Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Psycho B???

Mike Brey picked up an interesting committment late Monday evening, not from a five-star high school senior, but a transfer from Mississippi State. Said transfer also happens to be the younger brother of University of North Carolina and College Basketball POY Tyler Hansbrough. Ben Hansbrough, a 6'3'' sophmore guard, averaged a little over 10 points per game for the Bulldogs this past season, helping them to the second round of the NCAA tournament (where they nearly defeated National Runner-Up Memphis).

While Hansboough will not be eligible to play this season, per NCAA rules, he will immediately help the Irish in practice. Having an SEC-capable guard with NCAA tournament experience will only help push Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and the remaining Irish guards in practice, thus helping them prepare for what shapes up to be an even stronger Big East (8 teams in Fox Sports' Preseason Top 25, including Notre Dame at #7). Additionally, Hansbrough will transition perfectly into the starting lineup for the 2009 - 2010 campaign when KMac has graduated.

With no recruits coming in the class of '08, Hansbrough helps fill the void and will join two already signed recruits eligible for play in '09 (Joey Brooks and Luke Harangody clone Jack Cooley). With the addition of another big man to help replace Harangody, Zeller, and the lanky Zach Hillesland, the Irish should be in good position to challenge for the Big East title in '08 and beyond.

Another note on potential big men: while he plays smaller than his size, Purdue freshman forward Scott Martin is transferring from Purdue and according to sources has narrowed his choices down to Notre Dame and hometown Valpo. Martin would be a welcomed addition to the Irish and is visiting campus next week.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Something Smells Rotten

For those of you who don't know me or my style of fandom, here's a brief sampler: I am an unapologetic optimist, especially when it comes to Notre Dame and Notre Dame football. I mean, I'm the same guy who got verklempt while showing Rudy to high-schoolers. The glass is always at least 2/3 full and usually getting fuller. Let me explain why I believe this. When it comes to sports, I always view them in the context of the university as a whole. This is the university where I connect most deeply with my faith, my family, and my closest friends. No 3-9 season or BCS meltdown or 14-year bowl streak can take that fact away. Notre Dame football might not be the best program, but (in my mind, at least) we are the most good. Do I print out the GSR after a 3-9 season and claim that we are the #3 program in America? Of course not. However, I believe that a 3-9 team that upholds the Notre Dame tradition (an oxymoron I know, but bear with me) is much more likely to return to success on the field than an independent set in South Bend, Indiana uprooted from its tradition will achieve a long run of on-field success.

Why the rant? Namely so that you can understand this simple fact: I'm pissed. Started when I flipped open an ESPN the magazine and saw this:
For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a full-page ad where a group of 4 ND defenders gang-tackling a Siegfried interhall player (while wearing the hideous Bob Davie adidas jerseys, no less). This doesn't make sense for either side: when you think adidas deodorant, think Notre Dame football? God forbid the flip side: when you think Notre Dame football, think adidas deodorant? Don't we have enough money with the NBC deal, the 2 BCS bowl appearances we don't split with a conference (even though we sort of do due to a separate bonehead deal that also shows a lack of belief in Notre Dame and its ability to achieve), the IndianaDisney Bookstore, and the 200+ consecutive home sellouts? What does this ad help us achieve? It doesn't seem to move along construction on Purcell Pavilion at Meijer Court at the JACC, the hockey 'rink', or the fencing closet. I refuse to see this ad on all fronts, but I would even consider stomaching this ad if some teams didn't play in the college equivalent of the Vet and we weren't forced to call on the local California high school band to take the Coliseum for our marquee matchup with our chief rival.

That vent has been stewing for a few weeks, thanks for letting me get that out. Let me be clear: After all this, I do believe that Dr. White is a good man who badly wants success for Notre Dame. There are times, however, where his view of success and mine could not be more different.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Appreciations

Another NFL Draft come and gone. Roger Goddell made good on his promise to leave no one twisting in the wind backstage, as the six green room invitees went in the first six picks of the draft. Maybe that's why this draft felt so blasé - where was the high drama involved with letting at least one guy stew back there, feeling for the first time in his life what it means to (figuratively) get picked last?

Notre Dame players came out on the high end of expectations, mostly, with a draft fit for the birds. Confused? Well...
John Carlson -- 38th pick overall (7th pick, 2nd round), Seattle Seahawks
Trevor Laws -- 49th pick overall (16th pick, 2nd round), Philadelphia Eagles
Tom Zbikowski -- 86th pick overall (23rd pick, 3rd round), Baltimore Ravens
John Sullivan -- 187th pick overall (21st pick, 6th round), Minnesota Vikings
All four were among the first five players taken at their position. Additionally, Joe Brockington and Travis Thomas signed UFA deals, Brockington with the Buffalo Bills and Thomas with the Browns, while JJ Jansen latched on with the Packers. Also on the move was 2006 draftee Anthony Fasano, who got packaged in a late Friday night deal to Miami, where he figures to be a prime contender for the starting TE spot. Sure beats languishing behind Jason Witten.

There's no shortage of storylines for the Irish as they move forward - for instance, how about a potential Philadelphia defensive line of Laws and Victor Abiamiri? Or Tommy Z taking tips from Ed Reed? Before turning our attention to the long hot summer and the 2008 football season, one last roll call of appreciation for four more Irish looking to play on Sundays.

From The Express-Times, on Philadelphia's newest defensive tackle:
Laws went 49-0 on his way to a (wrestling) state championship as a junior and was a member of state championship teams in each of his final three seasons.

Football was his true calling however, and that's how he wound up at the NovaCare Complex on Sunday, less than 24 hours after being selected in the second round with the 47th overall pick.

"It's been a crazy ride for me," Laws said. "The last 24 hours, I had my family over to my house, my real close friends and family. The Eagles called, I saw the Pennsylvania number. I picked it up and didn't really know what was going on. They were talking about a couple little things but not really giving away that they wanted me.

"All of a sudden, (coach Andy) Reid comes on the phone and my name rolls across the screen and they announce my name and I got mobbed by my family. I actually ended up hanging up the phone (accidentally) on Coach Reid. It's been wild. I flew out this morning at 6 a.m. and got a little shuteye. It's been good."

This marks the second straight year the Eagles have drafted a Notre Dame defensive lineman in the second round. They took end Victor Abiamiri with the 57th overall pick a year ago.

Perhaps it wasn't a coincidence, Fighting Irish head coach Charlie Weiss suggested.

"Andy and I are very close," Weiss said, "and he knows that he can ask about all the little idiosyncracies of our guys. But what it really comes down to is the Philadelphia organization being able to evaluate the guy and see if he fits."

Weiss is certain the Eagles received first-round value in Laws.

"Despite the fact that we had a bad performance as a team, Trevor was extraordinary," Weiss said. "I mean, tackles for loss, playing hard, playing against the (best) guys every time we'd match up ... he's a pain in the butt to block, he doesn't stay blocked, he has a wrestling background and although he's not tall, he plays with a low center of gravity and he's got a great motor."
Three years later, and reporters still can't spell the Notre Dame head coach's name right. C'est la vie, I guess. From the Chicago Tribune, on the newest hard-hitting Raven safety:
Since he planned to spike his exasperatingly unreliable cell phone against the nearest wall as soon as possible, Tom Zbikowski had people call it repeatedly Saturday and Sunday, to test the reception and sheer functionality.

The Baltimore Ravens had his home number, as it turns out. And soon after they rang it to take the former Buffalo Grove and Notre Dame standout in the third round of the NFL draft, someone half-seriously suggested sending Zbikowski's sister, Kristen, out to buy some team gear. In Baltimore.

As these episodes suggest, patience is not a virtue with the Zbikowski clan. Still, Tom Zbikowski will need to develop an even keel as he heads into an apprenticeship with one of the NFL's stingiest defenses.

