March 21, 2007
COACH WEIS: Good afternoon. A little different than the previous couple of years. I have two major issues to talk to you here about opening day. One is, really it’s a personnel status, and then the second one ?? with several points under it ?? and then the second one is related to objectives as we go into the spring with several points under that as well, and then I’ll open it to some questions.
As I previously stated, back after the end of our completion of last season, is that we had ten fifth?year seniors that would apply to come back. Well, Chase Anastasio has decided against applying. So today in practice, there will be nine applicants out there, and there will be: Tom Zbikowski, John Thomas, Carlson (ph), John Sullivan, Trevor Laws, Dwight Stephenson, Joe Brockington, Ambrose Wooden and Geoff Price. Unlike the previous two years where we had several people coming off of injuries going into the spring, no one will be held out of practice on account of injury. Everyone is full?speed, and no one has any limitations with the exception of a couple guys who maybe will have a cast on their wrist or something. That will not limit them from any football activities.
So it’s a good thing for us, unlike last year where we had double?digit guys that were going into the spring with surgeries, we’re coming into this year with no one being held from spring practice.
Thirdly, we have three players participating in a spring sport. In baseball both Evan Sharpley and Eric Maust are participating in baseball. Evan expects to be at all of our practices. Eric, who is a backup punter, for those of who you don’t know is the guy, that got the win yesterday in the baseball game as a pitcher. He’s going to make football practice as he can.
And last, Will Yeatman is playing lacrosse. It looks like Will will be at eight of our practices. I guess if he keeps getting hat tricks like he did yesterday, I’ll have to keep letting him play lacrosse. Those are three guys involved in a spring sport.
As we begin spring practice, I’m going to move Travis Thomas to start off the spring. He’ll be over at running back and Chris Stewart to start off the spring will be over on the defensive line. And those positions will show up in the rosters that you either have already, or will be handed out here today. As it relates to objectives going into the spring, it’s been well documented that we have a bunch of guys that graduated from last year’s team. Well, that’s what players do. They graduate and then they move on.
As has been our theme since the season ended, basically tradition is something that should never graduate. So tradition never graduates, is the theme that we are emphasizing to our players. Because with several key players lost to graduation, it provides a great venue for both competition and opportunity for anyone who has been waiting in the wings or is new to the program.
Special teams, the mannerism in which we are coaching special teams has been tweaked. The entire coaching staff is now involved in special teams. Now Brian Polian and Bernie Parmalee will have big emphasis on defense as leaders of the pack, but the entire staff is involved in special teams and both return units and the defensive staff will handle the field goal block and both coverage units. We’ll have to get used to that change in the spring but I’m putting even a bigger emphasis on special teams this spring than I did the first two years.
And last but not least we have three guys who came in here at the mid year and we have 15 additional scholarship players that will be getting here this summer. So before those 15 guys get here this summer, the biggest ?? one of the biggest objectives is going to be for the depth chart to start to settle in and some of these guys to settle some questions before we interject another 15 bodies in there and see which of those freshmen coming in can challenge to move themselves off the charts.
Q. Coaches say that the players are the ones that determine the starters and determine the depth chart. Do you anticipate specifically at the quarterback position that there will be a pecking order coming out of the spring, and if there is, do you want to announce that or is that something you want to keep open for competition in their minds, at least, throughout the summer?
COACH WEIS: I would hope to get from four to two. That’s what I would hope to get.
Now, because there’s unknown, I don’t know exactly if that’s going to come to fruition, but the way I’ve set this up, I’ve set this up where everyone will get their fair chance to show that they can run the team and hope that at the end of the spring I could narrow is from four to two. Even in training camp where you have a lot more reps and you always have to interject injuries in there, because you don’t want to put somebody in the tank and have them feel they are not competing anymore. But I feel there should be a pecking order where some guys start to rise ahead of the other guys, and that’s what I’m hoping comes to fruition this spring. I’m hoping to come out of the spring ball where this foursome becomes a twosome.
