March 21, 2006
HEAD COACH COACH Charlie Weis
COACH Charlie Weis: I think out of all of the objectives that we have for the spring, the number one objective of this football team is to raise their own expectations. I know a lot has been said; some of you have popped in the weight room and seen my subliminal message that isn’t so hidden when you walk through there, but I think that last year the football team just didn’t know at this point whether they were going to be any good or not, and I am hoping that they are not satisfied with the season they had last year. I know that I am not satisfied with the season that we had last year. And I am hoping this time around that raising the expectations should be a rather simple task.
Fifth-year guys, we have eight scholarship guys that are going to be coming back for a fifth year: three on defense and five on offense. Derek Landri, Chris Frome and Mike Richardson are coming back on defense. And on offense, Dan Santucci, Bobby Morton, Brian Mattes, Rhema McKnight and Marcus Freeman. So they are the eight guys that have applied and will be returning for a fifth year.
I felt last year at this time I couldn’t even tell you what the injury situation was, but I will spend a little time telling you about where we are right now. There’s three guys that are borderline ¬- I really think they are going to be out all spring: Frome, Banda and D.J. Hord. Frome had a knee. Banda had a knee and D.J., a few weeks ago we did an abdominal surgery and he might be back by the end of the spring, but he’s not going to be back for a while, so I figured I’d just go ahead and list him as a doubtful for the spring.
We have some guys that will be limited in the spring, Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington at linebacker, both had backs done right after the season ended. Kyle McCarthy had a shoulder done during the season. Victor Abiamiri had a minor surgery done right after the season on his knee. He’s close to 100 percent. I might pull off of him a little bit, but he’s ready to go.
John Sullivan had a shoulder done right after the season was over. I am going to limit him probably hold him out of contact for most of the spring. And Brian Mattes banged up his foot and Justin Hoskins continues to have some problems with his shoulder, which he had operated on last fall.
In addition to those guys that are coming back from injuries I figured I’d make note of (Jeff) Samardzija, our two sport player. I have worked out a deal with Coach (Maineiri) and Jeff to minimize his time away from baseball, but maximize him being able to be with the football team so Jeff will be with us for six of the 15 practices; including tomorrow’s practice. What I am trying to do is give him every opportunity to excel at both sports. I think last year I demanded a lot of him, and justifiably so, but I think now I have to give him his opportunity in baseball before we get to the football season.
I think Pete D’Alonzo and ColLeen Fitzgerald are two people that you don’t know too well, but they are the two people who work with our players academically and they have done a very good job keeping our players in line. That’s one of the reasons why we did so well academically and I just finished meeting with them here earlier today. I met with Jim Russ and our academic people so that I had up to date information when I met with you today.
Reports on James Aldridge, and Chris Stewart and George West are very positive academically. They are all setting in nicely as members of the 2006 recruiting class that are counting back to 2005. They’ve all settled in nicely. I think it’s really beneficial for these guys being in here, both academically and athletically; especially Chris Stewart who is a big guy and having that extra semester to be involved with Rubin Mendoza, in our conditioning program, is going to pay great dividends come August and September.
Now, we will have 25 scholarship players coming in this summer; not 24. What I did was after Joey Hiben decided to leave the team to concentrate on academics, I then flipped Will Yeatman’s scholarship from lacrosse to football. I didn’t want to short change myself and leave myself a man shy at the tight end position. I had this resource that I want to try to protect for a year, but what I didn’t want to do is short change myself and leave myself a man shy at the position. So Yeatman is on a football scholarship; not a lacrosse scholarship. He’s having his own little deal out there today. I worked out with Will and his parents so that we’d announce it at the same time so that when it became news that he wouldn’t be waiting. He had this signed for a month or so, but everyone is waiting for him to sign in April for lacrosse and you can tell Coach (Kevin) Corrigan “you’re welcome” for saving him some money for a scholarship as well.
Doug Walker has a bio on Will Yeatman, in case you don’t have it so that you can gain some more information as an extra tight end to our recruiting class.
