Between the Lines

Hungry Irish have embraced change and their new teachers.

In recent seasons, pre-practice huddles often ended with a team chant of "Get Better."

The theme remains in 2010, except this August (and last April) that verbalization appears to have translated to the physical activity on the football field.

The revamped Irish have, by all accounts (and in this case "all" is the correct word choice) embraced the plethora of changes in their football program. From the addition of the athletic training table, to the faster-paced practices, to the apparently clearer lines of communication that filters through the staff.

Actually, scratch the word "apparently" from the previous sentence.

"He doesn't talk down on you," said junior wide receiver John Goodman of his new head coach. "He's really just trying to help you. He would never look down on you. He would never look at any of us differently. He just wants to help us out."

One of Brian Kelly's obvious strengths is his ability to communicate his message. In this case, "communicate" is code for "demand things are done the right way – his way – in order to make you and most important, the team much, much better." Or someone will take your place.

"He definitely is intense. You need that on an offense like this and on a team like this that has potential. Because he has a lot of expectations for us. We agree with that and we want to live up to those expectations," Goodman continued.

"So if he ever yells at you you just take it and learn from it. He's a very good people person and that's huge with us players."

To be fair, if the answer were contradictory, it likely wouldn't be voiced. But to a man, the theme rings true.

"I just think they're completely honest with us," said junior nose guard Sean Cwynar. "There are open lines of communication. I just think that works really well because you're not playing a 'guessing game' with the coaches. If you're not playing well they come out and tell you as a man that you're not getting it done. I think that's great."

Cwynar has moved into a near "50-50" split of reps with senior Ian Williams inside. The confident competitor welcomes the chance to compete – with an eye toward his first hit in September.

"I have the power to play there," Cwynar answered when asked about his attributes on the interior. "I'm a little bit smaller than the average nose tackle, compared to Ian, but my speed really picks up for what I'm lacking in size.

"I still can play the double team really well. I love playing the run and I love (facing) double teams, I'm ready to take on two guys at once."

Cwynar believes he's ready for the challenge because of an off-season spent with new Strength & Conditioning coach Paul Longo.

"I think we all just have a trust in him, we love coach Longo," Cwynar offered. "Every time we're in there we're going to work as hard as we can. We've just all really bought in that every time we're in there, not only in the weight room but outside the weight room, that we're going to make good decisions: put the right things in our bodies; eat right; hydrate ,and I think its really paying off."

New Beginnings

Shaquelle Evans is still in South Bend. That's step No. 1.

Homesick and unhappy as a confused freshman 3,500 miles from the security of his family, Evans languished through the last two months of the 2009 season on the back of the bench.

He's no longer confused; no longer unsure of his status; and, well, he's still homesick.

"It was tough last year," Evans readily admitted. "Real hard being away from home. But now that I've been here an entire year I've pretty much gotten used to it. It's still hard to deal with but its much more tolerable that it was before."

Evans was glad to have his slate wiped clean in December. Asked to pick a team leader, he offered a unique answer.

"I'd say the leader is the entire team. We're built around being a team and a team picks each other up when we feel like someone isn't going hard. I guess it just wasn't demanded the right way or maybe (we) just didn't feel it from the coaching staff, but this coaching staff is all about team and leadership and stepping in, stepping up so that's probably the difference."

Also receiving a new lease on life in 2010 is junior outside linebacker Steve Filer. A strong spring; a productive Blue Gold Game and an impressive first third of fall camp has placed Filer with the first unit after eight August practices.

Without taking too much liberty as a writer removed from the guts of the team and practice field, I can assure you: Steve Filer would not be in this situation had a change not occurred at the helm last December.

"Initially I just wanted to get a new start. With the new coaching staff moving in, I just wanted to get a totally new start and that's what they did. They came in and told us our slate was wiped clean. They didn't judge us on our past, so that's what made me more comfortable, what made me play better...I just felt like with this new staff, they don't know me; I don't know them. I could just be a brand new player and a brand new person."

That brand new player is a 'Dog' outside linebacker (closely resembling a weak side linebacker in standard terminology). Filer believes he's well-suited for the necessary skills outside.

"I'm a fast guy as a rusher and I'm a tall, long guy so I can be out there in coverage," Filer offered. "I can re-route (receivers, tight ends, and 'backs in his zone) and do things like that."

Filer's ascension to the first string is hardly set in stone.

"He's earned the opportunity to go with the ones," Kelly noted of the junior OLB after Friday's practice. "We're not going to play for a couple of weeks. Now the job is – can he hold onto it? We'll see."

Kelly's assessment of Filer's skillset coincided with the junior's self evaluation – with an additional tidbit of information tossed in.

"He's extremely athletic," Kelly began before adding tangentially, "Steve was more interested in what kind of skateboard he had when I got here. He's not that interested in skateboarding anymore. He's interested in playing football. That athletic ability is starting to show itself on the football field."

No games will be decided by coaching staff/player rapport. No run defense has ever improved because the players worked out together in California or Chicago or South Bend in the summer.

And no Irish fan with a sense of reality believes this team will emerge from the morass of mediocrity because a few former backups are now happy that they're fighting for playing time.

But the 2010 Irish appear more capable of success than did their predecessors.

The staff is officially winning the off-season battle inside the Labar Practice Complex.

Its the upcoming tussles inside the once imposing Stadium down the road – a structure from which inferior foes have emerged victorious over the Irish in 11 of their last 20 collective matchups, that matter most.


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