Aug. 7, 2009
2009 Football Media Day Central
Click here to download a podcast of today’s press conference
THE MODERATOR: Coach Weis will start with a brief opening statement, then we’ll open it up to questions.
COACH WEIS: Good afternoon. I’m glad to be back, see so many smiling faces. The reason why we had to kind of split up media day into the coaches today and players tomorrow is that actually today is final exams. They’re taking exams right till late afternoon. Then when they finish with exams, they actually check into the dorm. This evening they can meet on compliance and several issues non football related. We couldn’t do them both on the same day. Tomorrow the players will become available.
Obviously we’re pretty excited to get going. As far as our status of our team, of the 105 guys we have going into practice, everyone is full go except Hafis Williams. We’re just waiting for him to clear a couple of tests that haven’t been cleared yet. Could get cleared as early as tomorrow, but it might take a few days for him to clear physically. Once he does, he’ll be out there.
We’re not snowing anyone. When we go out for practice to tomorrow, he’ll be out there for stretch and warmups and those things. We’re being precautionary in making sure we get complete clearance on physical before we get going. Other than that, everyone is full go. All those injured are back, ready to go. No one with any limitations. Only one we have limitations on at this point is Hafis. On that note, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. If (Jimmy) Clausen were to struggle, what’s your level of confidence in Dayne (Crist)?
COACH WEIS: That’s kind of a subjective way to get going. We’re presuming the starting quarterback is going to be bad right off the bat. (laughter) What a way to go.
I have a lot of confidence that Dayne could run our offense. Probably since I’ve been here, this is the most encouraging depth chart I’ve been able to go into the season with. Not only do I have a quality gunslinger in Dayne, but I have a fifth year guy in Evan who has experience back here, too. This is easily the most depth we’ve had with talent at the quarterback position since I’ve been here.
Q. I think most people anticipate young talent being older, having gone through the bumps of the last couple years. What do you expect from this team?
COACH WEIS: I think the one good thing when you talk about young players getting older, every coach has the standard phrases that they use on media day, where we talk about how much further on down the road you are as far as development physically. So what I really did in the last few days is a research study of guys when they first got here to now. Not from a freshman to a sophomore year, but like freshmen to seniors.
Let me cite one position as an example. I took all the fourth and fifth year offensive linemen to see what their numbers were with (strength & conditioning coach) Ruben (Mendoza) when they first got here to where they are now. I really wanted to see what strength development takes place in an off the field setting with Ruben. I found in the three main lifts you do, clean, squat and bench, the offensive line from freshmen year to senior year, was just about 50 percent stronger than when they got here.
So, if anything, it gives you a resource to show not where a guy was rated when they got here, but how much physically they developed from when they first walked in the door till now.
So with that increased playing experience, like you would expect everyone to get bigger, that goes with the territory, your expectations then obviously raise.
Q. Wondered what reports you have gotten from your team leaders about the freshmen, how they fit in, who has looked good to this point.
COACH WEIS: Well, you know, they’ve been pretty optimistic with a whole bunch of guys. The high profile names are the first ones, everyone wants to hear about Manti (Te’o), Shaq (Evans), Cierre (Wood), the names that everyone was talking about the most.
I think the best words that I’ve gotten back is that they’ve all fit in. I think that gives them a chance, when we go on the field tomorrow, if they fit in, they kind of have a clue of what we’re doing, to not have information overload too soon.
I usually don’t have too many problems with the freshmen athletically. Usually it’s brain freeze that comes into play, you know, where information overload starts to cause them to think too much, and then you end up having limitations physically.
Q. I know you mentioned Manti is a pretty special kid, doesn’t get too flustered. What did you learn from your experience with Jimmy coming in with all the expectations that you can apply to this situation?
COACH WEIS: Well, to be honest with you, I think Jimmy physically was probably less ready to play than Manti is physically. Manti is 245 pounds. If you put him and Brian Smith next to each other, you don’t really see much of a physical difference, which is quite a difference from Jimmy being 197 pounds then and 223 pounds now. Physically there’s a night and day difference between the two different scenarios.