Areas of concern. I think going into this spring, I think here’s some areas of concern that I have identified. I think defensively starting off with Victor Abiamiri we have a veteran defensive line but we are going to have to do a better job of getting to the passer, so pass rush is definitely an area of concern.
Who is going to play linebacker is going to be an area of concern. There’s good and bad in this situation right here. With Maurice (Crum) and Joe (Brockington) being limited at linebacker and Maurice really being our only guy who has had a lot of time as a starter in our system, I think that it’s going to give a number of players an opportunity to make a statement for whether or not they are going to get into the mix. We’re going to try to protect Mo as best as we possibly can. This is going to be one area on defense where we’re going to have to find out exactly who is going to play. Thirdly on defense, I think we’re going to spend a large amount of time with a veteran secondary working on communication. I think there are too many times where we had communication problems and it’s going to be an area we’re going to emphasize this spring.
Our offense. I think the biggest area of concern is our offensive line depth chart until the reinforcements come in here in June. The numbers are down, especially with us holding out Sully (center John Sullivan) for a good portion of the spring our numbers are down which are going to give some young guys like Paul Duncan and Mike Turkovich and you know, Chris Stewart for that matter, it’s going to give some of those young guys a lot of opportunities to get involved in the mix with a number of the veterans. I think a key thing, though, with having Dan Santucci and Bobby Morton back, we have the makings of a very veteran offensive line. And with Chris (Stewart) already here, we have a whole another fivesome still yet to come here in June. So we’re not worrying about as much the depth going into the season as we are getting through the spring.
At wide receiver I’m glad to report that Rhema (McKnight) looks great. I mean, he looks as good as he did at any time before his injury last year; which I think will greatly minimize the loss that we’re going to have of Maurice (Stovall) going into the NFL. But the big question isn’t going to be Rhema or not going to be Jeff, it’s going to be who is going to play after Rhema and Jeff. I think that we’ll get some questions answered. Obviously George (West) gets an opportunity to play himself into the mix being here right now and we got another three freshmen coming in here this summertime. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Obviously, with Anthony (Fasano) going to the NFL the tight end position is one that will be in question. I have to tell you, of all the positions where you lose a starter like Anthony that I am most encouraged about, it would be at tight end because not only does John Carlson look great, but Marcus Freeman definitely going through this offseason was easily, by far, the most improved player we had going through the spring. It was a night and day difference. I think if you asked any guy on the coaching staff, anyone would have said that the most encouraging thing coming out of the last couple of months was the looks of Marcus Freeman. By the way, Tim Gritzman who had left the team last year as a walk on as a tight end, he’s back on the team again.
Last but not least, I think obviously replacing D.J. Fitzpatrick as both the kicker and punter, we know who the candidates are that are in place right now. We know who is on the horizon coming this summer. But obviously having a guy doing both tasks for quite sometime raises some areas of concern on exactly how it’s going to play out. I am assuming that Doug (Walker) has given you a schedule of these practice times that are going to take place here this spring. The practice times are varied now. Tomorrow we are going at five o’clock. We’ll give you the exact window that you are available to come. Some days we’re going at five. Some days we’re going at 2:30. One day we’re going at six o’clock in the morning. There’s varied times. Make sure you stay with that schedule. I will be as good with you as I can. Unlike last year where I had that one day where you were hoping all day to go and all it was special teams, I think that this year I am going to have that day open, but I am going to make sure we go offense and defense as well as special teams, so that you get a little bit more information than did you last year when we did it.
We start practice tomorrow, the spring game is on April 22. Just so you know, as far as recruiting goes, I am hitting the road on the 23rd (of April). What we did last year is we went on the road a week later. We’re ready to go on the road the day after the spring game. So I know I am personally hitting the road the night after the spring game. You get four weeks to use and we’re using from that Monday, the 24th of April, through Saturday, the 20th of May, so if you are looking for me don’t look real hard because you probably won’t find me. If I am in town I will probably watch my kid play baseball or doing some honey do list for Maura (Weis) so if you want to know just go ask Maura, she will have a better idea of what I am doing.