"I still don't think it's sunk in," Zbikowski said. "In a couple of days, I'll be strapping it up in the same huddle as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It's ridiculous thinking about that."

It was a mercy pick, though Baltimore didn't know it. Zbikowski agonized over the wait. Sleep was a worthless endeavor Saturday night. He had four televisions on throughout the house early Sunday, not to mention a bevy of charts and lists in the family's own mini-war room.

Now he has clarity at last, going from Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year to Notre Dame All-American to this.

"There are definitely a lot of feelings I can't even explain and put into words," Zbikowski said. "It's been a long time coming—years of hard work, since you were a little kid playing in the street, saying one day you wanted to play in the NFL. It's finally come true."

It also requires a dose of that elusive patience. Though Zbikowski started all 48 games in his Notre Dame career at safety, he's probably going to Baltimore to add depth on defense and play special teams.

Though new Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked on ESPN that Zbikowski would be his bodyguard, in reference to his boxing career, Baltimore put a premium on skills that produced 11.5 yards per punt return and three touchdown runbacks for the Irish.

"[Zbikowski is] physical, fast, can run to the football," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He can also be a backup returner for us. Those were areas where we got hit pretty hard last year, and we ended up taking guys off the practice squad, taking guys off the street.

"We feel like we've added some real good depth, and over the course of the next three or four years, guys that could become starters for us."

Meanwhile, Zbikowski can soak in lessons from the likes of Reed, a four-time Pro Bowl safety.

"[Who] better than Ed Reed to teach him?" said Zbikowski's father, Ed. "That's like a doctor doing his internship at the Mayo Clinic."
From John Carlson's hometown West Central Tribune:
Carlson didn’t watch the draft on Saturday and was in the basement of his parents’ home in Litchfield playing with his nephew, Tyson, when his fiancée, Danielle Herndon, heard his phone ringing and answered it.

“She came down and told me Seattle was calling,” said Carlson. “And everyone got so loud that I had to sprint upstairs to a quiet bedroom so I could talk. A representative of the team told me they were making a trade to move up in the draft and were going to take me.”

Carlson was then talking to Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren when the selection was made public on television. Carlson could head a collective cheer from the room where family members, friends, his fiancée and her parents were watching.

Holmgren targeted a tight end that could stretch the field much like Mike Chmura did with the Green Bay Packers when he was head coach there. The Seahawks have struggled at that position for several years.

“He told me he wanted me to step in and play right away,” said Carlson. “I was completely flattered. I knew they needed a tight end and I might have a chance to go there, but it was a surprise that they would trade up just to pick me.”

Holmgren has spent nine seasons at Seattle trying to find a tight end that could block and catch passes instead of having to rotate two or three in out of each series.

“The tight end situation was an interesting one because it was no secret that we were looking hard at tight ends,” Holmgren told the Seattle Times. “We probably, as an organization, spent as much time on the tight ends as any position in this draft.

“John Carlson, to me and Tim (Ruskell, the team’s president), was the most all-around solid guy. He’s really a good football player who can play inside at the tight end position. He’s a big man (6-foot-5, 251 pounds) … very good hands, good route runner.

“We love everything about the intangibles — how he plays the game, how he practices, how he conducts his life. I told Tim early on, I think that he is one of these guys, Lord willing and everyone stays healthy, that he can come in and be a really good football player for you for a long time.”

Carlson got a glowing endorsement from Charlie Weis, his former Notre Dame coach who was a former assistant coach with the New England Patriots.

“Coach Weis called me to congratulate me when I got drafted,” said Carlson. “I thought that was nice that he took the time to give me a call. He’s helped me a lot through this whole process. He’s been so supportive.”
And lastly, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune covers John Sullivan, who might one day be snapping to Booty Booty Booty Rocking Everywhere:
Sullivan started all 13 games in 2006 and last season he started 10 games, missing two contests because of a right knee sprain for a subpar Notre Dame team. Sullivan didn’t express concern that the Irish’s poor season caused his stock to drop.

“At this point, I’m with a team that I’m incredibly happy to be with,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with the result of how the draft went and looking at draft stock, up, down, it doesn’t matter to me at this point. I’m on a great team and I’m happy with my situation.”

The brainpower of the Vikings’ center tandem is a bit scary right now. Matt Birk is a Harvard grad and now a Notre Dame kid enters the picture? With Birk entering the last season of his contract, Sullivan could be groomed as his replacement. Sullivan also has the ability to play guard and see he would be comfortable in that role. “Whatever the coaching staff feels is the best for the team, will help the team win, I’m willing to do that and give anything my all,” he said.
This writer mentions brainpower, and certainly all four Notre Dame draftees were packing it on the NFL's much-discussed Wonderlic test. The test, which is actually used by countless businesses to gauge prospective employees, generates a lot of publicity because of how often people tie the score to a football player's IQ. For the most part, the scores (if accurate) confirmed what plenty already knew. Carlson, an Academic All-American, notched a 40 (a perfect score is 50), while Sullivan scored 35 and Laws a 30. Zbikowski scored a 26, best among safeties. Just how close is the Wonderlic to actual intelligence? The only thing the administrators will say is that "a score of 10 essentially means literacy". Special follow-up note: USC QB J.D. Booty? 14. His defensive tackle teammate, Sedrick Ellis? 15. And winning the gold prize, Michigan WR Mario Manningham with a 6. Manningham went in the third round to the Giants.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Bit Drafty

There'll be no battle for number one on the NFL Draft Board this year, as the Miami Dolphins already reached an agreement with Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long. Long, a terrific player by any standard, only underscores just how far the concept of an offensive lineman has come. About three weeks ago I finished reading The Blind Side, a terrific book from Michael Lewis (author of a Girouard favorite, Moneyball) which weaves a dual narrative over how football evolved first with the Bill Walsh innovations of offense, countered by the emergence of freakishly skilled defensive players like Lawrence Taylor, countered once more by the rising trend of the best overall athlete on the field being the man at left tackle - the man protecting the blindside. The flipside of the story is the incredible and jaw-dropping tale of Michael Oher, a current junior at Ole Miss who by all accounts could be in Long's position a year from now. Highly recommend the book.

For the Irish, there will be no high-wire act involving one of their departed seniors in New York this Saturday, since nobody's expected to have a repeat of the Brady Quinn Experience, and certainly none of them will be shacking up in the green room. Not that they won't land on their feet, however. The projections from a small sampling of the mock drafters:

DT Trevor Laws
Denver, 11th pick, 2nd Round (42nd Overall) - Scott Wright,  NFLDraftCountdown.com, Rob Tribbet, WarRoom Report, & DraftTek.com
Atlanta, 17th pick, 2nd Round (48th Overall) - Frank Coyle, Rivals.com
New Orleans, 9th pick, 2nd Round (40th Overall) - Rob Rang, CBSSportsLine.com
TE John Carlson
Green Bay, 25th pick, 2nd Round (57th Overall) - Wright, Tribbet, & DraftTek
Carolina, 12th pick, 2nd Round (43rd Overall) - Coyle
Atlanta, 17th pick, 2nd Round (48th Overall) - Rang
S Tom Zbikowski
Philadelphia, 17th pick, 3rd Round (80th Overall) - DraftTek
Jacksonville, 26th pick, 3rd Round (89th Overall) - Wright
Cincinnati, 34th pick, 3rd Round (98th Overall) - Coyle
C John Sullivan
Kansas City, 6th pick, 4th Round (105th Overall) - DraftTek
Of course, no draft analysis would be complete without Todd McShay, who basically locks himself in a film room for four months and still manages to routinely get things completely wrong. He agreed with fellow draftniks that Carlson would be going at #56 to the Packers (PLEASE let it happen) and also saw Trevor getting scooped up by the Colts late in the second round (such a pick would no doubt put a smile on the face of our resident Indy fan, Mike D). McShay also slotted Joe Brockington as a 7th round pick by the Cowboys, #235 overall. One mock I saw even had Trevor going in the first round to Jacksonville, and after the senior year he had to endure, nobody would deserve the honor of being a first-rounder more. For his part, #98 is a combination of nervous and excited: his personal thoughts on the draft can be found over at the blog he started just after the New Year.

