Senior defensive end Justin Tuck, a 2004 Hendricks Award candidate, is one of the vocal leaders on this year's Irish squad.

Football Practice Report - Day Seven

Aug. 16, 2004

While the outside air temperature rises on the west side of Notre Dame’s campus, the intensity of the Irish football team practices have followed suit. Surprised by 60-degree weather during the first week of camp, Notre Dame entered its second two-a-day workout on Monday, Aug. 16, on another beautiful Northern Indiana day with 80-degree temperatures. In full pads for the first practice of the day from 8:45 a.m. to 11 a.m., the Irish concentrated on making sure each individual and team workout was executed with enthusiasm and intensity. That high energy level carried over to the afternoon practice. Despite dressing in “shells” (shoulder pads and shorts), the hitting remained solid and many players, especially the Irish defensive backs, were reinforcing the concept of “playing through the whistle.” Yet, each time the players ran from one drill to another, they were seen smiling and eager to keep the intensity and adrenaline flowing. One of the most vocal players on the Irish team so far in preseason camp has been senior defensive end Justin Tuck. A visit to the practice field would not be complete without Tuck and his fellow defensive players talking it up with their offensive counterparts across the line of scrimmage. All football players love to hit and Tuck, who continues on the pace for a full recovery from a knee injury suffered late last season, embraces the opportunity to unleash his immense athletic ability on every play. Q: How does your knee feel? Tuck: “It feels very good. Today was the best it has felt in a long time.” Q: What do you personally focus on in each practice? Tuck: “No letdowns. That is the big thing with two-a-days. You might have a good first practice and have a let down in the second one. You are only as good as your last practice. You know it is going to be hard. If it is not hard, it would not be two-a-days. A stress for us is to focus on what we are doing right now. We need to put together a string of good practices. If we practice well, then mediocre, that is not helping us.” Q: On paper, the defensive end position looks like it is loaded with talent in 2004. What do you think of the defensive ends as a unit? Tuck: “It is going to be a strong point for our defense. I am loving Chris Frome. I am loving Travis (Leitko) and Victor (Abiamiri). That is going to be a good rotation. If one player gets tired, Coach (Greg) Mattison already said that he will not hesitate to put somebody else in and give a guy a break. That will be a big plus for our defense.” Q: As a sophomore and junior, working on stopping the run as well as rushing the passer was something you concentrated on. Are you proud of your development as a run stopper? Tuck: “That was a big key coming into last year as far as developing into a full player, not just a pass rusher. There is always room for improvement. I am still working at it.” Q: You go up against the offensive line every day, what is your opinion of their development as a unit? Tuck: “Our offensive line is going to surprise some people. Ryan Harris has made giant steps. He is one of our best offensive linemen and every time I am out there I tell him `I am coming after you’. I want to go at the best our offensive line has got and right now, he is it. (Mark) LeVoir is 6-8, 330 pounds so you know he is going to be a beast.” Q: You are one of the more vocal players during practice, is that something on which you have focused? Where do you see your leadership role with the team? Tuck: “I think I am still a kid a little bit. I would pick (Mike) Goolsby and D.C. (Derek Curry), along with (Greg) Pauly as leaders of the defense. I would not pick myself as `the leader.’ We have a lot of leaders, count in Brandon Hoyte as well. It is not as big of a deal as it seems (to be vocal). Coach Willingham came to a lot of us, not just me, and asked us to be more vocal. That is what we are trying to do, leading by example and motivating the team. So far, our defense has stepped up to that challenge.” Head Coach Tyrone Willingham Coach Willingham speaks to the media after each preseason practice. Here are some of his comments on Monday, Aug. 16: Q: How do you get the players to fight through the “dog days” of camp and keep things pointed in the right direction? Willingham: “As a coach, you try to find segments of practice that players get excited about. We have a two-minute drill, we have a short yardage drill … those are areas that take the mundane aspect of what you do out and get the players energized and charged for that. So if you provide the players with those kind of segments, then they try to pick it up, but it’s still tough. That’s what makes camp so difficult is the fact that you have to drive through those low points of injuries and fatigue.” Q: Who are some of the vocal leaders that are pushing guys, patting them on the back and keeping them going? Willingham: “I think we’re blessed that not only do we have vocal leaders, but there are guys who lead by example and I think you have to have both. You’ve got the Derek Currys, the (Mike) Goolsbys, the (Brandon) Hoytes, the (Corey) Mays. We’ve also got the (Bob) Mortons, the (Maurice) Stovalls, the (Rhema) McKnights that give us both sides of that coin, which really makes for a good leadership.” Q: Has anyone surprised you in this leadership role, maybe someone you didn’t quite expect? Willingham: “No, I think our guys, by in large, are stepping up. And the first thing when we talk to our football team about leadership, the first person you have to lead is yourself. That’s the number one ingredient – before you can lead anybody else, you have to be doing all the things right and I think we’re getting a lot of guys that are giving us that kind of effort. Not all of them are stepping up into the vocal leadership roles, but they’re all giving us good effort.” Q: What do you think about how Chinedum (Ndukwe) has accepted the challenge of switching positions (from receiver to safety) and excelling there? Willingham: “I am not surprised. He is an excellent athlete that could be a receiver for us, but because of our need and really, when you look at the modern game of football, somewhere in your secondary, you need a big safety. You need an enforcer and he has that kind of personality. He is not intimidated one iota about making contact and establishing his presence. Probably the great thing for us is we had to slow him down and tell him to back off a little bit from being physical. That’s what you want to do as a coach – you want to tell guys to slow down. You don’t want to have to tell them to speed up.” Q: Where is Carlyle (Holiday) right now in terms of going from a receiver who might be more suited for specific plays to moving into more of a complete role where he can expand his playbook? Willingham: “He’s already done that. He’s been a part of almost everything that we’ve done from day one. That’s the luxury of having that move come from a quarterback position that he knew a lot of the stuff. But it’s still new … all of a sudden when you line up out wide, it’s still a transition, something you haven’t done. But I’ve been very pleased about what he’s doing and how he’s been able to acclimate himself to not just one role, but now to be able to run your curls, your posts, your take-offs, your corners and all those things – he’s starting to be able to do that.”

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