Q. You talked about the off season training. Did you want to cut weight this year and get faster?
COACH WEIS: What we try to do is just get `em ready to play football. I let Ruben set the weights, handle the conditioning. I want them to be ready to play football. That’s all I care about. Every coach in America can sit there and talk about the progress made at different things. But the bottom line, I want them ready to play football better than they played last year. That’s the bottom line.
Q. Talk about the decision to move (Eric) Olsen to center.
COACH WEIS: Danny (Wenger) was hurt a lot in the spring last year. We started experimenting with this last spring because he was on the shelf a good part of the spring. I think we intend to play the best five guys. Going in, we think that walking in the door, day one, we want to see Trevor (Robinson) at right guard, we want to see Olsen at center, and Chris at left guard. If Danny can beat out one of those three guys, then we’ll shuffle accordingly. Right now, going into day one, that’s where they are.
Q. Offensive line, you have a solid six. Any of the backups distinguish themselves in the spring?
COACH WEIS: Well, this is the first time we’ve had this many guys on scholarship on the offensive line. To have 15 guys on scholarship has put a little different light to it. We’re going to go out there for the first time. Let’s not talk about quality depth, let’s just talk about depth right now. This is going to be the first time we’re going to start training camp and we have three units who legitimately play left and right tackle, left and right guard and center. It’s encouraging to know we have numbers to start off with.
That being said, there’s a couple of guys, in addition to those six quality guys you talk about, that have really shown some positive things either in the spring or in this off season weight program. Going in, Andrew Nuss, we talked about how he had a good spring, but now we have Taylor Dever back at right tackle, Matt Romine back at left tackle, Braxston Cave has changed his body in the summertime where he’s — one of the biggest things that slapped me in the face, Braxston Cave threw a 520 on the bench. That’s not numbers, that’s big numbers.
You’ll see for guys that follow us on a regular basis, when you see him, you’ll see he’s reformed his body. Now, I don’t know how that’s going to translate into performance, but I do know that I’m encouraged with the number of people we’re going to see when we walk out there.
Q. (Question regarding captains).
COACH WEIS: August 18th, 19th, right in there, is the time we identified for the team to do that. There’s been so many guys that have done such a good job in the summertime, camaraderie and leadership stuff, but more importantly, I want to see now that we take it to the field. That’s one thing in the off season, but now we take it to the field, I want to see who the players perceive as the guys who they want as their leaders of the team.
I believe I have it pegged where the captains and the leaders will talk to you the first time as captains and leaders on August 20th.
Q. I don’t know if this is a fair question, but to vote Jimmy as captain…
COACH WEIS: The signal callers on offense and defense, it’s always a very positive light if the guys that are running the offense and running the defense are perceived by the players to be leaders. Whether the captains are on the leadership committee… I think when you’re looking at signal callers, which linebacker or which DB are the signal callers. They kind of coordinate the whole defense.
The quarterback on offense or the offensive lineman on offense that coordinates the front, you’d always like the team to do that. But the flipside of it is I’m not going to force captains on the players. The players vote based on what they see. I think they usually give you a very objective answer on who they want leading the team.
Q. Obviously your decision to hand the play calling to Mike Haywood last year benefited him. Now that it’s back in your hands, are you going to be a little more reluctant to give it up?
COACH WEIS: It will be no time soon. It will be given up no time soon. And part of that has to do with my confidence in the defensive staff. I’m very confident. I’m very confident that the defensive staff can handle things with minimal interference by the head coach. I always want to talk about personnel and about schemes and so. But I think that I’m going to be with the offense for quite some time.
Q. As you look back upon it last year, how did you feel the process went?
COACH WEIS: Which process?
Q. As far as passing on the responsibility, you sitting back and overseeing it as opposed to making the play by play calling.
COACH WEIS: Well, it’s a little frustrating when that’s your niche. It’s a little frustrating to do that. But you only can split your energies up, split yourself up, so many ways. I think when you’re trying to get special teams straightened out, which I thought we made some great strides on special teams, make sure that everything is the way you want it on defense, and the way you want it on offense, I think sometimes you can spread yourself a little too thin.
That’s why the bulk of my energy and efforts this year will be on offense.
Q. The only way you would relinquish those responsibilities would be if you had to turn your attention to those other areas?