Last but not least, the Blue and Gold game, I am not really sure exactly how I am going to handle this with the offensive line situation as far as the format. But I can tell you these things: we do have honorary coaches like we did last year; quite an eclectic group on defense with two guys named Golic, both Mike and Bob, they are going to be our two defensive coaches for the game. On offense we got two guys that you guys might not have heard of, but one is named Rocket Ismael and the other one’s name is Jerome Bettis. So I don’t know if you have heard of them before, but they are the guys that will be there as the coaches on offense.
We also are going to have two honorary captains for the game. One team will have Pete Duranko, the member of the ’66 National Championship team. I think that he will be one of our honorary captains and the other honorary captain will be somebody that wins the auction from the Center for the Homeless because they are optioning off an honorary captain and that will be the other one.
With that being said, I tried to cover enough territory so try to be expansive enough to cover a lot of ground here and open it up to your questions.
Q. Will coaching early enrollees, will they just be just right along with the veterans or will you have to handle them a little differently?
COACH Charlie Weis: Well, we always start from scratch when we’re putting in the system. You never assume that everyone has retention of everything you are doing. It’s just the speed of which you put things in picks up because it’s the second time around so I think we will be playing a little catch-up but what we have done, we have really narrowed a lot of the stuff down that we weren’t very good at last year, so at least now with what they’re being coached at, are the things that we know we’re going to end up doing.
Q. Last year you said that you just want to throw as much at them as you could. What stuck?
COACH Charlie Weis: The stuff that didn’t stick got thrown out.
Q. Do you have any preconceived notions about how to run the race for back-up quarterback?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think we have a better idea of the personality of our team. Now there’s things that we didn’t do very well that we’re going to do. We’re just going to fix them. But at least now we have a pretty good idea of what we can and cannot do. The personality of your key people, the key people who have the ball in their hands; what is the quarterback capable of doing?; what are the receivers capable of doing?; and, what are the tight ends capable of doing? Is one running back different than another running back? Do you do the same thing with him? Do you do something different with him? I think we have a better understanding of what we can do now and I think that now allows you to take your game to another level.
Q. Do you have any preconceived ideas how you want anticipate the backup quarterback situation?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think what is going to happen here is you are going to have David (Wolke) and you are going to have Evan (Sharpley); especially those two guys getting a lot of reps, and if they spit the bit then the two freshmen are coming in and I am just putting them in there. This is their time. There’s a whole bunch of reps and they are not all going to (Brady) Quinn. So this is their time to make it. I am not going to be afraid to put a freshman in there. But, you know, there’s always a security blanket of somebody who already knows the system, but this is their time. Because come August, I don’t have time to worry about it. I’m not looking here to make any friends here, I am trying to find out who the second quarterback is going to be, so if something happens to No 10, we’d been ready to go.
Q. How much of a handicap do you anticipate the lack of numbers on the offensive line being?
COACH Charlie Weis: What I have done is I have taken, instead of having long segments of plays consecutively, I have taken it and broken the same number of plays throughout the practice. So we’ll go 12 plays here, 15 plays here, 12 plays here, 12 plays here, and instead of going 30 in a row, because you can”t really do that or else you are going to have the same seven or eight linemen in for all those plays. I don’t think practice is going to be that much of an issue. It just calls me to do a lot more time deciding exactly how I was going to spread out the practice.
Q. How is position flexibility this year along the offensive line, as opposed to last year?
COACH Charlie Weis: We’re going to treat this spring like this is what we’re going to go to war with. Let me not use that analogy because we actually are in a war. Let’s say that these are the guys that we’re anticipating going to the game with as it currently stands in plan. Like last year we would go to a game and realize we’re going to play six offensive linemen in the game. And those four guys inside had flexibility to go in and out; interchangeable parts. Normally it becomes a major issue when you are doing that. And it was a non issue; therefore, they handled it very well. That’s what we’re treating this spring like now. We saying, okay, this guy is in there, you have got to flip over to here, now just as if that’s all you had. And now when the next set of people get in here in June, now you will know where your areas of concern are and can plug them in accordingly.
