April 17, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Big plays on both sides of the ball were the order of the day as the Notre Dame football team continued its spring season with a high-octane two-hour practice Saturday afternoon at Cartier Field. Although temperatures soared well over 80 degrees in South Bend, the real heat was seen on the field where the intensity and emotion levels produced solid results from both the offensive and defensive units.
The Irish spent a good portion of Saturday’s practice scrimmaging in different situations with officials on hand to keep order. However, the zebras didn’t wind up tossing many penalty flags during the course of the day as Notre Dame showed good discipline with just three fouls. The Irish did work on their red zone offense, as well as situations where the offense was backed up inside its own five-yard line. The team then closed out the session with a 35-minute full-field scrimmage that saw the first- and second-team units splitting time almost equally.
In the red zone scrimmage, the offense drew first blood as senior tight end Jerome Collins caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn on the first play. However, the defense rose up and shut down their counterparts on three of the next four possessions. Junior defensive end Chris Frome ended one drive with a leaping interception of a Pat Dillingham pass, while senior defensive lineman Matt Hasbrook broke through for a sack to quash another series. Sophomore kickers Bobby Renkes and Craig Cardillo did give the offense some additional points, booting field goals from 34 and 40 yards, respectively.
Following some additional drills, the Irish offense set up at its own three-yard line with the goal of creating some breathing room in its own end of the field. They got that and much more on the first play from scrimmage, as senior fullback Rashon Powers-Neal burst through the line and raced 97 yards for a touchdown, outracing sophomore defensive back Tom Zbikowski over the final 20 yards. Senior running back Ryan Grant also performed well in this scrimmage, carrying three times for 27 yards and two first downs, while junior wide receiver Rhema McKnight hauled in a 45-yard pass from Quinn. All told, the Irish running game piled up 130 yards on 10 carries in the drill.
The afternoon ended with a full-contact scrimmage that had the offensive unit beginning at its own 20-yard line. Again, the Irish wasted little time in finding pay dirt, as Quinn connected with junior wideout Maurice Stovall on an 80-yard touchdown one play into the series. Then, the second-teamers came on, and Dillingham looked sharp, completing all four of his passes for 81 yards, capping the drive with a six-yard scoring toss to senior wide receiver Carlyle Holiday. Senior tight end Jared Clark had the big play in the series, taking a short pass from Dillingham and going 60 yards deep into defensive territory.
The defense came back with impressive performances on its next two series, holding the offense to a net total of five yards gained. On the final series of the day, Dillingham marched his squad near midfield, connecting with Holiday and sophomore wide receiver Jeff Samardzija on key third-down passes to keep the drive going. However, the defense got the final say in the scrimmage, as sophomore defensive back LaBrose Hedgemon II picked off Dillingham’s pass and went 54 yards untouched down the left sideline for the touchdown as his defensive teammates celebrated.
Despite the interception, the Irish quarterbacks wound up completing 11 of 14 passes for 197 yards with two touchdowns and the one pick in the final scrimmage of the day. Samardzija caught two passes for 21 yards, while Holiday had two receptions for 18 yards. As a unit, the offense also converted three times on five third-down opportunities.
Notre Dame will take Sunday off before coming back on Monday for another practice session at Cartier Field. The Irish also will work out on Tuesday and Thursday before next weekend’s 75th annual Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium — kickoff time is 1:30 p.m. (EST).
— ND —
NOTES: There were several familiar faces in attendance at Saturday’s practice, including former All-America center Jeff Faine (a 2002 first-round NFL Draft pick and starter for the Cleveland Browns) and recently-departed free safety Glenn Earl, who will be keeping an eye on next weekend’s NFL Draft. Earl is one of nine Notre Dame players who could be selected into the professional ranks during the two-day draft, which will be televised on ESPN and ESPN2.The other Irish players who could picked are defensive tackle Darrell Campbell, cornerback/kick returner Vontez Duff, nose guard Cedric Hilliard, wide receiver Omar Jenkins, running back Julius Jones, offensive tackle Jim Molinaro, placekicker/punter Nicholas Setta and linebacker Courtney Watson.