Thursday, June 26, 2008

Talkin with Bill Lewis

Last night I had the opportunity to sit down at a local Notre Dame alumni club event to hear ND’s former assistant head coach, Bill Lewis, talk about the University and the upcoming football season. So instead of digging through articles on recruiting and player interviews for the quote of the week, I thought it would be nice to include a few highlights from Lewis’ presentation.
I remember at my freshman orientation, a senior who was selected to speak to the freshman class said something along the lines of “I am now a proud member of the dumbest class on campus,” and it seems like every senior over the next few years will be able to say something similar. ND commits have continued their ass-kicking on the SATs and other academic measurement systems; the class of 2012 will officially be the ‘smartest’ and most diverse class in the history of the school.

Bill also highlighted some of the construction and development plans currently going on, and while all of the alumni sat back impressed in their chairs, all I could think about was the absurd detours that I had to take to get to DeBartelo for all pf my classes last year. It’s always fun to look above you on your way to class and see a giant steel I-beam swinging from a crane…
But while Lewis talked long and passionately about the academics, facilities, and other sports at Notre Dame (just everything north of the JACC is being rebuilt), you could tell what he likes talking about most when he began talking about the 2008 football team, and the way that he talked about it had that straight-shooting, no-nonsense, Weis-like feel that seemed to add some actual weight to what was said.

Perhaps the most interesting segment of the evening was about a conversation Lewis had with Weis that he relayed to the audience. Lewis told Charlie he wanted to play a word association game; he would say a position name, and Weis would say the first thing that came to his mind. It went something like this:

Quarterback: really good
Running back: good. They compliment each other
OL: much better than last season
WR: need 1-2 freshman to contribute
TE: OK/average.

When challenged by one of the audience members about Clausen’s potential for the next season, Lewis made sure to make his expectations about Jimmy very clear.

"You don’t know how injured he was last season. There was a point when he couldn’t throw a ball from me to you. He was playing at times when he probably shouldn’t have played, and he wasn’t getting great protection all of the time. He needed to have a really good spring, but he didn’t. He had a GREAT spring.”

Other than that, there wasn’t anything too shocking about Weis’ attitude towards the offense. It makes sense that the receiving corps could use some young help, the O-line couldn’t have gotten much worse, and without a Mackey Award nominee tight end on the roster, the position really appears to be just OK heading into fall. What was a little more concerning was the defensive word association:

Secondary: could be a strength
D-Line: Need 5 freshman to get into the rotation
Linebackers: Neal and Smith need to grow up fast. Need freshman to contribute.

Everyone in the blogosphere has raised some concerns about the lack of depth on the defensive front, and while a few linebackers showed potential last year, I would agree that the young ones need to show a good deal of improvement if they want to compete consistently on every play. Regardless, I was surprised at the lack of an attempt to hide these weaknesses in the presentation. Like I said, Lewis was speaking pretty candidly, but it’s not too often that a coach admits he needs 5 freshman to play in order to make a 4 man unit a success next season.

When asked how a strong secondary and hybrid players like Harrison Smith might be able to help out a weak front seven, Lewis gave perhaps the most straightforward response of the night.
“The secondary may be a strength next season,” he said “but the fact is that players like Kerry Neal and Brian Smith, big, strong players that can really move, need to make the transition to the next level. These elite prospects that Weis has brought in, the rising sophomores and freshman, need to develop a high learning curve and find a way to get onto the field and make plays.”

AKA, you can’t mask a weak front seven with a strong secondary.
All and all, it was a fun event, and it was great to finally hear a coach talking some football again, but this cut and dry talk concerning the defensive confirmed what I thought could be one of our biggest question marks heading into next season. I’m curious about what everyone else thinks, so comment!

Go Irish!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Send In The Legs!

I’ll admit that when Weis womped the Wanstash to begin his college football coaching career I was gung ho about the often risky and always entertaining high octane offense that Brady and the boys carried to a 9-3 record. After being forced to watch last year’s young squad get absolutely hazed in the same system, however, I was fairly relieved to hear about our next two verbal commits.

