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Foundation FirstIrish head coach Brian Kelly piqued fan and media interest with his spring press conference offering that the team's offensive linemen had not yet been slotted by position (guard/tackle/center).
Versatility is key, but in the spring session's early stages, so too is finding continuity.
"We've mixed up who's in the first group and in the second group, and (in drills) who's on the right side or left side, but in our team (sessions) we've stayed pretty solid with guard/tackle (positioning), offered offensive line coach Ed Warinner. "We'll mix it up and sort through (the options) with more contact and figure out who the better players are."
Will versatility or the ability to excel on a position or side (of center) be a determining factor?
"Eventually we'll try to slot the five best guys onto the field, and then we'll try to figure out whether they're better right-handed or left-handed." Warinner added. "But the sixth best and seventh-best linemen – they have to be versatile. They have to be able to play inside and outside. That's a work in progress and I wouldn't be ready to say who could or couldn't do that after three practices, but I have an idea of who would have a chance.
"But yes, if we could come up with a two-deep at center, three guards, three tackles that could play, then we'd be in pretty good shape – eight guys ready to go."
Quick Note: If Andrew Nuss (a right guard in 2009) does not crack the team's starting five, the versatile senior-to-be appears a lock for the rotational role due to his positional versatility.
Paralysis by AnalysisSuggestion for an Easter Weekend team activity: rent Bull Durham.
The learning-on-the-fly Irish might benefit from the advice Crash Davis gave to over-thinking pitching prodigy Nuke LaLoosh in the '88 classic: "Don't think. It can only hurt the ballclub."
"(We're still at a point) where the guys are thinking too much," offered offensive coordinator Charley Molnar of the bulk of the squad. "So they're not playing fast and you can see that. They hesitate when they're down the field. When they're ready to make a play they're thinking way, way too much.
"And what we're really trying to do and what coach Kelly stresses is we're trying to get them to a point of ‘unconscious competence' where they really just go without thinking, and we'll certainly get them to that point, sooner or later."
Has daily progress to that end been evident? Molnar thought so, but reconsidered, noting the addition of full pads for Monday's practice.
"Today was better. Well, I shouldn't say today was better – Day 2 was better than Day 1. Today (Day 3) was a little bit of a step backwards because we gave them a lot of information, really to challenge them and see how much they could absorb and process.
"And that's something we like to do, see how much they can learn day-to-day; how much can we jam in? how much can they process? how much can they retain? That's all part of our teaching progression."
The Reality of Pads: The team's aforementioned mental progression was briefly slowed by the necessary padding the players donned for a more physical practice.
"Absolutely," Molnar noted of the difference between shorts and shells vs. a full pads practice. "Because they're thinking about fundamentals, about contact, about laying the wood on somebody, and unfortunately they forget some of the things they just learned 30 minutes earlier in a meeting."
The team is likely to play unencumbered by unnecessary thought as it adapts to the regime's pace of play, but thereafter an additional challenge waits:
The rest of the playbook.
"By the end of spring we're going to have those guys (notably, the quarterbacks) at a good 60 percent or so," Molnar offered of the staff's plan to help the offense assimilate to Brian Kelly's offense. "But I'd say that not until we play the bowl game will they come close to 90 percent, and then a year from now, we'll give them the rest of it, so as we open up the gates in the future the whole book is available to us."
How much of the playbook has been installed and absorbed to date?
"About 1 percent," Molnar stated flatly. "Right now we've already said ‘You know what, we'll wait on this stuff as we progress.' There are some things you need to build before you can get there."