Q. In terms of your linebackers, you have a lot of young ones, guys that haven’t played much, are you going to want them to learn all the positions or do you want them to focus on one?
COACH Charlie Weis: No, the guy that will probably learn all the positions will probably be (Maurice) Crum because we’re going to limit what he does. So what we will be able to do is take our best player and now he will be out there practicing now; we’re not just going to limit what he does, but he’s the guy that we’ll probably move to all three positions to make sure that we place him in the area of where we feel we need him the most. Everyone else is going to play off of Mo because he’s the one guy that we have the most confidence in. But with that being said, most of these guys will learn one position.
Q. A clarification on the Yeatman situation, when he comes in for practice next spring, will he work lacrosse around it?
COACH Charlie Weis: As long as he here’s what my deal with these players are, you know, especially these two sport players, especially as high profile a guy like he is in his second sport. If these guys are a major factor for the other team and are handling what they do academically, then they can play. Okay, and I have a couple of guys that that might be an issue with as time goes on, that aren’t yet major factors with their team. But as long as he is doing his end academically, he will be playing lacrosse during in the spring.
Q. So Sharpley’s schedule is different from Samardzija’s?
COACH Charlie Weis: Well, if Sharpley were going to start at first base hitting 25 home runs, I think he might be over there with the baseball team. But he’s not.
Q. I don’t think are there any football players running track. Are you adverse to them playing in that sport?
COACH Charlie Weis: No, I am not adverse of them playing in any sport. I am supportive of all the sports here, but it all starts with football and academics and sometimes there’s players that there’s issues that they have to take care of themselves, you know, academically to make sure that they are solvent and ready to go football wise. So I am not, you know, in love with letting people go play another sport when they have obligations academically that they have got to take care of first.
Q. Talk about the high school kids and how they have developed and how they are interacting with people here?
COACH Charlie Weis: First of all, it’s very encouraging to watch how they have interacted with each other. I mean, that’s a fairly close-knit group of guys which is a that’s a good start because when you are really your whole thing personally as a coach is buying into a team concept and there’s already relationships formed before they even walk in the door. I mean, that’s a good start. As far as them developing physically, I don’t have them here, so I will worry about that once we get them here. Ruben (Mendoza) will get them before me because when they get here in June they all get here on June 18, for June 20th summer school session, I don’t have them. They have strength and conditioning eight hours a week and I am not part of that. Not allowed to be.
Q. Will you take more of a role with the defense this year?
COACH Charlie Weis: I hope not. I think that we have a veteran defensive staff. I am not trying to coach the defensive staff but I think that what happens is when you are coming in, you are putting in the offense yourself, you really don’t have that much time to watch anybody else. You can’t even critically evaluate all of it on tape. A lot of times it’s not the same. It’s not the same that when you are out there, you actually know what the call is and you can watch things see, I like to watch things unfold before they even happen. When you know what a call is, you can watch them unfold. Especially with me, because I have the script for both the offense and the defense. So I am the only one that knows that. So that when something happens I know what is supposed to happen with both the offensive guys and defensive guys, because when you are worrying more about just running the offense, you are worrying about beating the defense rather than working with the defense. They are two totally different things. So I think that’s going to happen this year is I am going to get an opportunity to really, you know, be able to evaluate special teams and evaluate defenders, and it allows you to give more input, especially personnel oriented.
Q. How much are you doing with special teams during the spring especially considering lots of times you are indoors?
COACH Charlie Weis: You can special teams are an area, you know, they are an area where we felt that we made an improvement from the previous year and we’re expecting a drastic improvement this year because now the guys basically have an idea of what the system is. Some of it is improving the system and some of it is getting better players to play the same positions.