Laws also got some love from SI's Dr. Z, Paul Zimmerman, who placed him in the coveted "Post-Round 1 Steals" Category:
George Connor, Ziggy Czarobzki, Frank Varrichione - great run-stopping Fighting Irish tackles of the past. OK, so Laws is not a speed rusher, but just try to run on him.
It looks like a consensus has formed around Trevor and John Carlson as sure second-round, day one picks, while Zibby and Sullivan will likely be gone early on Sunday (if not taken as a reach pick in Round 2 - that's doubtful at best, though). There'll probably be a spot somewhere as an undrafted free agent to let Travis Thomas prove himself, and their may even be a tryout waiting for other graduated Domers Dwight Stephenson, Geoff Price, JJ Jansen & Brockington. Nobody (from Notre Dame, at least) figures to be involved in anything resembling last year's high drama in the green room, but whether you're certain to get taken or praying for a chance to be Mr. Irrelevant, the draft can be pretty nerve racking. The Chicago Tribune checked up on all four Irish prospects:
"It's pretty terrible for us that they decided to make the third round Sunday," Laws said with a laugh. "I'm just hoping that I can get my name called Saturday so I don't have to sleep another night not knowing where I'm going to spend the next few years of life.

"Going into the off-season, my goal was to go in the third round. Now that I had a great off-season, there's definitely a chance for me to do better than that. Being a 'tweener' on those two days it's like, 'Aw, why do you have to do me like that?' "

Laws, actually, seems to be the only one planning to tune into the proceedings in New York, though at a low volume.

Zbikowski plans to spend Saturday with friends after what he lamented was "the longest week of my life." Carlson already has instituted the television ban. Sullivan has his own distraction set: Ripping up the floors and painting the walls at his brother's new condo in Greenwich, Conn.

"Some good old manual labor to keep your mind off of [other] things," Sullivan said.
I'm with Joe Thomas - I'd rather be going fishing. Good luck in the draft tomorrow boys - we'll be rooting you on.

Updated: Zibby on ESPN talking past, present, & future.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The One Constant ...

Well, the Phillies are treading water (barely), the Rangers are looking towards next year, and Dillon Hall's Opening Day festivities are underway, which can only mean one thing: baseball season is at least three weeks old. In addition, the college season is kicking into high gear, and the Notre Dame baseball squad is in the midst of nice stretch of good news, both on and off the field.

For starters, the Irish have won 12 of their last 13 games (including a small hiccup at West Virginia after winning 11 straight). Their 12-3 Big East record has them top in the conference, and have cracked the top 25 (No. 24) of the most recent Collegiate Baseball poll. After sweeping both Big East Hitter (AJ Pollock) and Pitcher (David Phelps) of the Week awards last week, DH David Mills earned the offensive award for this week.

ND Baseball also made news with a non-conference game against Northern Illinois at US Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. A crowd of 4,600 came to watch the Irish defeat the Huskies by a 5-4 score. In addition to the novelty of playing in a big-league park, the game served a greater cause, as all proceeds (estimated at over $50,000 by WNDU) were donated to the Northern Illinois Shooting Victims Scholarship Fund. A very thoughtful gesture by Coach Schrage and his boys, and everyone up the decision making chain who had their hand in this one.

Stocked With Wood

For the third straight year, Notre Dame got the recruiting equivalent of The Big Bang during Blue-Gold weekend. 2006 brought us Jimmy Clausen and the Incredible Stretching Hummer, while last season brought the immediate windfall of Joseph Fauria, Dayne Crist, & Darius Fleming for what was already shaping up to be an impressive recruiting class.

The Irish weren't off to quite such a blazing start this season, having just gotten their first public commitment two weeks ago from legacy Jake Golic (the extended Golic clan was also in South Bend this weekend as Mike Sr. was led the ceremony for the unveiling of The Shirt.) The Notre Dame fan is by nature a worrysome creature, and faced with the possibility of going one whole spring without a real headline-grabbing recruit had been some cause of consternation. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello preached calm, saying that the staff was hard at work on the same plan they'd been using to convince some of the nation's best athletes over the past three years to join the Fighting Irish.

If Saturday is any indication, the plan is indeed working once again.

The Irish received verbal commitments #2 and 3 before Saturday's offense-vs-defense tilt, both of them continuing a great trend in ND recruiting since Charlie Weis became coach. The first pledge came from Cierre Wood, running back, out of Oxnard, CA. Ranked as the third-best player in the nation by Rivals.com & 19th by Scout, Wood is a consensus five-star prospect with room to grow in his 6-foot, 192-pound frame. Recruiting at running back has been exceptional for the Irish in the past three seasons, as a deep stable of James Aldridge, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and the incoming Jonas Gray prove. But getting Wood (no way of avoiding the pun, might as well get used to it) represents another big leap for the Irish as they again picked up the type of player everybody was convinced they'd never be able to have five years ago (and, having missed out on guys like Reggie Bush and Lorenzo Booker, that feeling wasn't without merit).

In some cases the weather and the distance from home has worked against the Irish in recruiting top talent from the Sun Belt states like California, Florida, & Texas, but Wood seemed quite eager to expand his horizons once he had it narrowed down to Notre Dame and UCLA:
While UCLA was attractive and close to home, Wood felt it was time to leave California.

Going to a university in Los Angeles "would be like staying at home," said Wood. "When the time comes, it is time to break away and explore the world."

There was something else that stood out when reading the coverage on Wood's decision, something that reinforces the seismic shift in the Irish recruiting efforts but also reflects very well on Coach Weis and the staff.
There was one important question Wood had for the Notre Dame coaching staff.

"I wanted an honest answer," he said. "I asked, Should I redshirt?' "

He was given an assurance that there would be an opportunity for Wood to compete for a starting position in the fall of 2009.

"They aren't afraid to play young guys," said Wood. "I will get my chance."

Cynically, one might say that of course Weis is going to play young guys because he had no choice, especially last season. On the whole though, Weis' main tenet in recruiting has been signing excellent players with the intention of giving them a full-fledged, four-year development that ends with them graduating on time. That obviously appealed to Wood, who said his number one priority was academics and came away impressed by the 98% graduation rate of Notre Dame students.

Academics were also a key factor for Notre Dame's defensive commitment, nose tackle Tyler Stockton out of Princeton, NJ. Rated with four stars by Rivals, Stockton doesn't figure to be one of those lineman who fear getting "caught" in the 3-4 defense, since he's already very familiar with it:
I also talked with my recruiting coach John Latina and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown about how I'd fit and they want me on the nose which is perfect," he said. "We play a 3-4 at Hun so I'm comfortable with that role and with my first step and use of my hands I think I can get to the passer and runner in the backfield."

There were other reasons for his choice of Notre Dame.