Q. With regard to the depth chart in general, are the players aware of where they are on the depth chart on a daily basis, and I mean, do you want them going out there every day thinking that, okay, I’m three, I’m competing for two?
COACH WEIS: We change it on a daily basis at several positions. Like one day one guy might be the starting right defensive end, and the next day somebody else might be the starting defensive end and another guy might be second or he might be third.
So I think we try to keep them fresh but at the same time we try to do it where they get an equal chance, or they get a chance to show their wears, but at the same time keep them fresh and not stagnant by just saying you’re one all the time.
Conversely, John Sullivan, assuming he comes back, he gets cleared for his fifth year, he’s our starting center. No one is replacing him. Now that doesn’t mean he will get all the reps as the starting center, because you have to get somebody else ready in case something happens to John Sullivan and somebody else needs to be in there with that first group.
Q. With Chris working on the defensive side, is the plan for him to be there the entire spring, or will you split it or how will you do that?
COACH WEIS: It depends on how he looks. Athletically from what we’ve seen to this point, it’s very, very encouraging. But if he looks like an offensive guard playing nose tackle, then he’ll have to move back to offensive guard. If he looks like a nose tackle playing nose tackle, he’ll just stay at nose tackle.
Q. How will you compensate, you don’t have a lot of depth there at the two guard and center positions, anyway. How are you compensating for those move to the defensive side?
COACH WEIS: Well, we really have three guys that we see playing the center spot, because we got Sullivan, and in addition to Sullivan, we got Wenger and Fenner (ph), and now Tom is eligible to play after sitting out his transfer year from Northwestern.
So we have three guys that can man the center spot even though one of those guys might end up starting at guard similar to what Bob Morton was, really our second center, but he started at right guard.
At the guard position we have a couple guys, for example Mike Turkovich is going to start off first playing guard, but he’s also responsible for tackle. So we are building some inherent depth at the guard center position, and the guard tackle position by having guys be cross?trained.
Q. As far as the quarterbacks are concerned, you have some guys with different skill sets, how do you kind of ?? I’m assuming they all have the same playbook. You talk about wanting to build the system around the quarterbacks’ strengths, how can you kind of pick those out when everybody is kind of doing the same thing?
COACH WEIS: You don’t do that in the spring. That’s the answer to that is you put the system in in the spring and you give them all their equal shot at running the team. And at the end of the spring as you know, whoever that may be, or those two guys may be, you use that time between the end of spring ball and August when everyone comes to now, you know, tweak it some to go ahead and put the team in the best position to utilize the skills of the guy who is playing quarterback.
Q. I’m assuming this is somewhat new territory for you having four quarterbacks, do you anticipate any special challenges, especially given the limited time you have this spring?
COACH WEIS: No, I’ve had four quarterbacks before. As a matter of fact, one year Tommy Brady was the fourth his rookie year. He was the fourth quarterback. It’s the difference between giving them all a shot at being the first quarterback. That’s the big difference.
See, when I had four quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe was the starter and he was the starter and then you had the second guy and the third guy and the fourth guy. In this case, you have four guys and all four of them are being given an opportunity to be the starting quarterback.
Q. With regard to the defense, is it experimental time and tweaking time in the spring, is there a game plan, we’re going to look at the defense, or how do you view the evolution of the defense?
COACH WEIS: There’s a couple of different things that are ?? that happen here. Okay, when we’re trying to create identities, we’re trying to create identities on offense and defense, okay. On offense, the identity is going to be more ?? is to the going to be personnel?related in the springtime. It’s going to be more ?? well, our identity on offense is going to be more personnel related than it is schematically. Because we changed people. There’s been a great influx of new people coming in, so now, for example, let’s say your runner is a different type of runner than Darius. Well, you know, that might change what you do offensively as far as the run game goes.
Now defensively, even though personnel will come into play, schematics are the one thing that we’re dealing with in the spring. So offense, the tweaks are more personnel?related.