COACH WEIS: Or I had somebody that thought the way I did. I don’t mean call plays exactly. I mean thought the way I did, where I understood why they’re calling what they’re calling. But I think right now, that’s in the distant future.
Q. You mentioned in the spring the goal was to improve the rushing game. The past three years have been the lowest in Notre Dame history.
COACH WEIS: Always encouraging to see you, Tom. (laughter)
Q. What gives you confidence that you’ll be able to improve on those numbers?
COACH WEIS: I think we’re just going to have — when you talk about expectations and goals, I think it’s best left to prove it. You know, I could sit there and give you a bunch of hot air about everything we’re going to do schematically to fix the running game. I think we’re going to have to prove it.
There’s a lot of things going into this year that I’d rather not say because I’d rather get it done on the field. That’s really one of the main deals or goals going into training camp, is, Fellas, don’t tell me about expectations, show me.
Q. One of the things you mentioned was last year the BCS, average 4.6 yards a carry. Is that something you set as a goal for the team?
COACH WEIS: Well, once again, if you want to be a BCS team, which that’s our intent, is to be a BCS caliber team, then that should be your goal. I think they go hand in hand.
Every team in this country today, or on their media day, has that goal in mind. They want to be in the BCS. There’s not one that doesn’t. We’re not different. So if you know what the numbers are, okay, and that’s pretty standard for what they’re doing, then that’s what you should be shooting for.
Q. Poll for the coaches came out today. I think you were at 23. Any thoughts?
COACH WEIS: I think after the first 10 teams or so, you usually get into a lot of subjectivity. There are teams that are unranked that probably deserve to be in the top 25. There’s teams in the 20s that should be in the teens. The teams that are in the teens, maybe they should be in the 20s.
I think after you get past the couple teams that kind of earned their stripes, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, USC, which I believe were ranked one, two, three and four, they’ve earned their stripes to be there. Based off of the performance last year, the depth charts going in, that’s why they are where they are.
I think in polls, at least before you start playing games, I think there’s a lot of subjectivity based off of returning starters, strength of schedule, all those things. I think that until you get through the month of September — Once you get through the month of September, everything starts to settle.
Q. Does it seem like you’ve already been here four years? Has the first four years passed fast? Going back and looking at your own performance, how would you assess how you’ve done?
COACH WEIS: I’m not really worrying about the past. I’m really worried about today going forward. I think right now the only thing I’m worried about is the start of this football season.
I think when you look at development of your program, okay, where is your program going into this season? That’s what we’re really talking about. Where are you right now? I could sit there and tell you how lofty goals I have, my expectations. But guess what, it’s time for us to back them up. That’s what we have to do. The only way to back them up is by backing them up on the fold. There’s no sense in giving a lot of hot air about these lofty expectations without going ahead and backing it up, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.
Q. Typically you come in here with a theme for training camp or whatnot. You did not this year. Is that kind of a theme? Is that the message to the team?
COACH WEIS: Don’t tell me about expectations, fellas, show me. Don’t tell me how good we’re going to be. I’m not going to tell you how good we’re going to be. It’s time for us to show you. That’s what you want to see. That’s what I want to see. I want to see the same thing.
Q. On Jimmy, obviously he showed some improvement last year. Are there still specific areas you want him to lock in on during training camp?
COACH WEIS: First of all, the percentage of touchdown to interceptions has to change, okay? We have to be a lot more careful with the ball, not forcing the ball into coverage. I think that’s going to be very important.
I feel confident that that ratio will drastically change from where we’ve been in the past to now. I feel very confident of that. Some of the things I identified as weaknesses of his, he spent a lot of time in the spring working on. I think some of those things he’s already shown some great improvement.
Once again, now it’s time. It’s day one. Tomorrow is the first practice. Let’s not talk about expectations. It’s time to put it up.
Q. Coaches in general talk a lot about continuity along the offensive line being important. I thought that was going to be in place. Seems like a lot of shuffling.
COACH WEIS: I mean, we didn’t have Trevor in the spring. That’s one of the reasons why it was like that. This has been choreographed for quite some time. You don’t see everything we end up doing right here.