"Obviously academics played a role and the great football tradition," he said. "I wanted a place where I could get a degree that meant something so if the NFL didn't work out, which is every player's dream, I'd have something to fall back on where I could get a job anyplace in the country."
Stockton, at 6-1 and 290 pounds, isn't quite the mammoth species people think of in the 34 defensive scheme, but Mike Frank paid him the ultimate compliment when assessing his game for The Observer:
"He's a guy that plays so hard all the time," Frank said. "He'll remind people of Trevor Laws, very physical and quick player, even though he'll play a different position than Trevor did. You have your pluggers and then you have your guys that make negative plays in the backfield and he's more of a negative play kind of guy."
You could do worse than be compared to Laws (Clifford Jefferson, for example). While Stockton's commitment helps soothe concerns about where the Irish defensive line will be depth wise in a year or so, I'm sure it is the ESPN Scouting Report on him which most pleases Pat Girouard and his roommate, Greg Stewart:
If you are on the links in New Jersey and see a large young man on the fairways with a vicious drive reminiscent of John Daly getting home on a long par 5 in two at Baltusrol, chances are it is Tyler Stockton.
Yes, Stockon plays golf in addition to football - quite well, actually. Here's hoping he finds time to squeeze in a round or two at Warren in the springtime once football practice ends.

All in all, another reason to feel good about the Irish future. We now resume our grappling and fretting over the Irish present.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wood Commits, Clausen Impresses, Irish Look Ahead



Good news from South Bend yesterday. As Big-time, South Side George reported, all is well as long as ND has secured a commitment from Cierre Wood. As the attention has shifted to the future, a big MO for me is the current ND running back situation. While a lot of attention has been directed towards last year's dismal 2.1 yp/carry average, I forecast a big 2008-2009 from the current three-headed monster in South Bend.

Quick recap of the numbers from last year: 903 net rushing yards vs. 2345 for opponents, 58 sacks, 16 lost fumbles, and an alarming 16.4 PPG (not exactly MAC Championship material). With those numbers in mind anything seems to be a positive gain for King Charlie, but the likes of an improved Armando Allen, James Aldridge, and Sir Robert Hughes returning has me thinking back to the days of Lee Becton, Randy Kinder and Autry Denson (they all got ND degrees). While their numbers from 2007 aren't all that impressive, improved stability from RB corps will take much-anticipated pressure away from Bishop Clausen. Similar stories have led to impressive campaigns recently (see WISCO @ 10-3 w/ Brian Calhoun supporting John Stocco, or Arkansas @ 10-4 w/ RUN DMC and Felix Jones supporting Mother-Lover Mustain).

Looking ahead, even a moderate improvement in the ND running game should equal huge dividends for the Irish (Top 20 Rushing leaders included winners: Navy, AF, Ark, WVU, Zook School, LSU, Ohio State and Wisco among others). Given the Rivals-documentation all three returning RBs received before landing in South Bend, I am hopeful a 1800-yard campaign is not out of line (Hawaii had more rush yards last year - did you ever see them run?). With that being said, an improved running game should comfort the Clausen learning curve as the Irish battle the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue in September. As the season progresses and Clausen grows into his role, the Irish will be closer to meeting some of the expectations that resulted from Charlie's early success.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In the Woods

We'll have full-scale reports from our on-scene reporters later (if at all, seeing as how some of them decided they were too cool to actually, you know, attend the game) but despite the fact I was nowhere near South Bend today, I still got a third-hand peek at the future of Notre Dame football.

It so happened that a colleague of mine (big UCLA fan) was discussing the insanity surrounding Nebraska's spring game (80,000+ turned out, with free tickets being sold for $100 on eBay) and I dropped in how I'd just heard that Notre Dame secured a commitment from Cierre Wood. He began telling me about how he'd refereed a fall game between Wood's Santa Clara HS and Flintridge Prep. "You could just tell from looking at him how above everybody he was with ability", he gushed. "Head and shoulders ahead of anybody, even on his own team." Wood also impressed with his composure and manners. "Nicest kid", my friend remarked, "real even-keeled, never obnoxiously jacked-up, never really upset. Great talent, great attitude."

Intrigued, I went home and looked up the stats from this game, a 33-7 victory for Santa Clara. I figured it would take a fair amount of digging considering how vast the high school system of California is, but I came across it pretty easily. Here was Wood's statline:
5 rushes, 151 yards, 2 TDs
1 reception, 60 yards, 1 TD
1 punt return, 52 yards
Defense: 4 tackles, 2 interceptions
Punts: 3 for 126yds (42 yd avg), long of 51
He also kicked one PAT, ran in another and scored 21 points total. I'm just trying to wrap my mind around that first line, however: 151 yards on five touches. 30 yards per carry. Now, immediately I went about calming myself by thinking that plenty of "stud, hyped-as-all-get-out" players can put up those kind of "Bo Jackson-in-TecmoBowl" numbers against high school teams, where the competition is wildly inconsistent. Even so, I started trying to list all the players I've seen who might be capable of it. Not many names come to mind that didn't end in Bush, Peterson, or McFadden.

Rest assured there's now plenty to talk about after this weekend for both the on-field Irish (offense defeated defense today 47-46 in the Blue-Gold Game) and those who are waiting in the wings. This much seems quite clear: Cierre Wood is an unbelievably skilled athlete, the kind Notre Dame hasn't come close to getting until recently. The coolest head among us, Broadway, is of course wise to measure "returns" in lean muscle and not stat-sheet hype, but I'd rather have a player like Wood with us then lining up for another school in Southern California. Here's a few sideline-level highlights from a late October game when he rushed for 370 yards:

When News Breaks, We Fix It

Our sources in South Bend have indicated that Cierre Wood has committed to the University of Notre Dame. NDNation beat us to the punch, but Bagger's plane got delayed so I am confident we might have been the second site to report the news. Other sources have indicated that Tyler Stockton has committed as well.

Those two represent the first "big-get" recruits for the recruiting season. Our sources have yet to report on the effect of lean muscle towards an Irish resurgence to BCS form.

Friday, April 18, 2008

You've Been Warned


This year's "The Shirt". I know there's a vast, chasm-spanning range of opinions about this project, but no matter your opinion of the artwork it has always been a great unifying force among the student body (even during the ill-fated Lake Urine Year of 2005) and I like this design. I'm not giving it a special award or anything, but this is the first time in recent memory that the design will easily turn the attention away from debating proper colors (see '03, '05 shirts), girlish designs ('04, '07) and who's who (the great Frank Leahy debacle of '06). This one definitely has crept closer to the true intentions of the project: benefit a great cause and avoid being obnoxiously tacky. Is it too much to ask for a shirt that's just a cool thing to throw on for gameday?

I do have one question though: what other slogans could've been used to make the argument Notre Dame = The South?

Blue-Gold Primer

It doesn't seem like spring practice started all that long ago, and here it is already over. The Irish will be out in what is expected to be less-than-ideal weather tomorrow afternoon (1:35 PM kickoff) for the 79th annual Blue/Gold scrimmage. With Evan Sharpley continuing to pace the power attack for the Irish baseball team as they travel to West Virginia for a three-game set, Coach Weis changed up the game format due to having only one scholarship quarterback. This year's game will use what is essentially a fantasy football method of scorekeeping, with points doled out for big plays, sacks, fumbles, three-and-outs, first downs, blocked punts, etc etc. Some of the more obscure scoring rules have already been recapped over at Blue-Gray Sky.

A number of board members here will be in attendance at Saturday's game (or at least for the weekend festivities which surround it), so hopefully they'll grace us with a report or two from the scene. As always, my old stomping grounds of WVFI will be handling live internet radio from ND Stadium; always a great chance for the young, aspiring broadcasters to get their first crack at the mike.

It also looks like Weis had to make a call to the 'pen when filling out the honorary coaches card. During last month's opening presser Weis announced that six former players representing the last six decades would be serving in this capacity, with the 70s represented by 1977 captain (and former Charlie Weis roommate) Terry Eurick. Eurick won't be able to make it, so another son of Michigan has stepped in: Greg Marx, an All-American at defensive tackle from 1970-72.