Defensively, although personnel comes into play, the changes are more schematic, and you’re going to put it in in its due course, and you’re going to be very deliberate in how you put it in. So everyone knows what they are doing and you are building a system rather than just throwing a system at them.
Q. In regards to the quarterbacks, since Demetrius did not play last year but you did talk about him sometimes when he was on the scout team, can you give an overview of where you think he is right now?
COACH WEIS: I mean, we haven’t practiced a practice yet. Remember now, I wasn’t coaching Demetrius or Zach very often and even Evan, he was just listening. You know, so I think it would be premature at this point other than the fact that you like what you see athletically. You like the athleticism.
Now it’s different when he’s in the classroom and I’m running the class. I mean, now things are different and it would be premature for me to make a statement at this time.
Q. Can you talk about what you expect from DJ Hord?
COACH WEIS: Well, as I said, everyone is full?go, so that’s probably the first time ?? I mean, it’s definitely the first time since I’ve been here where every guy you’ve got, you know, are ready to go. I think just like Rhema was last year, I think the biggest thing he’s got to get through is get it mentally through his mind that every time he goes out there, he’s not going to get hurt.
He’s had some bad luck. So, now, here we go again, we’re coming off a freak injury last year, he’s got to get through his mind, okay ?? because physically, he’s healthy. You’ve just got to break through those mental barriers and be set and ready to go.
Q. When you talked about the way you’re kind of redoing how the special teams are coached, are you also going to look at a lot of different personnel in those special teams?
COACH WEIS: As you know, every player at every position is available for the special teams. I think what ends up happening is you put all the responsibility just within one coach. Like if you put all the responsibility on Brian, and then have all of the coaches on their assignments ?? I don’t think that I as the head coach putting emphasis on how important I think special teams are. So by doing it this way, everyone is going to want to get their guys involved in special teams, because they are going to want those special teams to perform as well as possible because I am holding the whole offensive staff accountable for the performance of the special teams. I’m not just answering to one guy.
Q. Beman Fenner (ph) is a local kid here, I wonder if you could speak to what you’ve seen from him.
COACH WEIS: We are very encouraged by him the entire year last year. He showed position flexibility in practice. He played center guard and tackle in practice and he’s a very, very intelligent kid, okay, and had very little trouble adjusting to our system, and I definitely see him competing to be ?? competing to be in the mix. He’s not just ?? he’s a very unusual guy to be in a walk?on situation because the kid can play. And it’s a good thing this year that we have a guy like that, you know, in the mix as well.
Q. You talked a little bit about Travis going back to running back and obviously Darius’s departure would have something to do with it, but how much of a factor is it Travis just wanting to be a running back and also the leadership you can provide to a pretty young offensive group will be a big benefit for you?
COACH WEIS: Travis will be a leader no matter where he is. He’s a leader on special teams. He’s a leader any time he’s on the field because he’s just that type of kid. You know, I think that we’ll see how it goes. You know, we know that Travis will be on the field, and if it’s at running back carrying the ball a whole bunch of times, so be it.
But Travis Thomas is going on the field and wherever we can get him on the field the most to help the team win the most ?? he just wants to be on the field. He’s a very unselfish player as he showed last year. In this case, as of right now under our current guise, the best place for him to be starting this spring is at running back and that’s where he’s going to. I’m sure he’ll perform very well.
Q. Just to be clear, does that mean to the door is open on defense at this point?
COACH WEIS: Anyone who has played on both sides of the ball is always capable of playing on both sides of the ball. You know, because Chris Stewart is nose tackle today, does that mean he can’t play offensive guard? It just means that we’re putting Travis at running back to start off the spring, and he might stay there the whole spring and stay there the whole season. We’ll just have to wait and see how it goes.
Q. The offensive tackle position, would you anticipate Sam staying on the right side or getting a look on the right side to see how that works out?
COACH WEIS: I’ve heard a lot of people just projecting Sam automatically playing on the left side because he played some in high school. He’ll be starting off this spring at right tackle. That’s where he’ll be starting off this spring.
