Back on the field
Pat Leonard | Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Defensive line coach Greg Mattison was ready to hike the football on a ball pursuit drill when he noticed a defensive player ready in an incorrect stance.”Get set,” he said.The player adjusted himself and readjusted. Mattison refused to resume his count at quarterback until every player was set. The drill dragged on, and before he could hike the ball, a whistle blew.Head coach Tyrone Willingham stepped towards the action, took the whistle out of his mouth and made it simple.”Run it again,” he said.The Irish started spring practice with the first of 15 practices Monday afternoon at the Loftus Sports Complex. The team will practice into the month of April and will end spring football with the annual Blue-and-Gold game on April 24 at Notre Dame Stadium.Beginning on day one, Willingham wanted his team starting with the basics and working with the knowledge that every practice matters.”We just want to get started and get back,” Willingham said. “We want to come out and always have a great deal of intensity, and we want to hustle and do all the things a good football team does from a fundamental standpoint. It’s been more fundamentals today than anything else.”The senior leadership and Willingham are on the same page. Senior linebackers Derek Curry and Mike Goolsby view the spring as a time to improve on the little things that will make summer workouts and practices leading up to the season that much more productive.”Our goal is definitely to be more fundamentally sound,” senior linebacker Derek Curry said. “Last year, we played good at times, but if we had been more fundamentally sound we could have played well across the board all the time. That’s one thing the spring really is for … you have time to get back to the basics.”Goolsby, who sat out last season due to injury, understands a team coming off a rough season needs to begin its basic preparation in the spring.”Every time you have kind of an off-season or anything bad happens, you try to get back where you’d like to be,” he said. “You start from the bottom up. One of the things coach talked about earlier, especially defensively, was getting that attitude back that we had a couple years ago; getting everybody to the ball and making big plays. And if you start with that attitude, that’s a good starting point.”On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Brady Quinn stepped onto the field and -while not a seasoned veteran -took charge of an offense as a second-year starter.”I think we expect more of each other,” he said. “Though it’s the first day of practice, we expect to execute and get our job done. So a lot of that comes with experience.”The Irish return fourteen starters, with eight on offense and six coming back on defense, including Curry, Goolsby and Quinn. Spring practice starts early, however, and the taste of a 5-7 season in the mouths of these and all of the players still lingers.”If you’re a competitor it’s still going to be there,” senior running back Ryan Grant said. “That’s obviously a motivation for next year. But at the same time, you’ve got to be able to move forward and realize that we don’t need that to happen again. So I think we’re going about the right steps and doing what we need to do.”Remembering last season can cause players to become anxious, but the senior leadership on this Irish team has shown its face on the first day of spring practice and helped the team remain focused on the task at hand, on the important stuff – on the fundamentals.”It’s really hard to kind of take it a day at a time, but that’s really what you have to do,” Curry said. “We have a lot of expectations, but we do know that each and every day of the spring matters and we have to take that attitude. “We can’t look at Michigan yet. We can’t look at summer workouts. We have to look each day [at what] we do now.”
Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Kyle Budinscak did not practice because they are trying to recover from offseason surgeries. They may not practice the entire spring.
Defensive back Quentin Burrell practiced, but participated only in non-contact drills and did not wear pads.