Lastly, Mike Frank from Irish Eyes has put out the official list of "unofficial visitors" for tomorrow's contest, and the Irish will once again be hosting some of the nation's top prep talent for their end of spring showcase. Note to Mother Nature: now would be a really good weekend for uncharacteristically nice South Bend weather. All kidding aside, here's who to keep an eye out for as the weekend rolls along (bold indicates already comitted):
Tyler Stockton - DT, Princeton, NJ
Anthony LaLota - DE, Princeton, NJ
Craig Roh - DE, Scottsdale, AZ
Cierre Wood - RB, Oxnard, CA
Jake Golic - TE, West Hartford, CT
Alex Bullard - G, Brentwood, TN
E.J. Banks - QB/ATH, Mckees Rocks, PA
DeVonte Holloman - S, Charlotte, NC
Jordan Barrett - LB, Sherman Oaks, CA (teammate of incoming freshman Dayne Crist & Anthony McDonald)
The player who'll command the lion's share of the attention is Wood, ranked #3 in the nation by Rivals. He says he's down to UCLA and the Irish, so with ND coming up short in the battle for last year's premier SoCal running back (Milton Knox), I like ND's chances here. I say that only partly tongue-in-cheek. NDNation poster LondonDomer made it clear earlier today that Dillon Hall is doing its part in the recruiting of Mr. Wood (photo's obscured on an angle, but it reads 'WANTED: CIERRE WOOD'):


See you back here after the game for comments and our post-spring roundtable chat. No matter what the bizarro points system might look like, at the end of the day it's still football, so it's a safe bet that the team with more points will probably win.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Previous Play is Under Review...

I recently read an article on the NCAA’s clarification of the “no goal” during the Men’s Hockey National Championship game. So what was the reason for the reversal? That Kyle Lawson used a distinct kicking motion which is defined as “a skate moving toward the goal line.” This seems to me to be a terrible definition, but I don’t think it is the real problem. The root of the problem lies in the role of instant replay review.

I delved into the NCAA Hockey Rulebook to see what I could find. One of the duties of the reviewer, outlined specifically in the rules, is to review every goal. The reviewer has the power to stop the game and review a goal, or any play, when he sees fit. To my surprise, the Instant Replay rule for football is the same way. My impression was that replay officials were supposed to play a passive role in games. They were there to be used when the on-ice officials needed help on a call. I thought that indisputable evidence was necessary for overturning a call. It is in football, but where is the mention of the need for indisputable evidence in the Hockey rules? This is the first problem with the instant replay rule.


Next problem, what is indisputable evidence? It would seem that if it takes more than five minutes to make a decision on a play, whatever the replay is showing is not indisputable. This same problem is occurring in football, just ask David Grimes. Replay officials have now begun to infer and interpret replays rather than look at them in black and white. Indisputable evidence should leave its viewers without any doubt as to what happened. I know it’s unrealistic to get every person to agree, but certainly there has to be some measurable that can be used to determine indisputable evidence. Just like in our court system, where it’s innocent until proven guilty, the call on the field should be deemed correct unless indisputable evidence can prove otherwise.


So after all this bitching and moaning, I have some suggestions for improving the system. First, replay officials for games between non-conference opponents should not be affiliated with either team. I don’t think any officials should be conference-affiliated, but that’s another discussion. This would help to eliminate any bias the officials might have. Once again, I realize it is impossible to completely eliminate bias, but I think this would be better than the current system. Second, the replay should be reviewed by three different officials independently. They should have a given amount of time to come to a conclusion over whether or not the call should be overturned. If they don’t put in a vote before the time limit, then it counts as a vote to keep the play as called. A majority vote overturns the play. The details of overturning the call can then be worked out, such as putting time back on the clock, field position, etc. In theory, this system would help establish a criterion for indisputable evidence.


I’m sure there are plenty of problems that could arise with my proposal, but something has to change. I don’t know if the Irish would have won the championship had that call not been overturned, but it certainly would have made the game more interesting. They played hard and made Notre Dame fans all over the country proud. I just hope the NCAA will create a set of rules that creates a fair environment for our young men to play in.

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A trip down memory lane ...

George,

Congrats on the growth of the blogosphere. Your last post, with its links to the blogs of yesteryear, got me clicking and reading. I had to post an excerpt, and just couldn't bury it in the comments (apologies to the new traffic, if any): (emphasis added)

From Angelo Suozzi, July 20, 2005:
Second, while I did participate in my first official games of BeerPong ... I do, however, wish to announce my retirement from the sport; I will go out undefeated and untied, with a flawless 2-0 record (though a Ricky Williams-style comeback might be in order, if the opportunity presents itself).
Are you trying to say that Ricky Williams is going to come back and rush for 23,000 yards? Or are you saying you were high for the entire senior year?

Monday, April 14, 2008

So, What's Your Story?

Apparently, our little corner of the internet is getting noticed by other little corners. First off, a big thanks to OC Domer for taking the time to acknowledge us on his blog, and we have kindly returned the favor by adding his site to our collection of bloglinks at the right. It is our hope that our tens of readers can combine with his dozens in order to create a maximum enjoyment effect for all who troll cyberspace endlessly in search of Notre Dame news.

For those of you wandering over from some of the links you may have noticed on some of your other favorite Irish fan sites, like OC Domer's or even the gold standard for us all, Blue-Gray Sky, you may be wondering where exactly we came from and why you haven't heard of us despite an archive that stretches all the way back to 2005. So you wanna know the sordid history of Section 29? Are you sure?

Now that I've built it up sufficiently, it naturally follows that there's not much to tell. This page has undergone a few tweaks and changes to its layout over time, in a desperate and vain attempt to be more like BGS (much like the relationship between Colbert and O'Reilly, we don't view this as infringement or ripping-off, because we're not trying to copy. We're trying to emulate.) But at its core its still the same site it was back in August '05 when I was braving the relatively new world of blogging all things ND and White Sox related on my own.

At the same time, three of our most distinguished feature writers, Thomas, Pat, & Broadway, were forming a joint alliance between Madison & South Bend over at Row 29, Seat 3. You can still read their priceless commentaries in that hallowed space - a personal favorite of mine is Thomas' crack at the TV intro to the '05 ND-USC game. You may find yourself saying, "This is vaguely familiar" as you read. When the decision was made to invite everyone to combine forces under a new name, Section 29 was chosen as an homage to those founding brothers and their first site, as well as to commemorates the section of Notre Dame Stadium we all sat in during our senior year (the exact year being withheld to increase the suspense over how old we really are, but anybody who wants to use the zoom function can find out on the photo of the above ticket booklet.)

While Pat, T-Mac, and B-Way were honing their craft, yet another blog was in circulation devoted to what most newspaper entertainment sections refer to as "The Lighter Side". Here at the Men of Dillon shingle was where we first came in contact with the Philly-centric blogging skills of one KBraun, The Italian Not-Quite-A-Stallion Angelo Suozzi, plus Michigan's finest Brian "Falcron" Fallon. Mike D and Paul were known to drop by as well. That blog lives on in a new iteration powered by Mr. Braun which features hilarious recaps of his hopelessly vertically-challenged youth basketball team and other tidbits from that tight-knight corner of Dillonites.

So that, in a nutshell, is the story of Section 29. We hope you enjoy reading our entries in the weeks and months to come, and to those of you who already knew about us, welcome back! As Walt Disney would say,
"To all who come to this happy place, welcome."
Restrain your objections over how the current administration is trying to turn Notre Dame into Catholic Disneyland. At least until you reach the comments section.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

End of a Fun Ride

The thrilling run for the Irish Icers came to a disappointing conclusion on Saturday night, as the Irish lost the national championship game 4-1 to the Boston College Eagles. BC's super-junior Nathan Gerbe was a terror throughout the tournament and saved his best for the Frozen Four, racking up 8 points with a hat trick in the semis and a pair of goals and assists during tonight's championship. His last point summed things up - an absolutely blind shove backwards between his legs that found the stick of a BC player and then deflected off the chest of Brock Sheahan into the net, giving BC an insurmountable three-goal lead in the final period. When it's your time, it's your time.