I’m not going into all depth charts. So you can stop the questions now. You want me to just give you the two?deep now and then ?? sorry.
Q. That would be great. (Laughter) Obviously you want to keep expectations at a high level, with all of the young guys, how does that change the way you go about this spring practice or fall?
COACH WEIS: No excuses. No excuses. All you do give a scapegoat and say, you only have three guys coming back on offense, you only have a few more coming back on defense. I guess we should just throw in the towel now. I don’t think that’s what good teams do. The next guys come in and play just like pro free agency. I would hate to think Bill Belichick would be going to the Hall of Fame when he threw in the towel every time he lost somebody going into free agency. Last time I checked, he has done well when somebody went to free agency. When guys graduate, you replace them. That’s why you give scholarships to other guys. That’s why they are here; you coach them and you’re ready to go, and you don’t ever lower your expectations.
Q. With the history of Notre Dame coaches, does that put more pressure on you knowing that history?
COACH WEIS: I’m trying to beat Georgia Tech and that will never change. My goal this year, and next year, and the year after that, will be to win every game. And that’s my goal this year. And I’ll never have it go any different than that. Whether that’s realistic or not, that’s for you to judge by my goal is to play Georgia Tech September 21, 3:30 at home and we’ll be ready to play at that day at that time.
Q. Going back to Travis, how tough will it be if he stays at running back all spring; will it be hard for him to go back to defense because the schemes will be so different?
COACH WEIS: Well, he played the whole spring at offense last year and played on defense ?? started on defense first game. So he’s already shown he can do it the other way. He’s already done it the other way. I don’t know how smart that would be, though. What probably is a better answer for me to give on that question is, is he capable of doing that, yes, he is. How intelligent would that be? That probably wouldn’t be the most intelligent move.
Q. Just talk a little about the reason, what you expect of this defense. Is the reason you switch, is it a more aggressive defense; what is the advantage and what do you expect to see from the scheme that you didn’t see last year?
COACH WEIS: You have more position flexibility in this scheme. That’s why it’s become en vogue in the NFL recently and more and more teams are going to it. What happens is ?? I’ll give you an example that will also incorporate a little bit about recruiting into it as well.
When you’re trying to recruit players and you’re an identity, a lot of times you run across those tweener players. Are they a defensive end or are they a linebacker. Now there’s a different type of tweener player when you’re coaching a 4?3 and that’s, are they a safety, or are they an outside linebacker.
So when you’re coaching 3?4, 3?4 personnel, there’s multiple guys in this country that fit that. These guys are pass rushers. These guys are outside linebackers. But really they are too small to play defensive end, or they are too slow to play a 4?3 outside linebacker.
You know, this gives you a lot more flexibility because now, both those guys, both the guys on the outside are capable of being either a defensive end or a linebacker on every play. And this way the defense and the offense really never knows which one is which: Is this guy a linebacker in this play or is he a defensive end on this play? By natural view of that, it causes confusion.
Q. Would you say the more aggressive defense, you’ll be able to do more things ?? are you trying to do more things out of it?
COACH WEIS: Well, you can do plenty out of it. I think it’s going to depend on how our personnel starts to manifest itself with our coaching staff. There’s guys playing different positions, guys that were right on the cusp, are they a defensive end or are they a linebacker. Now they have been identified as what they are. You’ll get the roster today and you’ll see them. You’ll see inside linebackers and outside, you’ll see nose tackles and you’ll see defensive ends. It will be clearly defined at this point where they see them playing.
And this way, now it will also help us as we bring in these other guys that are coming ?? they have come in, how they fit into that system.
Q. You say everyone is full?go, and last time we talked, you said Clausen ??
COACH WEIS: He’s full?go. Contrary to recent reports, he’s full?go, too.
By the way, just so we can clear that one up, the only one who will answer for the health of our players will be me. So next time, we can just keep it that way, because I’ll do the answering for the health of our players.
