family trip to a warm-weather site) that by next summer I'll have two mechanical knees and be out of pain, but I'm doing way better, thank you.
Now…onto his squad and two days of practice impressions from the head coach:
On depth chart movement before the players put on the pads:
"There won't be much flux at first – a guy from the first and second unit that (in reality) are No. 1 and 1A might (have some jockeying) but in reality first five days are (about) acclimation. Practices are longer to start out with and there's a lot more teaching going on and a lot more reps than a normal two-a-day practice. After you get full pads and start hitting and going live that's when there'll be a little bit of a shake-up."
Is he gauging the conditioning of players now?
"Yesterday was a very taxing practice – combination of being out there for three hours and on top of that, the heat – they got stressed pretty good."
Regarding any players standing out after the summer on the first days back:
"What I was looking for the last two days were certain people playing certain positions to see how they look, I'm going to cite examples:
James Aldridge: "I wanted to see how Aldridge would look at the fullback position. Of course, I'm not doing the same things I did with Asaph Schwapp with Aldridge. Just because you put him at fullback doesn't mean you do the exact same things.
Mike Ragone: "I wanted to see how Mike Ragone looked coming off his knee (injury)." Weis later continued, "I want to see if Ragone is going to be able to really be a front line, 2nd tight end, allowing us to do all the things we want in our packages. And it's the best I've seen him since he was a freshman – there's no limp, he's not slipping coming out of breaks – and he's considerably bigger, on top of everything else he's 250-plus vs. 230 – I haven't seen him look like that (healthy) really in well over a year."
Dan Wenger: "I wanted to see how (Dan) Wenger would react running with the twos (second unit) instead of the ones.
Darius Fleming: "I wanted to see Darius Fleming as a Sam (strongside) linebacker in a two-point stance vs. (how he was as) a nickel defensive end.
Ian Williams: "I wanted to see if Ian Williams' conditioning was is as good as I think it is compared to what I've seen from him in the past. And fortunately, in all five of those guys, I got a positive impression withthe things I was looking for."
Among all of those guys I've been pleased with all five. But I'm looking for something different from them then what I'm looking for (from) other people.
When asked if Bobby Burger had fallen off in the race at TE:
"There's been no falling off with Bobby Burger – the difference is the rise of Ragone; that's been the main thing. Michael's a much more polished down-the-field route runner than Bobby is – they're both very similar as far as run blocking goes, and I think that Bobby gives us flexibility where you're not counting on getting to the freshman too quickly. He's a physical blocker (to the point) where actually as a blocker, he's far ahead of the two freshman. As a receiver, both the freshman are ahead of him if you're just looking at releasing them down the field and running routes."
Answering a follow-up question regarding the use of Burger on Special Teams:
"I find it tough looking at a guy who is a walk-on, as it currently stands… I have a tough time seeing this guy not finding his way on the field – whether it's the 3rd tight end; whether it's on special teams – this is not just a (average) walk-on out here running reps – this kid can play. I‘m not just looking into it – it's pretty obvious to the coaching staff and to the players that the kid can play."
"Whatever position (group) I go to during individual (work) I'm trying to look for something – be it positive or negative – to let the guys know (how they're doing). So when a guy is sloppy for one reason or another more than anything else from my standpoint is to make sure they don't get sloppy in their technique.
For example with Cierre (Wood) the one thing he was doing was holding the ball loose. And you know – a freshman running back, when I'm a defensive player – you're not only trying to tackle him you're trying to get the ball loose. Now (Wood) might have been able to get away with that in high school but he's not going to get away with that now, so its better to correct a mistake now, to rectify a potential problem, than to be sorry when it happens in a game."
On Evan Sharpley's comment that he remains ‘the best looking backup quarterback in college football.'
"He's a legend in his own mind."
Weis continued. "In reality, you think about it: lets say right now Evan is our third string behind Jimmy and Dayne (Crist). Do you think there's anyone in the country that's better situated? To have a guy with that type of experience as No. 3 (QB)? It's a nice luxury to have."
Weis also mentioned the natural coaching chain that has developed at the position: "Now let's say we're in a game, and Ron (Polwus) is talking to Jimmy; Evan talking to Dayne. There's a lot of coaching going on at same time."
When asked if anyone knew the offense better than Evan Sharpley:
(Laughing) "I'd like to think I do."
Regarding team leaders and potential captains:
"There is still a bunch of guys doing such a good job in this role – but we're starting to settle in. So I think a week from now when they go to pick (captains) they'll pick the right one and not just from reputation but from what's going on out there. I feel pretty confident that they will."
Weis was later asked a follow-up question regarding the captain election process:
"We vote for a special teams captain; an offensive and a defensive, so ideally its suited to have three unless one guy is voted to both (such as special teams and defense). The only way there'd be more than that is if it'd be too close to call (a 20-19 vote for example). We're looking to get three but I don't know what the votes will be. I'd like to have one guy I talk to for each unit unless the team believes there are two guys (by vote) that they look at as the leader of their unit."
On the progress of Gary Gray since his return: "Well he's no less athletic. Corwin's (Brown) given all those guys (cornerbacks) pretty equal reps so even though he's running on the third team he might as well be running with the second team the way Corwin has it going out there.
"I usually notice more when they're (DBs) not making a play then when they're making a play because that means the offense usually (has made a play on the defense, instead). So far so good. I haven't seen a drop-off (for Gray) and I think he's competing trying to work his way up the depth chart."
Regarding Hafis Williams' status:
"Hafis is going to see doctor today or tomorrow and we'll get that cleared up. Either today or tomorrow – sometimes (as is the nature of the medical field) you just can't get guys in on a Saturday or Sunday – hopefully we'll get that cleared up and get him out there.
Have any freshman raised eyebrows?:
"I have a couple of our (administrative) guys watch nothing but freshmen because I can't just watch freshmen in practice, I watch big picture. That's all they watch.
I want a report on those guys…I meet with staff at end of each practice (separately) from the assistant coaches for report. And almost all looked better on (the second) day than the first regardless of who they were, even going through the drills for the first time, except the midyears (Banks, Stocton, Motta) you're going through the drills for the first time so it's like you're a chicken with your head cut off – just trying to follow along and not screw up when first out there.
"I could start with likely cast of characters and start talking about them but you all kind of know where that's headed. We'll wait until they've done something."
Regarding the need to improve the running game (through practice) with the knowledge that the Irish have a talented receiving corps:
"They're almost complimentary because if you're going against Nevada – and you guys have done research on the team – statistically, based off of last year, which really doesn't mean anything anymore, they weren't really very good against the pass and they were really good against the run. Statistically.
"So they went through the whole spring and if you're the defensive coordinator or the head coach you're trying to rectify things and do a much better job in the pass game (defense). Well there are certain things (involved) to do a much better job in the pass game – you have to protect your corners more. With that being said, if you start to try to stop run 7 vs. 7 or 6 vs. 6 that puts us (the offense) in an advantageous (numbers position) to be successful in the running game.
It's when teams overload you that they put you in a bind – I have a feeling that until we've shown we can run the ball when the numbers are even – if you can do that, now you tell me what you're going to do and we'll attack you accordingly.
On which freshmen might help on special teams:
"What I told Coach Polian and the other coaches – let's go for the first two weeks right through August 21 as if everyone's trying to get on the field this year (rather than preserve a 5th year of eligibility). Then it's the first week of Nevada (preparation) Two full weeks of giving everyone the opportunity of getting themselves into the initial mix and then that mix becomes a lot less of a state of flux in the last week of August and first week of September."