Just 35 seconds prior to the back-breaker, the Irish appeared to have closed to within a goal when Kyle Lawson deflected in a slapshot by Ian Cole. After a lengthy consult with the replay booth, the officials ruled no goal by virtue of some hazy interpretation over specifically what role "a distinct kicking motion" played in the score. The fact that Lawson's 'distinct kicking motion' made as much contact with the puck as Charlie Brown's made with Lucy's football seemed lost on the official.

While it would've been fun to see how the final 15 minutes would've played out had the goal stood, there's no denying BC was the superior team (cashing in on 2 of 4 power plays, in contrast to the Irish's 0-for-8 on the man-advantage) and deserves to be congratulated. The Irish say goodbye to a gritty senior class which includes Sheahan, Mark Van Guilder, Dan VeNard, & Evan Rankin, four guys who endured a humiliating freshman campaign and then fought all the way from the absolute brink five weeks ago into the national championship game. This was a great reminder for all Irish sports teams, including the one which dominates the Gug, that anything's possible. Here's to Jeff Jackson and the 2007-08 Irish hockey team:


Oh, and Angelo? This Gerbe kid was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. A blessing for the franchise, or a curse?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

From Stockholm With Love

Freshman Calle Ridderwall had scored just three goals all season for a Notre Dame team that had found offense hard to come by in the last two months of the season. He picked a good time to have the best game of his career.

Ridderwall rifled home his second goal of the game on a rebound to give the Irish a 5-4 victory in overtime over the top-seeded, top-ranked Michigan Wolverines tonight in Denver. Having dispatched conference foes and familiar football opponents in back-to-back games (the Icers topped Michigan State in the regional finals), the Irish now face perennial thorn-in-the-football-team's side - I'm not going anywhere near a discussion of the proper use of the "r" word - Boston College for the national championship on Saturday night.

ESPN's highlights, constrained to the Michigan goal that knotted the game with just over 5 minutes to play in the third period and Ridderwall's game clincher, can be found here. Full-scale coverage is over at UND.com's Frozen Four page. The championship game begins at 7PM ET Saturday night on ESPN.


More from ESPN on both semifinals and a peek ahead to Saturday night:

Irish On Ice

Even though March turned out to be the cruelest month for Notre Dame basketball, the Irish hockey team completed a stunning transformation in a matter of days during the stretch drive of their postseason. After following up last year's run to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament (having been the tourney's overall #1 seed) with a 17-4 start, the Irish came back from winter break and couldn't find the net or close out a tight game. Remind you of anyone?

I kid, I kid. But there's no understating how much the Irish were struggling in the closing six weeks of the season, going 9-11-4. The stretch included head-scratching losses to Northern & Western Michigan plus Alaska-Fairbanks and Ferris State, four games against Michigan State and Ohio State that yielded just two points for the Irish in the standings, and a 3-2 loss in the final minute at Michigan...tonight's opponent for the Irish in their first ever appearance in the Frozen Four. Jeff Jackson's squad reached tonight's primetime stage the hard way, as literally the last team into the tournament after their late-season swoon (which was punctuated by allowing a game-tying goal with two seconds left to #3 Miami of Ohio in the conference semis, a game they ultimately lost in overtime). Sent to Colorado Springs as the four-seed, the Irish finally found their scoring touch in a 7-3 rout over #1 seed (third overall) New Hampshire and then foiling CCHA nemesis Michigan State 3-1; payback for last season's loss to the Spartans in the NCAA regionals. What's even more impressive was that the ten-goal outburst came without the services of the team's leading scorer, Erik Condra, who tore his ACL during the second round of the conference tournament.

It certainly doesn't get the hype of their gridiron counterparts, but ND-Michigan is a long-standing and fiercely competitive hockey rivalry, with tonight's meeting being the 115th all-time. Michigan holds a 65-44-5 edge and has won 7 of the 9 contests played on neutral ice. This will be the first time the two schools have met in the NCAAs, but their last postseason tilt, the 2007 CCHA title game, was won by the Irish 2-1.

Seeing as how they play in one of the most substandard facilities in all of collegiate sport (not just hockey), what Jackson has done in just three seasons is nothing short of astounding. He took over a program that won only five games in the '04-'05 season and reached the #1 ranking less than two years later. Now Jackson has a chance to add a third national title to his resume (he won the first two in the early '90s at Lake Superior State) and the Irish can get one step closer by beating Michigan. Even for ND fans who don't know much about hockey, everybody can get behind a good thrashing of the Wolverines.

Oh, and if you needed a reason besides deep-seeded animosity to pull for the Irish tonight, ESPN has the story of Irish center Christian Hanson, son of Dave Hanson, better known as Jack Hanson in the Paul Newman classic Slap Shot:

Those who prefer literature can read up on Christian's family ties in today's Chicago Tribune. Enjoy tonight's game (9 ET on ESPN2)...Go Irish.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bloodlines

The season that never stops, recruiting, finally made a splash for Notre Dame fans Saturday with the first verbal commit of the 2009 recruiting class. The name and the lineage ought to be familar: Jake Golic (left), son of Notre Dame lineman and ESPN Radio personality Mike, will be joining his older brother Mike, Jr. and following in the footsteps of his father and two uncles (All-American linebacker Bob and offensive lineman Greg) to join the Fighting Irish. It seemed like Jake's big goal, if he couldn't trump his older brother by committing while on a trip to Italy, was to rival Kerry Neal in shortest time span between offer and commitment:
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Golic received word from his high school coach at around 3 Saturday afternoon that Weis wanted to talk to him. By 3:10, moments after Weis extended an offer, Golic's ticket was punched.

"As soon as those words left his mouth," Golic said, "I was 100 percent on board with Notre Dame."
Unlike Neal, who'd never even seen the campus except via celluloid (Rudy), Golic has been surrounded by all things Notre Dame for as long as he can remember, and should (like his brother) serve as a welcome link between the past and present for a school which prides itself on legacies.

Looking at it from a football perspective, the fifth Golic to don the blue and gold has solid credentials but hasn't gotten enough hype to become one of those "instant impact" types that send Tom Lemming and Alan Wallace into a frenzy. Even his actual body frame is an open question - the South Bend Tribune stated his measurables as 6-5, 220. Rivals says he's 6-4, 202. Scout claims he's 6-5, 212. Ask Golic himself, and he says he'd like to be around 240 when he starts college. So at least he knows there's some bulking up to be done, which is a great thing because going off of the above photo, I'd say it's hard to fathom Jake weighs more than 200 pounds. Although he hasn't yet been judged by the all-knowing star rankings on either Scout or Rivals, he was among the invitees to the Junior Combine held in San Antonio during this year's Army HS All-American Game (Mike, Jr. and a few other future Domers were there too). He left an impression on the evaluators, receiving honorable mention at the Wide Receiver/Tight Ends position.

For the moment, score an important point in the tight end column for the Irish, who are currently facing an acute shortage of bodies at the position (just one true TE, Mike Ragone, is practicing right now, with the possibility of Luke Schmidt converting to the position and Will Yeatman out until fall due to his DWI-related suspension). Come fall the Irish should not only get Yeatman, the presumptive starter, back but also add a pair of dynamite freshman in Kyle Rudolph and Joseph Fauria. Where Golic fits into that mix from the 2009 season on remains to be seen, but it sure appears that he could be durable enough, in the John Carlson mold, to be split wide in many of Charlie Weis' preferred five receiver sets.



