Tausch Wins Kicking Job

Irish head coach Charlie Weis revealed a major depth chart change in Monday night's meeting with the media.

The Irish are less than two weeks away from the season's opening kick-off. Head coach Charlie Weis met with the media last night to discuss the end of training camp and a few depth chart items pertaining to the kicking game.

(For information regarding new scholarship winners Bobby Burger and Eric Maust, click here.)

The Irish Kicking Game is Set…Almost

Weis broke down the Irish kicking game to begin the meeting.

  • The kicking competition, for both field goals and kick-offs, has been decided and the Irish have a new starter at both spots, freshman Nicholas Tausch. Tausch "won the competition rather significantly." The Irish staff tracked every competitive kick and Tausch apparently held a decided advantage over incumbent Brandon Walker as the field goal kicker and returning kick-off specialist Ryan Burkhart.
  • Eric Maust won the punting competition
  • The short-snapper (field goals/PAT) is sophomore Braxston Cave. The long-snapper (punts) is freshman Jordan Cowart.
  • Punt Returns – combination of Golden Tate and Armando Allen will begin the season before Weis considers a younger player.
  • Kick Returns – TBD

Linebacker Notes

Freshman Manti Te'o is ready to play (hamstring soreness). Te'o will begin his career as a WLB (behind Brian Smith). He's not "pigeon-holed" in that spot but that's where he ended training camp.

Weis was later asked specifically about sophomore linebacker Steve Filer:

"The arrow's pointing ‘up' with Steven. We just had this conversation the other day in practice where Steven was so concerned with just competing at the SAM (strongside linebacker position where Darius Fleming is the starter) that he started to lose sight of a couple of things that will get him on the field the most.

"Now not only is he in the hunt at the SAM position, but we look at him as a guy who could find his way on the field in Nickel as a regular; and if he (does that), he might be on the field for 75 percent of the plays.

"He knows he's getting closer to being on the field."

Weis mentioned Filer's greatest strength was "setting the edge…coming off the edge."

"I think that he's the type of guy – right now Darius Fleming is probably our most dynamic pass-rusher – and right now he's (Fleming) opposite of Kerry Neal when we go to Nickel (defense)," explained Weis.

"I can see Filer being that guy opposite Darius (the Chicago connection coming off the edge). They compete with each other every day and that's made him better through training camp."

Note: As "setting the edge" and "coming off the edge" are generally two different skills – the former refers to holding up vs. the run; the latter, rushing the passer – I assume Weis meant the latter and was correcting himself.

Weis was later asked about Brian Smith:

"Well it depends on who he's in with. If he's in with Toryan (Smith) he's not a MIKE (middle linebacker); if he's in with Manti (Te'o) he is a MIKE.

"Brian Smith is the guy who gives us the flexibility to move people around. He's easily the most flexible and the most interchangeable of all the linebackers."

Weis responded to a question regarding the team's younger inside linebackers:

"Both (David) Posluszny and (Anthony) McDonald have played themselves into the mix but they're playing different positions: Posluszny's playing WILL; McDonald's playing MIKE; and they both have put themselves in a position where we're not going to be afraid to play them and you'll see both of those guys on special teams a whole bunch."

Note: The Irish coverage units lost senior Steve Quinn (a team-high 239 special teams appearances) to graduation and regular Darius Fleming (198) to his now-extensive duties from scrimmage. Posluszny and McDonald appear to be the first candidates to replace both players in 2009.

Offensive Linemen Notes

It appears right tackle (Sam Young) right guard (Trevor Robinson) center (Eric Olsen) left guard (Chris Stewart) secured their starting spots. Left Tackle Paul Duncan has missed time with injury and is "being pressed" by junior tackle Matt Romine. Romine, incidentally, was singled out by junior DE Kerry Neal in last Friday's Irish on the Mic column for being a strong pass-blocker with excellent footwork.

"Matt Romine's a guy who've we've gained a lot of confidence," explained Weis. "He not only could play left tackle but he could play right tackle as well. He's really elevated himself in this competition."

Weis continued to speak about key reserves on the offensive line: "We have a lot of confidence in Wenger (as the backup center), but I think the other guy that would be involved in the mix would be (junior guard) Andrew Nuss."

Weis mentioned Wenger and Nuss are the first substitutes inside (center and guard) while Romine is the first sub outside (tackle).

He added that Romine's girth/size is the key to his improvement after dropping down to 270-pounds last season due to illness. And that Romine "always had good ability as a pass-blocker, but now that he's bigger, is better at the point of attack."

Later, (when asked directly about the player), Weis stated that Braxston Cave is doing well as the team's backup left guard: "We think that he has a bright future. The more experience he gets the better he's going to be."

Running Back Notes

Armando Allen is back at full strength (hamstring) and he must get fully ready to go this week and receive the reps his backups earned in his stead.

Weis stated that the staff likes "all five" of the running backs (Allen, Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood, and Theo Riddick) and included fullback (converted halfback) James Aldridge in that mix, as Aldridge still receives snaps at halfback to keep him from "getting rusty."

"I would say that (the RB pecking order) hasn't resolved itself yet because we have very good ability and competition at the running back position."

Darrin Walls' Return from (Hamstring) Injury

"He'll be back tomorrow (Tuesday for the first official practice in preparation for Nevada). He's one of those guys (hamstring injury players) where there were a couple that tweaked them (Walls fell into this category) and others that were ready to tweak them that we were pro-active and preventative.

"We all know that Darrin is a contender to be a starting corner, but we're (not in a position) that the other corners are just no good all of a sudden. So he has some work in front of him to be out there as a full-time player."

