Head coach Brian Kelly, his staff, Irish players, and Irish fans are all ready for something to count in the final ledger.
At least one of the above continues to focus on the journey rather than the destination.
Reinforcement Can't Always Be PositiveIrish fans that felt Kelly had a pattern of tearing down the troops early and building them up late – both in the spring and now in pre-season camp – may have to reevaluate their read on the head coach.
Not everything is rosy heading into camp's final weekend.
"I'm actively involved in practice…today I was a little more involved than I wanted to be."
Kelly sent a clear message post-practice: focus must be maintained at all times, by all players, regardless of one's depth chart status.
"I start with the premise that we're here to win for Notre Dame. Coaches aren't here (from last year) but everybody's responsible…and the players that are here, they didn't do such a good job, either.
"Everybody's starting with the same premise: ‘You're here to win and I expect you to be ready to practice and be locked in for Notre Dame every time you come out here.'
"That message needs to be reinforced sometimes; today was a good day to reinforce that."
The drain of camp has taken its toll on the roster – one looking forward to Game Week much more so than Practice No. 20 or 21.
"The problem is our guys are starting to transition before I want them to transition," Kelly said. "That's really the issue. They've transitioned out to thinking about Purdue; but they've got a couple more practices that they have to stay focused on."
Cautiously OptimisticJunior Jamoris Slaughter, 5th-year senior Chris Stewart and senior linebacker Steve Paskorz have joined the list of hobbled players as came nears its conclusion.
"We're holding back on Jamoris; he's got a little bit of a groin (injury) right now," Kelly said after Wednesday's practice. "He's done a great job, so we're just being cautious. We don't want to be 6-7-8 days out and end up having (an already injured) player pull a hamstring or something. That just doesn't make sense."
With just four scholarship safeties on the roster, the Irish can ill-afford a lingering injury at the position.
One position group with a good deal of depth is the interior offensive line where Stewart, the miracle of Longo-nian off-season science at a newly trimmed 362-pounds, is embroiled in a battle with redshirt-freshman Chris Watt for the starting guard spot.
"Stewart's just sore; his neck's sore. He's got his helmet on (during practice). The big fella's moving around, so he'll be fine."
Paskorz, a backup WILL ‘backer and likely key special teams presence will have his knee evaluated after a tweaking it in a non-contact situation Wednesday.
"Posluszny and (Dan) Fox have been working a lot in there. We're not going to leave ourselves short-handed. We trust the guys that we're going to put on the field."
Also in the mix is freshman linebacker Prince Shembo, a player who apparently fits any coach's favorite position designation: football player.
"We like him. We run a lot of reps at him and we need to continue to rep him because he's a good football player. He's going to play this year.
"Where do we like him?" Kelly continued in response to the original question. "We like him on the field. He's got some flexibility, we just have to get this settled in to find out where, but he's going to play this year."
While comfortable with most position battles, Kelly noted there were still a few areas in which players could move into the team's two-deep depth chart prior to Game Week.
Continuity CountsKelly's post spring comments and pre-camp reiteration that the team has "10 offensive linemen we can win with" surprised many – well, all – that watched Notre Dame play over the last four seasons.
Each of the 10 (or more) will contribute, but don't expect Kelly's substitution rotation to resemble lines at a hockey game.
"I'm like you guys," Kelly offered. "I don't want guys running in and out of the huddle every down. We know we have some key players and guys that can be in the lineup if needed.
"You want to maintain as much continuity as possible. When you change personnel, the defense can change personnel. I like to go. So it's not like you're going to see guys running in and off the field like it's a Pop Warner game."
Left Tackle Leader: One player that hasn't rotated out of the first unit is redshirt-freshman Zack Martin, the team's starting left tackle since the early portion of Spring Practice.
"Athleticism," Kelly noted of Martin's strength as a player. "He's going to be able to move his feet and take care of some of those guys that come off the edge with great speed and quickness. He's the most athletic offensive lineman we have; so when you're talking about pass protection, he's going to be able to take care of the speed rushers.
"Having said that, he has to continue to get stronger. His anchor's going to need to be better on a bull rush. But I'd rather work against the bull rush because we get the ball out pretty quick rather than someone that's going to get beat off the edge."
Martin's ascension came as a surprise to many observers who assume senior Matt Romine would initially step into the starting role. While Romine continues to compete at both right and left tackle, Martin continues to work toward his first career game appearance after a season on the scout team.
"I think my confidence," Martin said of the key to his ascension. "Last year I came in and there were two senior offensive tackles (as starters). So I knew I'd have to wait my time and get redshirted.
"After the season, both of those guys graduated so I thought it was my time to step up. I worked out real hard and it was a goal of mine to get into that first group."
Martin's move into the first group coincides with his ability to handle his opponent's first step.
"I'm not 320 pounds like some of the guys last year so I think it helps me move a little bit. In this offense, we have to be able to be fast off the edge."
The first-year tackle doesn't think the team's focus will continue to wane going forward.
"Game Week will come when it comes, but we have to focus and finish strong in the pre-season. We have to get everything in tuned before we move to Purdue."
Joe Holland, a former high school teammate of Martin's at Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis), is a starting linebacker for the Boilermakers.