Notre Dame held its first two-a-day practice session of the 2004 preseason on Saturday.

Football Practice Report - Day Five

Aug. 14, 2004

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Ask any football player what they dread the most about preseason camp and inevitably, the response is the same — two-a-day practices. However, that didn’t seem to be the case at all for the Notre Dame football team, which went through its first dual-practice day of the preseason on Saturday. In fact, most observers would agree that the final hour of the second practice provided some of the most spirited action of the day, and perhaps even the entire fall camp. That last hour in the afternoon was devoted primarily to situational plays, with the various first and second team units rotating on a regular basis. After a couple of early long strikes by the Notre Dame offense, the Irish defense rose up and began to assert itself, both physically and vocally. Although the team was practicing in “shells” (shoulder pads and shorts), one wouldn’t know it by the hitting that took place, as the Notre Dame defenders let it be known that every yard would have to be earned the hard way. Some of the more heated battles came “in the trenches” as the offensive and defensive lines took turns fighting for the upper hand. On several occasions, the rapidly-developing Irish offensive line pried open some large holes for the running backs to knife through, leading to some shouts of encouragement from Notre Dame offensive line coaches John McDonell and Mike Denbrock. Other times, the defensive line got the best of the scrimmage tussles, resulting in a pat on the helmet from defensive line coach Greg Mattison. A few familiar faces also were spotted on the sidelines on Saturday. With the enshrinement ceremonies at the College Football Hall of Fame taking place this weekend in South Bend, former Notre Dame quarterback and ’04 enshrinee Joe Theismann appeared at the afternoon practice session. In the morning, another of this year’s enshrinees, former Iowa head coach Hayden Fry, was among those on hand, along with ’01 enshrinee and Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Lanier. The Irish will return to the gridiron Sunday afternoon for a single practice before another two-a-day session on Monday. Head Coach Tyrone Willingham Coach Willingham speaks to the media after each preseason practice. Here are some of his comments on Saturday, Aug. 14: On the the early preseason play by junior wide receiver Rhema McKnight… “Rhema is so talented that if you get the ball near him, he’s going to make some great catches. He makes the kind of plays that only a truly special athlete can make. For us as coaches, it’s our responsibility to tailor our system in such a way that we can take advantage of his talents.” On the development of the offensive line… “It’s still early in fall camp, but I think it’s safe to say they are making progress. They are still getting familiar with one another and with the system, but they are doing a better job of understanding and instinctively reading off each other, which is good to see.” On whether or not starters have emerged on the offensive line… “I think we came into the preseason with starters somewhat in place. There are some positions where we’re still getting some movement, but we as coaches kind of had an idea that this is the lineup we wanted to go with. Now, do the players live up to that? Is there someone who has come on that has been a pleasant surprise and adds something to the mix that we’ve not yet seen? But I think when you’re coming into camp and you have a group that you know takes a lot of time to jell, and most offensive lines take three to four years to develop, then you want to try to give that group as much time together as possible right from the beginning.” On whether any players have separated themselves at certain positions… “Again, it’s very, very early. I think probably the middle of next week is where you start to see guys really get comfortable and really start to assert themselves. Plus, at about that time, that’s when you start to kick back on some of the installation to a degree and now, a guy gets a chance to repeat something. So the learning process is still ongoing, even for veterans.” On the health of the team through the first week of camp… “I would say it’s okay. We expected some bumps and some bruises, some sickness and all the other things that come along with fall camp. So far, we are okay.” On the potential for Rashon Powers-Neal to return to halfback versus the other halfbacks who currently are behind Ryan Grant… “I don’t know enough right now about the development of the other players — that will still be ongoing. But as far as Rashon is concerned, we know that based on what he demonstrated during the spring, he has the ability to do some things for us at the halfback position. So therefore, if we need him, we can make that adjustment. But right now, I’m going to wait and see what comes out of our younger guys (Travis Thomas, Marcus Wilson, Justin Hoskins and Darius Walker) — really, what comes out of that group will determine what we need to do and what adjustments we should have to make as coaches.”