Weis later mentioned the competition at the cornerback position, alluding to the reps received by Raeshon McNeil, Jamoris Slaughter, and Gary Gray in Walls' absence. It (not surprisingly) appears that sophomore Robert Blanton will be one of the Game One starters at cornerback.

Speaking of Injuries...

Junior Wide Recever Duval Kamara:

"Duval will be able to run straight this week and be able to practice the following week. That means he won't be practicing full speed this week. I have to prepare the team with him and without him. While I anticipate having him play, I really don't know if he'll be 1A or 2 as we go into that first game."

I assume Weis meant 1A or 2 as the team's "third" receiver – with Tate and Floyd the obvious starting tandem.

Junior Tight End Mike Ragone

"Ragone is as good or better as he's been since he's been here. There's been very little sign of anything (in terms of his knee injury, which occurred just over 53 weeks ago) other than (Ragone) being better than he ever was.

"He's stronger; he's running good routes; now he's starting to play with a nasty streak (that was missing) for a year-and-a-half. It's been nice to watch him. He's been one of the more pleasing (aspects) of this camp."

On added flexibility at tight end this season: "It gives us a lot more flexibility…it gives you more opportunities to do some things where (last year) you were saying ‘well how am I going to do that when we only have Rudy (Kyle Rudolph).' Now in addition, with Ragone, it gives you more flexibility to do things with formations and personnel that you just weren't capable of doing."

Sophomore Tight End Kyle Rudolph

"I don't know if there's anybody (nationally) that looks like he does at that position right now. He's what we're all looking for. When we started recruiting him the kid was 215 (pounds) and thought he was going to be a college hoops player. Now he's 265 and he's a couple cheeseburgers away from being an offensive tackle (obviously kidding).

"He's a pleasure to be around because it isn't just how big and athletic he is – it's that its important to him. It makes it a little easier to coach when that's the type of role model that you're dealing with.

"As a side bar: I can't tell you how many professors have said: (compared Rudolph to) ‘John Carlson.' And you can't get a much better role model and high accolades as a person than John Carlson."

(In 2007, Carlson was named the Nick Pietrosante Award winner as the student-athlete who best exemplified the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and pride of the late Irish All-America fullback.)

Harrison Smith's Conversion Back to Safety

"He's one of the people that I'm not worried about. I think that year of playing at SAM/Big Nickel position really prepared him to play. The transition seemed effortless and some of the credit for that, besides Corwin (Brown) belongs to Kyle (McCarthy) because they communicate so well together (as the team's safeties).

Regarding the team's backup safeties:

I think early in the year we would go to (5th year senior) Ray Herring, due to experience. He'd be the guy at either position. But I think both Zeke (Motta) and Danny (McCarthy) by the end of the year are guys we'd expect to get on the field."

Weis added that Kyle McCarthy prides himself as a strong safety and that his younger brother sees himself as more of a free safety. The two positions are basically interchangeable in the defensive scheme with the exception of the free safety's responsibility to cover the deep third ("post safety" or what is commonly referred to as centerfield in NFL parlance) at times.

Kapron Lewis-Moore

"The one thing that's really surprised me about Kapron, as he's grown into his body a bit, is how much bigger he is. He was always athletic but he's much better at the point of attack (holding up vs. the run) than where he was in the spring. I have to attribute that mainly to girth. It gives him a much better chance to hold up at the point simply by being that much bigger."

Camp Wrap-Up to Nevada

Weis explained that next Tuesday (September 1) when he hands out depth charts, the situation will be two-deep at some spots (standard) and three-deep at others, with the purpose illustrating who might play in the game. "Who you might put in there as we're rotating through – guys that you feel confident can help you win. A lot of those players have answered questions for us."

Weis explained that this scenario helps to develop players on the "show teams" (scout teams) throughout the season.

Weis mentioned the team is "the closest-knit group; very few clicks…one of the reasons why I'm so excited to get going because they're all pulling for each other…good teams usually have that special camaraderie that usually leads to something special."

On Captains: "Lines of communication between the captains and the leaders to the team – to and fro – has been very good in a short time."

Weis stated he and QB Coach Ron Powlus prepare Dayne Crist as if he were the starting quarterback (as you know, he's one play away from being the starting quarterback).

Players already have the Nevada scouting report: "They basically have a general overview."

This week of practice will be treated as if there is a game on Saturday. As a result, practice will mirror a game week and Saturday, August 29, will provide a game day simulation for the players' body clocks.

5th year senior QB Evan Sharpley will serve as the scout team quarterback for Week One vs. Nevada. Weis alluded to Nevada's offense (known as "The Pistol") as a "pretty normal offense that has a different wrinkle because the quarterback sits at four yards deep with the halfback behind him rather than off to the left or the right in a normal shotgun offense."

Weis mentioned one example of improvement for Clausen is that he now shuffles in the pocket to find a passing angle (rather than flushing out to the right – his throwing hand – as was the case in the past and for most young quarterbacks).

On Freshmen:

"We have a lot of guys that could find their way on the field but we have to make sure that when we put them on the field its because we're ready to play them now rather than play someone that's a little older. "We've talked about Shaq (Evans); we've talked about Manti, but that's not where it ends. You forget that Zeke (Motta) is a freshman (he enrolled in January). But he might get as many plays as a lot of them in the opening game because he's going to be on the special teams and at backup safety. "There's contenders coming out of there (the freshmen class)."

Has the "Show Me" Mantra for the Season Changed?

"I'm very optimistic about our team but it really doesn't do much good to sit here and tell everyone what we think," explained a consistent Weis. "I think we'll learn a lot more two weeks from now.

"I'm obviously very excited, along with our team and coaches, to get to September 5th."

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