If Danny ends up being the No. 1 center, then Eric goes to guard, Eric goes to guard, who did Danny beat out? Did he beat out Olsen? Did he beat out Robinson? We don’t know.
The other thing that happens, why you’ve been working on this for some time, you’ve built some inherent quality depth. Which guys do you believe can help win games for you? I think whether it’s four for three, meaning four guys to play three spots, or whether you’re completely two deep where you got six guys to play three spots, will be answered when we go through training camp.
Q. Your two wideouts, how much better do you expect them to be in terms of creating separation, coming out of breaks? Might they be capable of being the best 1-2 wide receiver punch in college football?
COACH WEIS: Well, I haven’t seen everyone, but they’re pretty good now. I mean, they’re pretty good. They create separation in different ways. Golden (Tate) runs by ’em, or people back off of him because he’s so fast, whereas Michael (Floyd) uses his body. So they’re two different types of bodies as far as getting open.
Usually creating separation, in their own way, they’ve already done a pretty good job of that at this point right now. What we have to do is become just much more efficient in the passing game across the board.
You know, for example, if people decide they want to come out and play two cover to try to take away your two outside receivers, then who will be the inside guys to go ahead and do the damage when that ends up happening? That’s when the Kyle Rudolph comes into play, or Duval (Kamara), Robby Parris, come into play, or running backs coming out of the backfield. I’m happy with the development of Michael and Golden. I’m very happy with where we’re heading.
I’ll give you a story. This summer Jimmy flew out Golden, Floyd and Rudolph, and they spent one week out on field throwing for about eight hours a day. So they did that on their own. I have nothing to do with that. Duval was already in early summer school, so he couldn’t make it out there.
But I think that will pay dividends. That type of effort that they did on their own, that will pay dividends pretty quickly.
Q. In what ways have you seen Jimmy embrace his leadership role? Could you describe how much pressure is on his shoulders this season.
COACH WEIS: I think when you come in as a freshman quarterback, especially here at Notre Dame, especially with the hype, when you come in rated as the best player in the country, sometimes we forget that these are just teenagers. We treat them like it’s Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. They’re just teenagers coming in the door.
I think as he’s gone through the first year, the aches that went through the first year, developing more the second year, I think now he kind of has the mentality that a lot of those junior/seniors now have, where like they paid their dues and they’ve learned from their experiences.
Now the things like the interception ratio, presence in the pocket, shuffling in the pocket, some of those little things that really didn’t spend as much time on, now you can spend more time on. When you’re doing those, the trickle down effect, the positive trickle down effect, it allows you to become much more of a leader because you now feel confident within your own role of what you’re doing.
When you first come in, you were just figuring it out yourself. Once you figure it out yourself, it becomes a little easier to take over more of that leadership role, which by all accounts, that’s what he’s done.
Q. When you roll everything together, what is your take on where Notre Dame football sits in the national landscape August 2009?
COACH WEIS: I’m not going to be too vague on this one because everyone at this time, Charlie Weis said Notre Dame is really no different than any other program that plays Division I. The goal is to be one of those teams playing in that mix going into January. Everyone has that same goal, okay? Let’s start with that premise.
With that being said, when you’re sitting there with a bunch of juniors, a bunch of seniors that have gone through the growing pains, as the program has developed, the natural thing to do would be for expectations to grow ready along with them. I think that’s where we are right now.
Q. With what happened last year, how do you think that changed —
COACH WEIS: Which `what happened last year’?
Q. The end of the season. How do you think that changed you as a coach? As there’s pressure on Jimmy, do you feel there’s similar pressure on you this year?
COACH WEIS: First of all, I can’t live in last year. I mean, what do you want me to do, sit there and do cartwheels over the Hawai’i Bowl? I can’t worry about things like that. I can only worry about here and now, where my team is right now, where my coaching staff is, where my support staff is, where my players are.
To be honest with you, that’s all that matters. As far as me personally, I could care less. This isn’t about me. This is about us. This is about one group of guys, coaches and players, that have very similar expectations. But it doesn’t do much good for me to say them any more. Until we start showing we can back ’em up, it’s just hot air.