While kicker Nick Tausch wasn't Notre Dame’s first choice, his verbal should still be getting Irish fans excited. With ND unable to notch a touchback at all last season and with Weis refusing to attempt a field goal any longer than an extra point, it should greatly benefit Notre Dame to have a strong-legged kicker on the roster if for no other reason than to make Whittaker realize that he has to make kicks to keep his starting job. I can’t say that I know much about this guy; high school kicking guru Chris Sailer has him ranked as the second best kicking prospect in the country, but I can’t even find a picture of him in pads. In fact, has anyone seen a pic of this guy other than this one?

With the future of blossoming baseball player Eric Maust in question, punter Ben Turk will be a welcomed addition to the 2009 squad, and while the punting has been fairly consistent over the last two years (see Geoff Price for Heisman facebook groups), picking up Turk ensures that the Irish will not be stranded without a scholarship kicker when Maust stops playing.

At the very least, these two players should be able to provide some much needed consistency on special teams, and if the saying ‘like father, like son’ is true, they should be able to help out even more. Both players dad’s played in the NFL.

On the red carpet, Notre Dame has extended its contract with NBC to 2015. This was somewhat expected as the team neared the 2010 expiration year of the old deal, but the more surprising aspect of the renewal is that the contract now provides for NBC to broadcast 7 home games and 1 game at a neutral sight every season. This is of course a side-effect of Kevin White’s 7-4-1 theory, but it is interesting that the contract still provides for this type of scheduling even though the doctor has left the building. Perhaps White’s vision of hammering slightly more than mediocre opponents in NFL stadiums across the country was not just his own. Only time will tell.

Blue Gray Sky conveniently put up a post from the SI Vault about ND’s history with the television networks (and particularly the venom the University has received as a result of it), and that is where this week’s quote comes from (the comments section). Don't worry about the quotes relevance to the post; just enjoy it.

“To all the ND haters out there: sorry for partying”

Friday, June 13, 2008

Better Late Than Never?

Instead of bailing completely on the quote of the week (which I'll admit I often do, especially in the offseason), I thought I'd toss up a short, belated quote to thank everyone for pushing my last QOTW article into the weekly top 5 at NDLNA. Far from being most blog-readers' first choice for Notre Dame commentary, it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when someone other than myself links an article. That being said, here's an update on Sullivan I found while trying to figure out why the Browns cut ties with a behemoth offensive lineman that wanted to play for them...
"The Vikings could be considered a potential suitor for Bentley, 28, because Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is entering the last season of his contract and hasn't been approached about an extension. However, the team has liked what it has seen from sixth-round pick John Sullivan and has a few other candidates to play the position if Birk leaves after 2008."

From what I know about the Vikings line that isn't related to Brock Lesnar, Matt Birk is a heckuva center, and the fact that the team drafted Sullivan to eventually replace him speaks highly of Minnesota's plans for him. Go get em John (and work on the shotgun snaps in your spare time).

Sunday, June 8, 2008

ND Recruiting Strikes Again

Soon after Notre Dame scored a commit from hard nosed linebacker Carlo Calabrese, the Irish capitalized on their recent success with St. Ignatius in Cleveland, OH (Alma Mater of John Ryan and Robby Parris) to add another talented linebacker in four star recruit Dan Fox. In addition to bringing a Zbikowski-like skill set to the LB unit, Fox also comes to Notre Dame with one of the more nostalgic background stories (from Section 29):

