March 29, 2000
LISA NELSON: First of all, we’d like to apologize for the technical difficulty that we’ve had. We are going to start with the spring football press conference. Just a few announcements before we begin.
The first practice will be Saturday beginning at 9:45 AM concluding at 2:15 in the afternoon. Practice will be open for the first 15 minutes to photographers. Other than that, all practices are closed to the media except for practices on April 14th and 15.
The Blue-Gold game is scheduled for April 29. Ticket information is still not available on that and we will let you know that as soon as we have that. The format will be some opening comments from Coach Davie and we will take some questions from callers on the telephone and then we will take our in-person guests will have questions. At the end of this there will be a transcription available upon request.
I will now turn it over to Coach Davie.
COACH DAVIE: Well, first of all, this is obviously not a sign of what’s to come, not an omen, the way we started, at least I hope.
We are certainly anxious to get started, and as always at this time of the year, you know, you say you’re anxious to get started, but it never really ends. You know, I’d really like to thank our players for the effort they have given through the off-season. It seems like an awfully long time since we’ve played. When you think back, I guess that was the end at November when we were out at Stanford. Obviously, when you finish your season the way we finished, it really seems like a long time, because the great thing about sports is you always get a chance to go play again. But when you lose late in the season, as we did, it’s an awfully long time until you have that chance to play again.
So we’re all looking forward to the spring. Hopefully we don’t have to hear 5-7 again once we get started with spring practice, I doubt it, but maybe that will be the last time we have to answer questions about that.
But we are anxious to get going. I think especially the players, because as I have mentioned, you know, it’s been a pretty grueling off-season for them, but they have done everything we have asked. I think this group has been — has done a tremendous job, knock-on-wood, off the field, there’s not been any incidents. Academically, things are going well, and Mickey in the off-season program has done exceptionally well. So it’s great to get started.
And I think we have a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Of course, I realize at this time of year, all over the country, everyone is optimistic. Every team in NCAA football is 0-0 right now and that’s the great thing about the spring, everybody has a fresh start. There’s a lot of positions open. And everyone is optimistic.
But I think more than just in a general — generalities of why you’re optimistic of when the spring starts I think there is some specific things. We’ve got some continuity on the coaching staff which is important. A year ago at this time we were sitting here and we had a whole new offensive staff, that was a big transition for us. A year ago at this time, as you know, we had four vacancies on the offensive line. We only had really two players that had ever started a game on the offensive line, two new tailbacks we were looking for.
So with the continuity in the coaching staff, with the returning players we have and the experience we have, I think there’s good reason for us to be optimistic. When you have the staff in place, when you had continuity, you know, it’s nice that every moment of your time has been spent on looking at your football team, finding specific ways to improve, rather than trying to get everybody on the same page and implementing new schemes. So we have is he certainly taken advantage of that.
I mentioned the returning players. The great thing about that is there is competition at just about every position on our team, particularly at tailback where we have three players that I think all have a chance to be a starter. At fullback, we may have four players that have a chance to be a starter offensive line, wide receiver, and particularly on the secondary on defense there is an awful lot of competition.
The priorities for us going into the spring, I think No. 1, continue to build. Build so that we gain momentum for the gall fall. And what I mean by that is you don’t come out of a season where you had 15 surgeries and probably four or five other players that if it was five or ten years ago would have had surgery. You know, we had some knee injuries there that didn’t require surgery, but they were pretty substantial injuries. But you don’t come out of a situation like that where you had 15 surgeries and just go about spring the way you normally would.
You know, we are fortunate in that we had the surgeries, we have been able to rehab through the off-season. We mentioned last year at the end of the season, I don’t know if we could have played another game, if we’d have enough bodies. But because of not going to a Bowl game, obviously we had that extra time to rehab and we have some players that will be out there. Really, Ryan Roberts is the only player that is going to miss any time or miss all the time. He had surgery on his back. All the other shoulder surgeries and things will be out there, but we’ve really got to be smart about how much contract and how much true, live scrimmage work we have.
I think just continue to build. And we do have a little different situation because of some of these rehabilitation. As a team, I think it’s pretty simple. We have to eliminate giving up the big plays that we had that problem on defense last year.
The second thing, we’ve got to eliminate the turnovers on offense. I don’t think there’s anything that takes the wind out of you in football is those two things. When you turn the football over as we did last year, a lot, when you give up big plays on defense, it’s hard to just maintain that passion when you have those two big things happen to you.
No. 1 priority, without a doubt is improving our defense. At the end of last season, we really bottomed out, for a lot of different reasons. We had a lot of unfortunate things happen, but the bottom line is at the end of the year we couldn’t stop people and because of that we couldn’t win football games. If you look at the Stanford game, if you look at the Boston College game, even the Pittsburgh game, we scored enough points that we could have and should have one. So our No. 1 priority is to rebuild our defense.
If you look closely, break the defense down, I think it’s going to start with pass defense, improving that. But I’m much more optimistic, probably since I’ve been in Notre Dame in the athleticism we have at secondary getting Brock Williams back, Tony Driver back, those are two players that started two years ago for us that didn’t play at all last year secondary.
Offensively, to think the priorities are becoming consistent in your running game. That’s something last year that just because of the use on our offensive line and later in the year the injuries, we never were consistent running the football, and for us to win here we have to be consistent running it.
As I mentioned, the turnovers. And I think just our overall execution and overall consistency on offense. We did a lot of good things on offense at times. Statistically we were pretty strong but we had kind of hit-or-miss style offense. We really weren’t that consistent.
I could go through position by position, but I’m sure it would be much easier and save us some time if I just took some specific questions. So at this time what we can do is just open the outside lines for questions and I’ll just answer them right here on the phone.
Q. With the way you finished last year defensively, is this spring a time of just trying to get better at what you — the scheme you have been using or is this a time to try to experiment with anything new or just try to add some wrinkles to the existing scheme?
COACH DAVIE: The question was, with the way we finished last year on defense, is spring a time to maybe look at new scheme or really just to improve on the things we’ve done within our scheme.
And I think to answer that, it’s really a little bit of both. Certainly, we spent every second since the end of the season looking at what we did scheme-wise, personnel-wise, technique-wise. It’s probably a combination of both, but I would say it would be more of not what we did, but how we did it. Improving on the things that you think sometimes are the little things, which is tackling — I think at the end of the season we really had a difficult time tackling. We had a difficult time in our techniques as far as just man-to-man coverage techniques in the secondary.
You know, so to answer the question, obviously a little bit of everything, but much more geared on the execution and the accountability of our players towards each other.
LISA NELSON: Due to technical difficulties you’re not going to be able to hear the questions, so we want to thank you and we appreciate everything. Thank you.