Q. With the talk of pressure, has that affected recruiting at all? Where is recruiting at so far?
COACH WEIS: I thought we just addressed that pressure issue, okay? I think recruiting’s been going fairly well, to tell you the truth. I think we’re sitting there with a nice, solid core of guys that are committed. We’re involved with a whole bunch of really good ones. I think some of the top recruits take the normal wait and see attitude, and justifiably so. We’re hoping that the wait and see goes strongly pro Notre Dame.
Q. (Question about tight end Mike Ragone).
COACH WEIS: I think Michael’s biggest issue is just having the confidence. It isn’t about whether Michael is ready to go. I think when you have ACL, followed by another ACL, I think you have to get out there and get banged around a lot and know that everything is going to hold up.
Everything for him is structurally sound. That’s why he’s on that full go list. That’s why there isn’t anyone. But I think still, like any athlete, psychologically you have to get past that. I think that once Michael gets past that, he’ll be a big contributor to our team.
Let’s use him as an example. If Michael ends up being No. 2, which he currently is, along with Kyle, can produce at the role that our expectations were for him prior to his injury, it gives you a lot more versatility schematically as far as what you can do, where you’re not pigeonholed to put out a one tight end offense all the time.
Q. Going back to the Jimmy, Tate, Floyd, Rudolph, would it be all right by you if you rely on those guys? As much as you want the run game to be BCS quality, if you’re taking advantage of your best talent at receiver, tight end, quarterback, that’s the focal point of the offense, everything goes from there, is that all right by you?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think that those guys you just talked about give you an opportunity to be fairly dynamic in the pass game. So what are the residual effects of that? You’re going to play against every team that’s going to try to stop the pass game? Well, if they try to stop the pass game, then you have to have an answer. And the answer would be to run the football, okay? If you can’t run the football effectively, okay, and they shut down the pass game, you put yourself behind the eight ball. That’s what we’ve been spending the whole off season to get to this point, to try to put us in a position where we’re not pigeonholed into what we’re doing.
Q. Can you talk about the implementation of the run game?
COACH WEIS: I think the first thing we’ll do, I’m going to try to be more specific than general on this question. When we come in on a game plan day, which is Monday, the first couple things we’re going to address are, A, what problems does this defense present to us, after having studied all day Sunday, what problems does the defense that we’re going to go against present.
Then after we’ve gone ahead and split and studied what we can do about it schematically in the pass game, in the run game, I’ll come in and say, Okay, (running game coordinator/offensive line coach) Frank (Verducci), along with (running backs coach) Tony (Alford) and (tight ends coach) Bernie (Parmalee), how are we going to attack these guys in the run game? How are we going to attack Nevada? How are we going to run the ball against Nevada? Give me the four or five runs in our core system that give us the best opportunity to run the ball well against Nevada. Whatever he says, I’ll be able to combine those with play action pass that marry with them. Like I said, you always have a core. You go ahead from that core, then you take it from there.
Q. You said you’ve done a good job with recruiting right now. What makes yourself and your staff good recruiters?
COACH WEIS: First of all, I have to give more credit at this point to the assistant coaches than me because, as this whole recruiting process gets pushed up, like it has been, you know the head coaches are not allowed to go on the road in the springtime. So unless I saw all the guys back last January when we were wrapping up last year, my communication is, you know, I email these kids every other day. So I email them on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I try to keep them up with everything that’s going on at Notre Dame.
As far as communication goes, you know, a lot of that was set by our national presence with our coaching staff, kind of spreading the net over the nation. I think that has put us foundationally in better position with coaches at different high schools that you build relationships in all these different areas, that when you walk in the door, it gives you a better chance of being involved with the kid, because you can’t have communication with the kid in the springtime when you’re at the school, because it’s an evaluation period, not a contact period.
Q. If it’s possible to take the wins and losses out of the equation, are you happy with the timetable of building the infrastructure of this program, the recruiting, the depth, the roster, the assistant coaches, et cetera?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, I think when you’ve gone through the rotation, you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve been personally involved with every kid that’s involved in your program, you know everything about them, their families, you’ve been through the whole process with everyone, the intent is to be able to compete at the highest level, I think that Notre Dame’s in a good place right now. That’s what I think.
