Learning Every Day

Notre Dame wide receivers coach Tony Alford has embraced the challenges of coaching a new position group in his second season at the school.

With nearly half of the 15 allotted spring practices in the books, it's natural for Irish fans to wonder if the squad is past the adaptation phase of the Brian Kelly era.

It appears progress occurred in the three practices following the team's one week break for Easter, but the group as a whole has miles to go before their coaches can sleep.

"Some," responded wide receivers coach Tony Alford when asked specifically about his unit's progression. "We're not where we need to be. We're far from we need to be and a lot of that falls on me. I'm coaching them. But we still have nine practices left, we have a long way to go but we'll get there."

The key, according to Alford, is assimilating to the new pace, workload, and playbook, while maintaining a grasp on the fundamentals necessary to perform on the field.

"(The key) is staying in the (play)book and being able to adapt and adjust on your feet and on the run. It's coming along every single day, and we just have to keep improving (on the positives) while working on the things that aren't so good."

Alford coached the Irish running backs last season, his first at the University. He, as much as any coach on the roster, has a learning curve to overcome entering the spring.

Asked about his biggest adjustment to the new system, Alford quipped, "Get in shape. It's fast," before extrapolating to the rest of the squad: "What you have is a lot of reps; you have to be able to think on your feet and when people get tired the first thing to go (become sloppy) is their minds and the ability to think on their feet.

"That's conditioning. You condition your mind and your body will follow."

At present, Alford oversees nine (scholarship) bodies with at least one more (incoming freshman slot receiver Austin Collinsworth) set to join the unit in August.

Equal reps are not easy to come by. "That's on me," Alford admitted. "I have to make sure everyone gets (quality) work."

Spring 2010 Receiving Targets

  • Michael Floyd (junior): Has averaged 16.4 yards per catch on his 92 career receptions while scoring 16 touchdowns (one every 5.75 grabs). A potential All-America for his remaining time in the program.
  • Duval Kamara (senior): Set (since eclipsed) freshman receiving records with 32 catches for 357 yards and 4 TD, but has notched just two touchdowns on 43 catches since. Ranks as the teams best blocking receiver entering 2010.
  • John Goodman (junior): Emerged in mid-October last season to finish with six receptions for 104 yards and a (64-yard) touchdown. Goodman appears to be running with the first unit in the slot, though the media viewing periods can't be used as an absolute.
  • Shaquelle Evans (sophomore): Showed early flashes then barely saw the field over the season's final seven games. Likely the team's fastest straight-line receiver and showed real open field ability prior to his arrival on campus.
  • Roby Toma (sophomore): Generally lauded for his hands and quickness out of his breaks; Toma should make a dent in the team's rotation as a slot receiver, though competition for the starting spot is expected to be fierce.
  • Deion Walker (junior): Looks the part as an athletic, tough cover during one-on-one drills in practice but has barely made a dent on the field. Walker can go get the ball in the air but needs to hone his craft to have a shot at a meaningful role in the rotation.
  • Theo Riddick (sophomore): Should be the best with the ball in his hands, but Riddick's a neophyte at the position. (See comments below).
  • Barry Gallup, Jr. (5th-Year): Barely appeared from scrimmage last season (he earned a few snaps in the blowout of Washington State), but Gallup did rip off a 52-yard kick return in Ann Arbor.
  • Tai-ler Jones (1st Semester Freshman): His apparent ability to play compete in the uncertain slot position gives him at least an opportunity to fight for playing time entering August camp.

While there's an obvious top dog in the group in Floyd, the remaining hierarchy promises fluidity thanks to the regime change. It's a development any competitive athlete relishes.

"We're all on an equal level right now," observed sophomore Shaquelle Evans. "Everybody's competing and trying to learn. I can only talk about myself, but I know I try to focus on my responsibility (in every rep)."

Evans, who admitted nearly transferring last fall after disappearing from the team's rotation after a career-best effort vs. Washington (4 receptions/34 yards) in Week Five, has embraced the new pace of practice and taken on an air of maturity that was obviously lacking last season.

"He should be (more mature)," Alford offered following Friday's practice. "Last summer when he got here everything was new. Now he's been here 8-9 months…he's matured, but that's what supposed to happen. You're supposed to go off to college and mature. If not, you're doing something wrong, or someone's doing something wrong."

The Veteran and the Relative Rookies

Another sophomore-to-be involved in the daily competition is former halfback Theo Riddick, who was moved to the slot receiver role by Brian Kelly prior to the spring session in an effort to get the gifted one-cut runner on the field.

"He's coming. He's working at it," Alford noted of Riddick. "Every time something happens it's kind of new (to him), but he's getting better through repetition."

When asked what Riddick needed to work on specifically to speed up the transition, Alford never hesitated.

"The whole gamut. Everything. Everybody has to fine tune their (overall) game: (that means) lining up, reading coverage, getting out of breaks, catching the ball.

"There's a lot of things that go into it. (Riddick's) working at it ."

As for any remaining limitations on Riddick due to off-season shoulder surgery?

"Nope, he's been going," Alford replied. "And if it is limiting him he hasn't told me about it. So as far as I'm concerned, he goes (full-speed). I don't ask him though; I don't ask how he's doing," Alford added with a smile.

Also heavily in the mix (and seen as part of the first unit in nearly every rep during the media viewing sessions) is imposing senior target Duval Kamara, who's conditioning has come into question on multiple occasions during his college career. The most recent case was due to a matter out of his control: a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery last August.

"He's getting there; he's coming along," Alford noted of Kamara's adaptation to the new pace. "The biggest (challenge) is you have to run up to that wall (a person's physical breaking point) and try to punch through that wall; so you can figure out how to go past that wall. You can't run up to it and stop.

"That's going to be a daily process for all of us," he continued. "To continue to get into better condition and better shape. To push pass our comfort levels and get out of your comfort zone."

As expected, Alford embraced his new opportunity and the chance to tutor another group of athletes at the University. He's learning along with them.

"No question," Alford noted of his continuing education as a coach. "I've learned more football in the past couple months than I have in a long time.

"When you do the same thing for the last 15 years, I won't say it's monotonous…but it can become monotonous at times. Coach Kelly and I talked about that prior to this move as coach Molnar and I did. It's been really good for me personally and selfishly.

"I think these guys are really good coaches…you're talking about a lot of guys that have coached football at a lot of different places, so its' been really good for me personally. Selfishly it's been really good."

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