Q. Based on last spring and maybe some things you’ve evaluated from last season, is there anything that you’re going to differently, are you going to revamp your role at all this spring?
COACH WEIS: Absolutely. I’m going to be heavily almost exclusively involved with the quarterback position. That’s why I hired Corwin. I’m not going to be spending a lot of time on the field worrying about the defense other than when the offense is going against the defense. That’s when I’ll be able to watch the two.
Right now, one of the biggest jobs I have in addition to working with the offensive staff to establish an identity, based off of our personnel, is to make sure we’ve got a quarterback ready to play on September 1, and we will have one ready to go.
Q. You talked a lot about the quarterback. You also have to replace a kicker. Is that something that Ryan could win this spring or because of who you have coming in in the fall, does that out of necessity, you need to wait?
COACH WEIS: Well, in Ryan’s case you need to win it in the spring. Otherwise when competition arrives, he’ll be playing from behind. He’s done some things to get that ?? to get an edge, too. He’s done a few things to help himself.
Q. Last year the slogan of the team was “9?3 was not good enough.” What’s this year’s?
COACH WEIS: “Tradition never graduates.”
I think there’s a built?in excuse he mechanism in place here due to the volume and number of people that we lost here. It’s easy for everyone to say, well, this is a transition year. This is a rebuilding year. You can’t ever think like that. I can’t think like that as a coach and they certainly won’t think like it as players. Not happening.
Q. Because of the youth of this team, is there going to be a little more Jersey rhetoric this spring than in past years?
COACH WEIS: Yes, that would be the short version of that.
Q. And lastly, every year there’s a handful of players that kind of step up that the general public doesn’t know about, for example, Carlson last year, are there a few guys that you’ve noticed have stepped it up with off?season workouts that you’re spending big things from?
COACH WEIS: The heroes from the off?season were Travis and Carlson. They were like men amongst boys. It was not even close for second, but you’ll see some names pop up. Like I don’t want to raise expectations too high but I’ll give you a for instance.
If you ask me to call out like one player, I’ll call out a player like John Ryan. Not too many people know a heck of a lot about John Ryan other than he was a defensive end backing up Victor Abnueri (ph) and now he’s an outside linebacker, and at 6?4, 6?5, 245 pounds, he’s your prototypical 3?4 outside linebacker. Where in a 4?3 defense, I don’t know if he had ever been prototypical either way.
So as we tweak the defensive scheme, a guy like that might find a greater home than they might have had if the defense stayed the same.
Q. Is that strictly schematic?
COACH WEIS: I’m just talking about his body type. I’m not going into anointing him to the college Hall of Fame. I’m just saying, this would be, you know, the type of player that greatly benefits from the system change.
Q. You talked about Travis a lot already, what does that mean for the younger guys ?? inaudible?
COACH WEIS: It’s been fun to watch Mowanda (ph) to tell you the truth because when they are looking for the garbage cans to, I guess, spit, you know, in the off?season, he has not even broken a sweat and they realize, that’s what they are competing against.
So where you come in is the stars, you realize how far you really have to go to be able to compete at this new level.
Q. Can you talk about maybe are you comfortable using three, four guys at that position?
COACH WEIS: I’ll have to see how it works out. There’s always going to be a lead running back. There’s always going to be a lead running back. I think that we talked about establishing an identity; I don’t think you can grab?bag at any position if you’re going to establish an identity.
But are you asking me if I only see one running back playing? No, I think we have too much depth.
Q. Can you talk also about David Grimes and him coming off his procedure and your expectations of him, especially what ?? since what you lost at receiver?
COACH WEIS: It was fun?a couple days before spring break when I said if I don’t see him go full?speed, he’s not going on spring break, he ran around great. It was amazing.
So from what I saw right before spring break, I have very high expectations. Now, because he’s the one receiver coming back with any meaningful experience, I’ve talked to him about Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Patent, Wane Chrebet, I’ve talked to him about a bunch of guys that I’ve coached in the past that have not been the biggest in stature that have been very, very, very productive and productive as in the lead roles.