For example, punt return was a very positive phase. Kickoff return wasn’t very positive. Well, I mean, how tough is that to figure out? I mean, just look at the numbers. You know what you need to do, you can work the heck out of it. Doesn’t make any difference whether you are indoors or outdoors, you can still work on getting your blocks and setting up running lanes and hitting it full speed and you can still do plenty of that. I think that’s definitely an area where we expect a drastic improvement this spring.
Q. What went into your decision with moving Brian Polian to help coach the linebackers?
COACH Charlie Weis: Well, what happens is first of all, Brian’s background was as a linebacker and Jeff Burrow’s background was as a defensive back. So now, by, flip flopping those two guys as far as who they are helping, you know, you have a main coach in all these positions and also allows them to be in a more natural I always look for natural fits. For example, Shane Waldron is the offensive G.A. but his most natural fit is at tight end. Well, he’s working with the offensive line so there’s a lot of times he will be taking a group of tight ends and tackles with Coach Parmalee and Coach Latina, so it gives you another resource as somebody you can end up using. I think it just figuring out your own guys and figuring out what fits the best.
Q. What’s the quickest way to improve on defense and eliminate big plays?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think the quickest way to do that is to eliminate to minimize mental mistakes. And what that means is when you turn a guy free, wide open free, there’s a problem. It’s usually not the problem that a guy is that much faster than the guys they are playing against. It usually means that there was a mental mistake for one reason or another; whether they didn’t understand, which ultimately falls back to my responsibility because my job is to make sure everyone knows what to do, or they just didn’t get it. Regardless, it’s still the same end result is the first thing they have to do is make sure they know what they are doing. That’s no different on either side of the ball, though. I think that the first thing the players need to do is make sure that they know what they are doing because then when there’s a mistake, it’s easier to evaluate it when you know they know what they are doing.
Q. What will be the key to developing a better pass rush?
COACH Charlie Weis: I’m not telling. We have been spending a lot of time on that, though. We have been spending a lot of time on that, to answer that question. So we’re just going to have to see how it matriculates.
Q. Last year you talked a lot about the confidence of the secondary, they had to get confidence throughout the year. You saw that building. Do you feel like that’s still at a good level or do you have to rebuild that?
COACH Charlie Weis: No, I think what happened is you raised it from where it was and now your bar is higher than where you started. It’s never going to be up here. It’s you start here (lower) and you get to here (higher); now you are not starting here anymore (lower), you are starting here (higher). So it gives you a better opportunity get better faster.
Q. In general terms, how would you compare recruiting to this time to last year?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think it’s going well so far, you know, we met on recruiting for two hours this morning and went over the state of the union to the whole country, so I think I have a pretty good idea of where we stand. I think we’re a lot of guys already in the either/or mode and that means you are going to win some and you are going to lose some. But I feel good about where it’s heading. We’re being pretty particular, you know, we’re trying to earmarking who they I am not one of those guys that just hands out scholarships. I think it’s too big of an investment from the University at Notre Dame. Every time we look at a player, I try to look at these guys: Can this guy help us win a National Championship. Not can this guy play at Notre Dame. Can this guy help us win a National Championship? Because, to me, that should be the goal. If you are the head coach at Notre Dame, that should ultimately be your goal.
Q. Going back to the secondary, how much can you teach defensive backs to help them defend the play-action pass better?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think I’d have to defer that to Bill Lewis and Rick Minter. I am going to try coach the defense. I am trying to evaluate the defense. There’s a difference. Those guys coach the defense. That’s why I hired them. They have a very good understanding of what the do’s and don’ts are as far as what the scheme goes, and what they are doing. All I know is, whether it’s offensively or defensively, if I am coaching the offensive line and we turn somebody free, there’s a problem. If I am coaching the secondary, we turn somebody free, there’s a problem. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to eliminate those problems.
Q. On the cover of the spring prospectus it mentions Brady (Quinn) as a Heisman Trophy candidate, so that’s just put out there. How are you going to help him deal with that expectation and the pressures that come with it?
