Of Te'o, KLM, and Searching for Roles

IrishEyes focuses on player personnel notes from today's press conference with head coach Charlie Weis.

The Alamo (both the massacre site and Dome)…the River Walk…neutral vs. home field scenarios…they're all part of the oddity this weekend that pits the Irish vs. Washington State in San Antonio.

And they were all touched on during today's weekly press conference with Weis.

In case you were wondering, the Irish will treat the trip as a road game. That is, I assume, until kick-off when a horde of Irish followers drown out both of the Cougars fans that made the trip South for the second-ever meeting between the programs.

Notre Dame is a 29-point favorite Saturday, a spread the Irish haven't covered since a 32-point win over Army in mid-November, 2006 (also known as the strangest Green Jersey game in recorded history). After six weeks of nail-biters, the Irish could use a break, not to mention a complete game from the offense, defense, and special teams.

Irish head coach Charlie Weis took time out of a scattered session with the media to answer several personnel-related questions.

A sampling:

Raeshon McNeil: Weis was asked if the senior cornerback was one of the players who'd recently found his niche as the team's nickel defender…a topic first broached in general by the coach in Sunday's press conference following the BC contest.

"He played there some of the game and he also played corner some of the game." Weis observed. "I think that you'll see Raeshon back on the field more this week."

Not exactly the ringing endorsement I had hoped for, but its promising that the Irish will at least consider a former starting cornerback as their fifth defensive back (rather than a Safety vs. a slot receiver in space) going forward.

Dan Wenger: I followed the McNeil query with a note regarding the former Irish starting center and his intermittent presence in the first half vs. the Eagles last Saturday.

"We've been trying to give Chris (Stewart) a little bit of a rest over there at left guard and get Danny some work at the same time." Weis stated. "We've been trying to do that from the last several weeks."

Wenger struggled mightily as a blocker in the Wildcat formation in the first quarter but was a key component on the half-ending, go-ahead touchdown drive in what was primarily a pass-blocking role (10 passes and two Clausen scrambles during the 13-play drive).

As for the possibility of some of the younger offensive linemen joining the rotation?

"The games haven't dictated being able to do that," Weis explained. "At the offensive line position the last thing I'm going to do is take a sophomore and put him in and say ‘okay, let's see how you do…'

"You risk the quarterback getting killed."

Weis did note that several backup offensive linemen would be on the traveling squad this week and he'd like to have an opportunity to play "a bunch of them…but the game has to present itself in such a way where we can do that."

Manti Te'o: Te'o not only leads the team in tackles over the last three contests, but the freshman five-star recruit is the squad's unquestioned king of attention-catching tackles as well. What's been the difference for a more menacing Manti over this span?

"I think as a defensive player the No. 1 thing is being able to pull the trigger," observed Weis of a standard defender's improvement with game experience. "Even when you know what to do (on a given play), to just let it loose and go.

"When he first started playing he'd be a little hesitant," Weis continued. "You'd see that momentary pause …and that pause is the difference between making a play and not making a play.

"Now that momentary pause is starting to vanish. Now when he sees it, he goes. And when you get to that point you're definitely on the right track."

Weis continued later in the session answering an observation regarding the freshman's obvious prowess as a hitter. His ability to "run through" the ball carrier is what separates Te'o, and linebackers of his ilk, from the mortal pack.

"I think that's what really good linebackers do," Weis offered. "I don't know how else to say it, but I like linebackers that will run through somebody's face. That's what Manti does.

"He's only a freshman, but as I said no too long ago. I think the sky is the limit.

"Fortunately for us he's starting to get on a little bit of a roll."

Kapron Lewis-Moore: The first-year player has ranked as one of the defense's most consistent contributors after a rough start. But his improvement is not a major surprise to his head coach. In fact, it appears he's on pace with expectations.

"At Notre Dame they're called ‘sophomores' but everywhere else in the country they're called ‘redshirt freshman' Weis noted of players withheld from action (such as Lewis-Moore) during their first year of college.

"When (Lewis-Moore) started playing at the beginning of the year we all started talking about his physical development. We all (Weis was speaking of those gathered in the room) saw it. It wasn't just the coaching staff.

"When he first started playing this year it was the first play of his college career. He was nervous just like anyone else who was out there for the first time. Now each week he's gotten better and now he's more than halfway through his freshman year (first year) and his level of performance has gotten significantly better."

Lewis-Moore earned one of four IrishEyes game balls in our defensive film review for his effort vs. Boston College.

