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Options aplenty

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Irish secondary will be deep, but more importantly, everyone on the chart can step onto the field at any time.”Sometimes you have numbers, but those guys aren’t ready to get on the field,” defensive backs coach Steven Wilks said. “We have a lot of guys that could possibly step on the field and help us out this year.” Leading the way could be senior free safety Quentin Burrell. Burrell is one of the most experienced of the group, recording 58 tackles, including 39 solos in 2003, while intercepting four passes and recovering two fumbles. He was thrust into a starting role last season after a season-ending injury to Glenn Earl, starting the last nine games.”Quentin is a proven football player. He’s having an excellent camp since he’s been back,” Wilks said of the senior who was sidelined with an injury earlier.Head coach Tyrone Willingham is also high on the senior leader.”Early in camp, we missed Quentin Burrell,” Willingham said. “He’s kind of a senior guy back there that’s played, that’s had some success, so you miss him. “Getting him back in there should add something to us, from the standpoint of leadership in terms of communication, leadership in terms of play and just overall the maturity it takes to be a veteran player.”Competing for time at safety will be sophomore Tom Zbikowski. After not playing last fall, he was named the Defensive Player of the Game in the Blue-Gold game in the spring. Zbikowski was also a USA Today first-team All-American in high school. Also in the mix at safety will be 6-foot, 202-pound sophomore Freddie Parish, who played in 10 games last season. These two are joined by 6-foot-2, 223-pound classmate Chinedum Ndukwe, who switched to safety after playing wide receiver as a freshman.”Right now, everybody’s really competing,” Wilks said. “Nothing’s really set in stone. I think that’s a great thing to have from a coaching standpoint, because you still got guys that are hungry and still trying to play. “Tommy Zbikowski is right there in the mix as well as Chinedum [Ndukwe] and Freddie Parish, So, we have some great safeties that are going to all play this year.”On the corners, senior Dwight Ellick leads a group that lost Vontez Duff and Jason Beckstrom from 2003. Ellick and Burrell will be looked upon as the veterans of this group.”Experience, you can’t substitute that,” Wilks said of his veterans. “So they bring the knowledge of the game, they bring experience from being in the heat of battle. They let these young guys know exactly what it’s going to take to get out there and compete. So they’ve really [embraced] being the leaders, not only from a standpoint of football, but even off the football field in the meeting room as well. So they bring a lot right now to the table.”Also competing for time is senior Carlos Campbell, who switched to defensive back from wide receiver, and red-shirt freshman Ambrose Wooden, who did the same. “Those guys are right there in the mix, which is exciting for me as a coach, that those guys are up there and competing and have the opportunity to play because we’re going to need them,” Wilks said. Competition for starting sports will continue until Sept. 4, when the Irish face BYU in the opener.”I always encourage competition,” Wilks said. “And we always emphasize and talk about nothing is final right now, which it’s not. So those guys are still trying to do the little things right, trying make plays, trying not to make mistakes. They’re competing with one another, without a doubt.”Notesu The Irish moved practice inside to Loftus Sports Center after strong thunderstorms arrived about halfway through practice Wednesday.u Senior running back Ryan Grant was in shoulder pads but not participating in team drills Wednesday.”That’s the first sign, starting to get back and get closer,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. “We didn’t put him in any team plays, but still, he was being active, and he’s starting to get closer to the lineup.”