COACH Charlie Weis: We just talk about winning football games. That’s what we talk about, to be honest with you. I think I have already covered a lot of ground with him as far as his future goes. I think that you know, he’s heeded my advice on a number of subjects. How can he not be one of the guys that they are talking about? By deductive reasoning, based off of performance last year, and the top quarterbacks, a number of the top quarterbacks now going into the NFL, it only logically would state that he’d be a candidate. What I say to him is just go win as many games as you can and usually those things come along those type of accolades come along at the end.
Q. Are you comfortable that Brady can handle all of the expectations?
COACH Charlie Weis: Here’s my feeling: If he wins the Heisman Trophy, that probably means we win the National Championship. So sign me up.
Q. What are some of the goals he (Quinn) needs to achieve?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think that just like Tommy Brady, back when I was in New England, the more he understands, the more I can do. And I think sometimes it’s not the physical limitation because he has very few limitations physically. I think mental is what holds you back more than anything. I think now we’re at the expanding mode. We’re just the opposite. Because of what he can handle, you know, it’s going to allow me to do some things that I was not capable of doing last year because I didn’t know whether or not they could handle it or not. There’s a number of things you can do mentally in football that makes the game a lot easier. For the coach it makes it easier because I can stand on the sideline and tell you what is going to happen before the ball is snapped but it doesn’t do any good because if I am the one that knows and the quarterback doesn’t know. So when he understands it, usually you have a better chance.
Q. Different styles of the halfback and how you see time being divvied up there in the spring?
COACH Charlie Weis: It should be interesting. First of all, I don’t have to wear Darius (Walker) out because he was playing his best ball at the end of the year. Darius has been a solid reliable starter for years. I mean, Travis (Thomas) has proven to be dependable and I am really anxious to get a good look at James (Aldridge). Justin’s (Hoskins) banged up anyway; gives James a lot more of an opportunity to get into the mix faster than, you know, the three different body types, it intrigues me some. I am really interested to see how it all plays out.
Q. Did you have any of that, different types of backs, in the pros?
COACH Charlie Weis: Always had two totally different types of backs, like my last year at New England it was Corey (Dillon) and Kevin (Faulk). They are night and day now. I mean, you got a pound it 235-pound run you over type of guy; then a screen-draw guy and both were very productive. So I think what you have to do is find your guys and figure out what you can to do with them and when you are in there, do that. Do what they do.
Q. In the heat of the moment after the Fiesta Bowl you were kind of hard on yourself about how that game went. As you pulled away from that, how did you kind of process that whole experience?
COACH Charlie Weis: Well, I think any time your team apparently is not ready to go, after a long layoff, you really can only blame it on one person. Who else can you blame it on? The game is November 26; you have got ’til January 2. You got nothing left to do. It’s your last game of the year. You have got five weeks to get ready to go and I just didn’t feel it was a very good performance. I can sit there and say well, you know, if we get the ball back at the end of the game well, we didn’t. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I’ll do it differently next and I will do it differently.
Q. Anything you plan to do heading into the season, any different approach you will take, any big changes?
COACH Charlie Weis: No, we’ll just be worrying about Georgia Tech and we talked about this today, I met with the team earlier this morning. We had a welcome back running session this morning, where they ran 20 hundred and tens, so it was like their spring break reward, but after that we had a nice little pow wow and we talked about a number of things that we’re talking about right now. We talked about about Georgia Tech. But right now, I think always we have to do is about achieving some goals in the spring. See, last year I really felt it took me half the spring just to get them to turn my way of thinking. That doesn’t mean anyone else’s way of thinking was wrong. It’s just that I am the head coach so it’s going to be my way of thinking. Well this year, that’s not I mean, there’s like last year, we had a whole mass exodus of players, and didn’t faze me in the least. It wasn’t like I was worrying about it at all. I think now most people understand me. I understand them, and we can just move forward. And hopefully we’re well past those stages.