Duval Kamara: Another IrishEyes game-ball recipient, due mainly to his effort bouncing back from a game-ending slip in the near-upset of USC, Weis lauded Kamara for his continued improvement after suffering an August knee injury (and arthroscopic surgery).

"I think even though he was back from the knee (injury), that being back and ‘ready to go' and being back and ‘at the top of your game' are two different things," Weis admitted. "I think he battled back nicely and quickly and got himself back in the mix."

Weis acknowledged the junior was down after the USC loss.

"Was he disappointed at the end of USC? ‘You betcha' but it didn't affect his performance in the next game. He not only caught the ball well but he got some extra yards and was very productive for us."

A healthy confident Kamara could evolve into a late-season, chain-moving weapon if sophomore superstar Michael Floyd can return close to his previous form in mid-November.

Harrison Smith: The much-maligned Irish safety (re)debuted as a strong side linebacker vs. Boston College, and though he was chiefly responsible for the Eagles' first touchdown pass, the athlete from Knoxville had a few moments of impact as well.

"He's had some good production in the secondary," Weis curiously began, "its just that his confidence had gotten a little bit shaken so we moved him down into a comfort zone to regain his confidence and he played significantly better.

"He kind of flip-flopped with Sergio (Brown) with Sergio going back to (Smith's) position (Safety) and Harrison going down to work at SAM (LB) and he regained a lot of his confidence."

I noted Smith for a quality pass break-up near the end of the 4th Quarter as well as a few solid plays in blitzing situations early (he forced a fumble in the first quarter with a perfectly timed blitz over the left tackle) but the (redshirt) junior made several costly mistakes as well.

Look for Smith to receive more work as an athlete rather than deep safety in the next few contests.

Speaking of Safety play…

"We have high safeties and low safeties and two-deep safeties," Weis explained. "Normally, semantically, the guy that's deep is the free safety and the guy that's dropped down is the strong safety. That's the (relevance) of the depth chart listing this week."

For the record, Kyle McCarthy is listed as the team's free safety and is backed up by his brother, Dan McCarthy, while Sergio Brown is the starting strong safety, backed up by Jamoris Slaughter, who saw ample action Saturday vs. the Eagles. Darius Fleming and Harrison Smith are listed in an "OR" situation at SLB. Freshman Zeke Motta, though not listed on the two-deep, remains the team's chief defensive back in the "Dime" (six DB) package.

Psyche vs. Field Position…Take Two

At just over 32 yards per punt Saturday vs. Boston College, the job status of freshman Ben Turk has come into question. Weis was asked about balancing the potential damage to his freshman punter's confidence if he's replaced in the lineup – three weeks after winning the job over incumbent Eric Maust – vs. the overall damage more ill-timed shanks could inflict on the team.

"Both sides of that question are true, so there's the Catch-22," Weis admitted. "In reality you worry about the psyche of a young guy but the bottom line is you have to worry about the team first.

"This week they'll both have an opportunity to punt and whoever punts the best – that's who'll punt."

"We weren't satisfied and (Turk) will get the opportunity to be the guy again; he'll just have to kick better than (Maust)."

Stopping Robo-Tight End?

After a celebrated first five games, sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph struggled through a quiet pair of games vs. two rivals (or one rival; followed by one ultimately successful but head-shaking annoyance of collective insecurity). He finished with just one reception (targeted for five passes) for 11 yards against the Eagles last Saturday.

Was it the defense's game plan or something the Irish could work in the coming weeks?

"Last week wasn't so much game-planning as we weren't hitting on a lot of communications between those two guys," Weis observed of Rudolph and quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

"One of the things we're going to work on today…is the nuances of routes because when it's one-on-one I would think Kyle's going to get open every time. I would think…but that hasn't been happening so we're going to work on it today."

All Quiet on the Injury Front

The Irish appeared to escape last week's physical battle with BC relatively unscathed…with one exception.

"I'd say doubtful," Weis stated when asked of senior Robby Parris' status after reinjuring his ankle last week. "And I'll try my best for ‘doubtful' to be ‘out' this week. And not the other way. I'll try my best to not use him this week."

Armando Allen continues to be bothered a bit by an ankle injury though the shot he took to his knee late in the contest has not surfaced as an issue. Allen's backfield backup Robert Hughes is also on the mend after taking a shot to the head at the goal line last week. The junior should be ready for Saturday.

"Robert's up and ready to go," Weis said. "He got dinged but he passed his cognitive test so he'll be practicing today."


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