So I think that he understands very clearly that height is not significant to me because I’ve coached tall ones and I’ve coached small ones. Really doesn’t make a difference. I just like to coach good ones.
Q. Did you see a point last year where he became more consistent throwing the ball?
COACH WEIS: Oh, I think that he became more consistent throwing the ball as the year went on. I don’t think it was like just overnight, one thing happening. I think that the more comfortable he felt ?? it was never a question of whether or not he could throw the ball or not. He threw it plenty in high school. The more comfortable he felt, the better he threw. Because normally the first thing you notice with a quarterback that is the greatest telling tale physically is accuracy. And usually you become more accurate when you have more familiarity with what you’re doing, and that’s exactly what I saw last year.
Q. Talking about going to four from two quarterbacks, do you envision having a starter and backup defined out of the spring, or do you think it will be two guys who will compete for the job after that?
COACH WEIS: I doubt that it will be ?? in only 15 practices, I doubt that it will be that clear?cut where one guy pulls that far away. I’m hoping, I’m using two as the number I would like to get it to in my mind. But I’m hoping I get it to two that can battle it off for one in training camp. I’m hoping just to get to two that are at least ahead of other two. I don’t know whether it’s going to play out that way but that’s what I’m hoping for.
Not to go off on a tangent, I don’t see one guy pulling away that clearly in spring ball.
Q. Both working harder in the summer to learn the playbook ?? inaudible?
COACH WEIS: I think there’s definitely merit in that statement.
Q. You mentioned younger guys that you did not see much of last year because they were on the scout team, but have you seen anything from Carufel or Olsen, what have you seen from both of them that gives them an opportunity to earn the No. 1 spot coming out of the spring?
COACH WEIS: Well, with Carufel, Olsen and let me throw Wenger (ph) in there in addition, because they are all inside players. Bartley is an outside player, but those three guys, the most encouraging, and I said this in December during Bowl practices when I talked about the offensive line, I was encouraged, probably the most encouraging thing I saw from the younger guys were the play of the interior freshmen offensive linemen. That was problem the most encouraging thing I saw.
So I would think that, you know, and I’m throwing wanter into that mix along with Carufel and Olsen, I think that those three guys know that their time is now. Their time isn’t, you know, two years from now. Their time is now, and I think that they are physically and mentally capable of being in that position this year.
Q. What did you see from those guys that was encouraging?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, they are big and strong, and I think that’s half the battle. Because, you know, when you’re playing with less experienced guys, the more you can take the physical approach, the more you can say we’re going to go smack the guy in front of us, that’s the easiest thing for them to understand. And either you can do it or you can’t do it.
They all have shown the capability of being able to do that.
Q. You had given an explanation of the 3?4 outside linebacker being a tweener, what about the inside with Laws, how does that change?
COACH WEIS: Well, at defensive end now, you’d like to be in that, you know, higher weight, 280, 290,300 pounds. In the past we’ve been playing some guys inside that have been 250, 260. Now we’ll try to deal with the three inside positions, the nose tackle which you’d like to get some girth to them, okay, or just brute strength.
But between the nose tackle which is more the team that gets double?teamed more than any other position in this defense, versus the defensive end, what you’d want is you don’t want tweeners playing defensive end in this defense. You want guys like, you know, Trevor is 295 or somewhere in that neighborhood. I mean, guys that can play against those big ‘ol tackles when you’re lining up against those tackles a whole bunch of times.
COACH WEIS: Only if their athleticism shows that they can do that.
For example, I’ve seen 3?4 defenses, and once against, it’s personnel, not the scheme, but I’ve seen 3?4 defenses where the right outside linebacker stays on the right side and the left outside linebacker says on the left side. And I have also seen where they flip?flopped, based off of the strength, based off of where the tight end goes. That is way too early for us to make a determination on which one of those tacts we will take.
And the same thing would be true by the way for the defensive ends. I’ve seen them play strong and weak or right and left.