70 years ago, a young Irishman named Richard Power had just arrived in Chicago from his homeland. At the height of the Depression, acting on a tip that one could find work at a small Catholic university in northwest Indiana, Power journeyed to South Bend and worked as a janitor on the Notre Dame campus from 1932-34. The money and contacts made by that job eventually led him back home to Ireland, where he married before returning to the United States for good in 1953.One of Power's seven daughters now has a son heading back to South Bend, this time to join a deep corps of hard-hitting Irish linebackers.
Given that Irish history, it would probably be more surprising if Fox didn't choose Notre Dame, but it is always good news when Weis and his staff can reach down south and steal a prominent recruit from a dominant in-state school. Offensive guard Alex Bullard plays his high school ball at the Brentwood Academy in Tennessee, and Irish fans everywhere blew a sigh of relief when the big man verballed to Notre Dame over the backyard Vols. In this rivals interview, Bullard cited former Tenn recruit Golden Tate and future teammate Tyler Stockton as some of the factors in his decision:

"[Tyler] was talking about the school and why he committed. He was very happy to come in and he wanted me to become his teammate."

"Golden went to the same type of high school I did. He said the transition to college was a little easier for him than some of the other guys."

Weis continues to make his presence felt on the recruiting path, with Bullard also citing his respect for Charlie and his respect for the University as other positives of playing for Notre Dame:

"I wanted to make sure I was playing for a good coach with great character."

"It's a unique school. Their education is one in a million; a degree from Notre Dame will carry me far in my career"

Also, there is some maintenance related stuff that I've been meaning to post. Readers would make well to direct themselves to Chinedum Ndukwe's blog (recently added in the Nasties player blog list). Right now there is only one post, but it is a very interesting read documenting the 7th round draft pick's summer at a Harvard program for players interested in enhancing their business skills.

In Irish blogroll news, I've also added The Rock Report to the list of should-reads. The Rock Report has a great and talented writing staff that has come up with some very interesting articles in the last few months and is worthy of checking from time to time.

Thanks for reading, Go Irish!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Filer Likes It Smart

For the quote of the week today I found a nice article on incoming linebacker Steven Filer. In the recruiting wars, Weis has been adamant that one of his primary goals in developing young players is to get them a quality education. In his recent post Middle East interview, Charlie mentioned that one out of a hundred college football recruits make it to the NFL and once that one person gets there, the average career of an NFL player is only three years, so Weis appreciates the importance of a good degree. And while Irish fans may assume that the recruits always recognize The University of Notre Dame as the best place to play football and get a great education, it is always comforting to hear it from the recruits themselves.
Filer was being recruited heavily by both Notre Dame and Ohio State, and in the end, academics made the difference:

“When you go to Notre Dame, you’re always Irish. That Notre Dame degree goes far in life,” Mr. Filer says. “Not only that, it’s the biggest stage you can play on for football. But the number one thing for me is that piece of paper.” – Filer's dad

“At Ohio State, I liked the family atmosphere, the facilities, the coaches and the players. It was the same with Notre Dame,” he says. “It was a hard decision, but in the end it came down to which degree would hold more weight.” – Filer himself

Go learning! Go Irish!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Something New

Away from campus for the summer and without a Rivals subscription to get inside information interspersed among many Rick Rolls, it can be hard for me to generate much information that isn't second hand news this time of the year. In an effort to post something fresh, I thought the least I could do is share a few minutes from a concert I went to last weekend. Sorry for the shaky picture and background noise, but that's what cheap lawn seats will get you.

A few other points of information:

  • After beating Johns Hopkins to win their record 10th Men's Lacrosse Championship, Syracuse becomes the 3rd consecutive team (joining Virginia and Johns Hopkins) to beat Notre Dame en route to a national title.

  • About the Brady Quinn pictures referenced in the comments section of a previous post, there is an old phrase, when you look good, you feel good; when you feel good, you play good. As long as Brady continues to succeed on the field, he can take any pictures that he wants, but I would recommend exercising some privacy control to prevent any Leinart beer bong incidents.

  • Happy trails to Kevin White as he leaves Notre Dame to tackle the AD job at Duke. This should be a pretty decent job for the doctor; White won't have to worry much about the basketball or lacrosse teams as they are more or less run by their coaches and are currently both enjoying much success, and the football program has nowhere to go but up. They were so bad that they lost to Notre Dame last year. BGS supplies a link that sums up White's time with Notre Dame.