Thursday, September 01, 2005

#3 - Backfield & Z-Boys

Early in the 2004 season, after a confidence-boosting performance in the wind over Michigan in which star wideout Braylon Edwards was handcuffed and freshman QB Chad Henne pressured into several key mistakes, Preston Jackson revealed that Notre Dame's defensive backs had dubbed themselves "The Dirty Boys", a play on the common abbreviation of their position as DB.

By the end of the season, the nickname would have an entirely different connotation.

Yes, the play of the defensive backfield for the Irish after September was dirty. Very, very dirty. Practically unwatchable. If it wasn't Kyle Orton beating Dwight Ellick for a 98-yard touchdown pass, it was Paul Peterson torching Mike Richardson late in the 4th-quarter to complete yet ANOTHER collapse against Boston College. And if it wasn't Pitt QB Tyler Palko setting a new record for defensive futility with 5 TD passes against the Irish, it was Matt Leinart doing the same thing two weeks later.

From these ashes, Notre Dame must rise.


Tom Zbikowski, the only returning starter from The Dirty Boys and thankfully the one with the biggest upside (as well as an additional two seasons of eligibility). Surrounding him everywhere is either youth, inexperience, or both. He is the squad's unquestioned leader; the next closest thing to seniority is Richardson, who was used almost exclusively in the dime packages last year. Factor in the transfer of Freddie Parish, and this is Tommy Z's outfit to run.

Not that it's a bad thing. Zibby's hard-nosed, punch-in-the-face style is exactly what Charlie Weis and Rick Minter want out of their defense. He is the quarterback of the defense, which isn't hard for him to handle seeing as he was a two-way player and fine option QB during his high school days in suburban Chicago.

So much has been made about Charlie Weis being the man who will restore Notre Dame football to its' true self. Zbikowski can be the best example - gutsy Catholic kid from Chicago with a hell of a nasty streak on the field, in the same vein as players like Chris Zorich, Jim Flanagan, Dave Duerson, and non-Chicago kids like Shane Walton and Gerome Sapp of the 2002 unit. What the defense needs more than anything is a field captain, and if Tommy Z sets the tone for the backfield the way Brandon Hoyte is doing for the front seven, it can be a special season.

All in all, the 2005 Z-Boys have to go a long way, but they are ready to erase memories of the 2004 D-Boys.



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