A year ago, Weis and the Irish staff came out guns blazing on the recruiting trail, adding the elder Golic brother before the end of February. Rudolph, Braxston Cave, John Goodman, Sean Cwynar, David Posluszny, and Anthony McDonald all followed before Blue-Gold Weekend. Less than 48 hours after that spring scrimmage the Irish had verbals from Dayne Crist, Darius Fleming, and Fauria. Throw in Hafis Williams, Lane Clelland, Brandon Newman, Steve Filer, Dan McCarthy, Ethan Johnson, Jamoris Slaughter & Robert Blanton all committing before the end of July, and the class was essentially full before the start of fall camp, allowing the Irish coaches the freedom to launch the full-court press on a select few to fill out the class (producing Mike Floyd, Jonas Gray, Trevor Robinson, Deion Walker, & Kapron Lewis-Moore). That avalanche of recruits and end of massive in-season recruiting likely won't be repeated this coming year, unless there's a bunch of commitments over the summer.

While it might be easy as an Irish fan to assume the worst - that this lack of activity on the recruiting front is a sign the Irish are starting to feel the full brunt of the 3-9 catastrophe - it's worth pointing out that the quiet recruiting up to this point also signals a staff that's not desperately scrambling for anybody willing to jump on board. When asked about the slow progress in 2008 recruiting compared to the year before, wideouts coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello had this comment for Johnny Irish Fan:
“Don’t be concerned, because we’re not concerned,” he said when asked what he would tell the worried fans. “Don’t be concerned, because they’ll have plenty to talk about as we go through the summer, okay?

“I feel good about where we are. We have a plan...and we’re working that plan, and we’re confident that the plan is going to pay the dividends that we’ve all been accustomed to around here.”
How the 2009 class stacks up against the previous three years of the Weis Era in terms of quantity and quality remains to be seen, but if past results are any indicator of future success, getting a pledge from a son of Mike Golic is a good way to start.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Let's Play Some Puck!

Kings-Sharks with Paulie on Military Appreciation Night. Apparently
the Sharks don't appreciate our troops, as they score just 36 seconds
in. Brian Fallon would've drilled the puck straight into the goalie's
chest. Stonewall McKenna would've made the save.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Knights of the Spring Practice Round Table, Volume I

While spring practice can often provide catch soundbites and plenty of fodder for speculation and excitement - did you see the muscle added by so-and-so? Have you heard about the great strides such-and-such made? If What's-his-name keeps hitting like that, he'll be an All-American this fall! - there's only so much strategic overhaul that can happen when you're spreading 15 practices over three and a half weeks with limits on how much contact can occur (no pads for the first two days, and no two-a-days). As a fan you spend most of your time foolishly poring over the reports from spring ball with irrational expectations, certain that the next star is waiting in the wings and you alone are responsible for detecting the reason why. A healthier way to go about it is not to grasp at straws by obsessing over the new depth chart, or to put a ton of stock into the oft-repeated coach speak. Sometimes, it's just how the player handles himself in looking forward to the new season that can prelude greatness. For instance...

Most players coming off a 3-9 season think modest when publicly stating their goals for the following year - restoring confidence here, a dash of improving fundamentals there. Darrin Walls is not one of those players.
Every defensive back wants to win the Thorpe Award and that's a goal I'm pushing toward.
Walls showed off some athleticism early last season with a smooth pick-six against Penn State, but his game took on a more physical dimension as the year progressed and team's stopped throwing the ball his way. He hits camp this season claiming to be five pounds above his listed weight and more intent than ever on being a physical, in-your-face cornerback this season. That's the attitude that wins Thorpe Awards.

Meanwhile, at linebacker, Toryan Smith is itching to get on the field (regularly) and hurt people. Speaking about not only his playing time a year ago but the overall team dynamic:
I sat back last year and I wasn't happy. To be honest, I don't think anybody around here was happy. Looking back at the big picture, I felt like I should have been able to make more things happen. But obviously that wasn't the case, so I've just got to do what I've got to do now...I'm ready to put it all together and lead our team from the inside-out.
Speaking of his new position coach, Jon Tenuta, Smith got even more excitable, based on what Tenuta's old team did to the Irish offense the past two seasons:
I can remember being on the sideline last year against Georgia Tech wondering what they were doing because I wanted to do that. It's awesome that he's going to be my coach. I'm ready to cut it loose.
Over at a perilously thin tight end position, Mike Ragone not only stepped up his workout routine in recovering from a leg injury that wiped out his freshman season, but also was listing the Irish as primed to hunt for big game:
We're like family. We share a bond. When we lose and someone hurts, we're all hurt. After coming off a 3-9 season we want to win. We want to beat the USC, beat the Michigan, beat the Michigan State, all that.

Attitude's as important as anything on the football field, and there's little question it probably weighs more in college athletics than anywhere else. But attitude takes one only so far, and there was plenty of attitude to go around for the Irish last season with players like Maurice Crum, Tom Zbikowski, David Bruton, Pat Kuntz, even Demetrius Jones. Maybe the more open-ended nature of Charlie Weis' coaching will help attitude gel with talent, spurring the Irish to grab hold of a strong identity in ways that couldn't throughout 2006 and 2007.

Despite all the warnings against conjecture, we're no different from any other humble college football fan site. We crave info and feel the need to dissect it ad nauseum. With that in mind, we'll be posting some good round-table discussions with our featured contributors as well as special guest commentators throughout the spring.

Joining us at the round table today, from left to right: Sean Calloway, Angelo Suozzi, & Eric Gast:


We went back and forth on if we should actually bother including our mugs, but as somebody pointed out, we're not exactly trying to conceal Batman's secret identity. Point taken. So fellas, we've all got questions, let's hear some purely speculative answers.

On a scale of 1-10, the traditional measurements being applied (1 = still stuck in Clifford Jefferson territory, 10 = the greatest defense ever), how great an impact will Jon Tenuta have, and why?

More than people think. I would place his immediate impact at a 7 on the traditional scale. Though locking down the Irish defensively last year was not exactly something to stick at the top of the ol' resume, Tenuta's squads have shown the ability to confuse the crap out of opposing offenses, at least at the outset of games. Since I can't imagine that Tenuta will revert to a policy of defensive conservatism in his shift to a cold-weather climate, we will see blitz packages and a variety of defensive schemes and defensive sets. How effective will those schemes be, given the current personnel? That remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that he will have an immediate and substantial impact on the look of the Irish defense from the outset through the end of next season.

Tenuta's blitz scheme success will come down to one thing: ability of Walls/Lambert/Gray/McNeil to cover wideouts 1-on-1. Tenuta can sometimes come with some pretty heavy packages (like 5,6,7 guys) so the only way we will be successful (and Tenuta being able to call the blitzes in the first place) is if our corners can lock WRs down and not let the Ted Ginns/Santonio Holmes of the world to break free for the all-too-common wide open bombs of years past. That being said, if we can cover WRs, Tenuta's presence will be about a 3-4 on the 10 scale. It will make a difference, but in the end, our outside linebackers will decide whether or not we can get to the QB. This means either getting to the QB themselves or attracting attention so our interior guys can bust up the gut.

I am going to say a 9. I know people may think that seems high, but I think it is deserving. I agree totally with Sean about the ability of the secondary to cover man-to-man will allow more pressure to be brought and hopefully support a weak DL. However, I think Tenuta will not only impact the D, but also the O. He will finds ways to test CW's offense in practice and help prepare for defensive schemes we might see in a game. I believe this was a HUGE hire for ND. Not only does he bring expertise, but also he is another fiery attitude guys to complement Corwin, something ND sorely needs. I think personnel will be less of an issue than Angelo has stated. The secondary is top notch and the LBs are on the rise. We have athletes on the field, we just have to let them do their thing.