As far as the coaching staff, even though we had some coaching changes, Michael taking the head coaching job, a couple others, I think I feel very, very confident and comfortable with our coaches staff. But it’s time to show me, right? It’s from the head coach right on down. Let’s not talk about it.
In the past, I’d come in here, and give you a 10 minute oration on all the expectations. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to get out there and start getting to work. That’s what we’re going to do.
Q. Talk about the toughness of your defensive line, how they’ll be against the run this year.
COACH WEIS: It isn’t just Coach Tenuta, you have Coach Hart and Brian Young involved in the line. We’re excited about our youth, our athleticism. I think with youth and athleticism comes some uncertainty as you go in. So the gurus who would evaluate our team would probably talk right along with me, say you have Kapron Lewis-Moore, a kid who didn’t play last year, but now you have him penciled in. Kapron, he came here at 220, he’s 265. He’s a lot more ready for prime time than he was a year ago, without a drop off in his athleticism as well.
We’re really excited. Ethan Johnson played a whole bunch last year, but he wasn’t 285 like he is right now. There’s a big difference. You look at him right now, he looks like a big muchacho. Ian Williams has never been in the shape he’s in right now. As a matter of fact, he came close to cleaning 400. That’s unheard of. That’s a guy who is playing on a nose, a guy who can clean close to 400, that’s what you’re looking for. Doesn’t make a difference if you’re playing on Sunday, that’s what you’re looking for, a guy that can hold the point. I can talk about the whole depth chart, but we’re really encouraged by a bunch of these guys.
Q. As you look at your running game, you talked about working with Frank (Verducci) to get that game plan together. Will that game plan dictate who you want to use at running back or are you looking for one person to take that job?
COACH WEIS: Armando (Allen) is first. You’re going to have to beat Armando out. They’re all gunning for Armando. Robert (Hughes) wants him, Jonas (Gray), Theo (Riddick). To be honest with you, (James) Aldridge wants a little of that, too. Armando is the guy, you’re going to have to take it away from him first. I kind of like having the ball in Armando’s hands, too. I think there’s plenty of reps left for the other running backs, but they’re going to have to take them away from Armando.
Q. What has Armando done to solidify that job?
COACH WEIS: Once again, it comes down to what your expectations are production wise in all facets. Right now, from our perspective, he’s the most well rounded of all the players. Now, that doesn’t mean there aren’t guys that do different elements as good or better than him, but he’s the most well rounded.
Q. What has Trevor (Robinson) shown you that put him in that mix as a candidate for a starting job?
COACH WEIS: Actually, we really wish we didn’t have to get the shoulder done last January because I think he would have really blossomed in the springtime. But we’ve been encouraged now since he started playing as a freshman. I think with our scheme, the guy who gets isolated a whole bunch of times is the right guard. I think we believe that he’s a guy that could athletically be in that position to give us the best chance to be successful.
Q. Being here four years previously, having four starts of seasons, four training camps, what did you learn through those four that you’re implementing this year?
COACH WEIS: With the media or with the team? Let’s talk about the media. I’m really tired of coming in here with the media this isn’t a shot at the media, this is more me sitting here and telling you all the things we intend to do, talking about `em before you’ve done anything about `em. I’d like to be able to sit down in January and have the conversation about what we got done rather than tell you in August about what we’re gonna do.
Q. Can you pick any one thing in particular that is going to make you better this season than last season or are there a couple of different things that you think are really key to the changes in the team?
COACH WEIS: Experience. You asked for one. That’s it. (laughter) I don’t need to elaborate on experience. Experience.
Q. If I’m wrong, feel free to throw the left hook. You talked about replacing a lot of good football players in `07, no cartwheels about winning in the Hawai’i Bowl, your message seems to be not one of a sense of urgency, but it’s time to shut up and produce. Do you feel your kids right now have the same attitude you have?
COACH WEIS: You ask `em tomorrow. I’m sure you’re gonna get the same. I don’t know what verbiage they’ll use, but I think you’ll hear from our coaching staff, you’ll hear from our players, we’re proud to be at the University of Notre Dame, okay? But it’s time for our product to back that up. That’s what we intend to do.
But let’s not talk about it; let’s go do something about it. I think that’s very clearly the message that everyone in our organization believes, from the coaching staff, support staff, to the players.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.
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