Even with a lot of head-scratchers under his belt from a year ago, Charlie Weis made himself as a coach with his knack for playcalling. Criticize him all you want, but as far as playcaller track records go, his is easily the best on the Irish staff. So, how much freedom should Mike Haywood, having never called plays in his life, really have?

I hated this move at first, but now like it. Too many people figured out CW's offense after 2005. [A personal friend, name withheld to protect the innocent] told me Michigan ran nothing but ND's offense all during their fall camp in 2006 with the goal of beating us. I think Haywood's input will greatly aid this offense. However, I feel this is really just window dressing. Haywood may call the plays, but they are still CW's plays, CW will still be involved in gameplanning, and CW will still have final say if that play makes it onto the field. So, I would say Haywood is in charge, but his true freedom is more limited. Hopefully, he can talk Weis into a FG against Navy and not going for it in on insane 4th down situations.

As much as this sounds like a good idea, I find it hard to believe that Chuck will be relinquishing play-calling duties. Haywood will be given a lot of freedom in the beginning, but if things turn south, I could see CW quietly making more and more decisions on the offensive side.



Charlie really ought to go one way or the other here. Either maintain play-calling duties, or abdicate them entirely. The worst thing that could happen here is for the Irish to lose a couple of games while struggling offensively (which, let's face it, isn't exactly out of the realm of possibility), Chuck gets the itch to call plays again, and then re-claims the duties. After last season, there is value of consistency in the upcoming year, in both on-field personnel and policies with the coaching staff. Charlie will clearly still have a great influence on what plays are called, regardless of what he says. However, if Dubs is going to give up this power, then it shouldn't be just a way to shield Charlie from criticism - instead, he should give Haywood as much autonomy as he asks for.

Word 'round the campfire is Jimmy Clausen put on close to 20 pounds in the offseason. What should be his top goal for this spring camp?

Clausen's top goal for the spring session? Making his O-Line realize that it's not good when he gets sacked. As much of a joke as that sounds, it is reality. I think that if the OL cooperates, he becomes more comfortable in the pocket and can then concentrate on being a QB and hitting open WRs. I guess the other major thing is learning what "open" means in college football


I'm going to presume that at least 12 pounds of that was hair gel. Hopefully the rest went to his arms (he could be a more neanderthal-looking Brady Quinn), and not to a burgeoning beer gut - his goal ought to be improving his recognition of the pace of the game, which comes through experience; he has the skills, but seemed a step behind, still in the high-school mindset last season. His struggles, however, may have been a function of his supporting cast, rather than a deficiency in underlying skill. Of course, Sean has a valid (true) point, though I might take it a step further - the success of an offense all comes down to the offensive line. An O-line can make an average back a 100-yard-a-game guy, and can make a great quarterback useless if he has no time to throw; if the offensive line struggles, Clausen struggles, simple as that.

Don't get injured and don't get in trouble. He is the franchise QB and with Evan playing baseball he can't go down.




Which non-freshman needs to step up and let the coaches know, "I'm ready."

On defense, it's Toryan Smith. I know he played a lot last year, but he needs to really step out and be a monster on D. On the offensive side of the ball, it's Asaph. Don't fumble. Don't dive. Don't miss blocks.




Justin Brown. We are in such a big hole on the DL. He is a 5th year so its now or never. Hopefully, he will have a Stams or Zordich like step-up. I was tempted to say Asaph, but while we can play a formation sans fullback, we need a DE. Close second would be either Chris Stewart or Matt Romine/Taylor Dever. We need solid competition on the OL to push each other.


Overall, the player & coach with the most to prove during the spring before heading into 2008 is...

Paul Duncan/Mike Turkovich are the two on the OL with the most to prove. Prove that they actually deserve to play. Personally, I hope [Trevor] Robinson gives them a run for their money. On the coaching staff, it's definitely Brian Polian. I hope I can actually not cover my eyes this year when the special teams hit the field.



Anyone on the OL is a good answer. Most probably Duncan and Turk. Like Sean said they need to prove they belong. However, my choice goes to the kicker's trifecta of Walker/Whitaker/Burkhart. I still don't understand how we can have 2 scholarships kickers, yet not one can consistently make a FG over 30 yards and no one can kickoff even close to the end zone. Here is a stat: ND registered ZERO touchbacks last season! Granted the O was horrible and they were fewer kickoffs, but in the words of Gob Bluth, "COME ON!" If these guys can't cut it, then go to the soccer team or bring in Brian Fallon. I think he still has eligibility and I know we can actually do both those things - I have seen it.

The coach with the most to prove is Weis; it's a boring answer, but it's the truth. Let's earn that $40 million. I'm still convinced that Weis's legacy at ND lives and dies with Clausen...if he can't mold him soon to a useful quarterback, then his vaunted mystique as a quarterback-maker will be ruined. He recruited him, he trained him. Weis has nobody to blame but Weis if it doesn't work out.


What position will you be watching most closely?


Once again, it will all come down to the offensive line. But that's boring to talk about, so we're going with running back as the position of interest. Should be interesting this year...it would be preferable to find two solid backs that could share the load. Plenty of depth and experience at that position, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.


Kicker will be interesing. However, I have a tie between the battle for Zibby's replacement and starting RB. Frankly, I just love the competition and position battles in spring ball. Sorry Sean, I think WR is fairly entrenched with Kamara and Grimes with a pinch of Tate. That will all change when Floyd hits campus this fall though. RB has James Aldridge the starter, and he is finally healthy, so it is now or never for him as Armando and Robert Hughes breathe down his next. He had great games against MSU and Navy, with Hughes having them against Duke and Stanford. It will be a good battle. Safety is interesting - my darkhorse is Sergio Brown, although my gut tells me it'll be Kyle McCarthy or Harrison Smith. I just want some athletic like Sergio that will hit like Zibby.

In your mind, what player who made his 'debut' (either a frosh or a player who'd yet to see significant action) last season is poised for a Harangody-style jump in his second go-round?

Ian Williams. As much as it sucks that Kuntz will not be at spring practice, it will be a great opportunity for Williams to become the man in the middle.




My answer may not totally fit this question, but my choice is Gary Gray. Everything I have heard says that he is our best DB. I am anxious to see him in action. The other obvious answers are Jimmy and Ian Williams. Watch both their stats and overall contributions to the team gain exponentially from '07 to '08.



Okay, fast forward into the fall camp. Which freshmen walk on to campus and immediately make a push for playing time?


Didn't follow a whit of recruiting this year, so I'll have to recuse myself here.






Michael Floyd is the obvious answer. I also think [Ethan] Johnson and Trevor Robinson have a good chance at early playing time. Hopefully we get Will Yeatman back so that Kyle Rudolph doesn't get thrown in there too early.



Mike Floyd, in theory. Sean you are right that Ethan Johnson should also. However, remember that he was hurt all of his senior year so hasn't really played in 2 years. Additionally, he plays in Oregon, not exactly a powerhouse for football. I like the call on Trevor Robinson though.



A year ago Demetrius Jones declared, "
Last time I checked, no busters wore #3". We're going to pull a Mark McGwire and simply say that we're not here to talk about the past, so...who should get the hallowed Irish trois now?

Great question. No one person really jumps out as the one who should get #3. [Dayne] Crist probably wants #10. Does Jonas Gray get it?




Not sure if he should, but I bet Jamoris Slaughter ends up with it.




Joe Montana's daughter.






Angelo will be here all week, folks. Stay tuned for more roundtable chivalry as spring practice chugs along.