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FOOTBALL:A fresh start

Matt Puglisi | Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Reflecting the optimism that accompanied both unusually warm weather and the start of a new season, Notre Dame football officially kicked off its 2005 campaign with its first spring practice Tuesday afternoon at Cartier Field.It didn’t take long for the demanding style characteristic of new Irish head coach Charlie Weis to emerge – the first group ran the first play of the afternoon three consecutive times before Weis was satisfied.”I thought we started out slow – I think that the effort level was very good, but my expectations for execution early on are very high,” Weis said. “Right from the beginning, if you just let a rep go by without trying to correct it, you’re sending the wrong message.”Weis stressed that while he asks a lot from his players – even on the first day of spring practice – the players understand the intentions behind the aggressive approach.”I think that the number one thing is for the players to know that you’re not being condescending and demeaning,” Weis said. “I think that’s important that they know when you’re getting on them, you’re getting on them to raise their expectations because it just isn’t good enough. They get the message, and I think that’s the important thing.”Sophomore wide receiver Jeff Samardzija fully expects the Irish to deliver on Weis’ demands.”He’s a straightforward guy – he tells you what he thinks, and he tells you what he wants,” Samardzija said. “He expects to get that from his players, and we expect to give that to him.”While practice may have started on the wrong foot, Weis was ultimately encouraged by what he saw on both sides of the ball.Specifically, Weis was pleased to see a more holistic, team-oriented defensive style that the new coaching staff has emphasized.”The number one thing I saw on defense – one of the things that [defensive coordinator] Rick [Minter] and the defensive staff were trying to stress – was getting 11 guys running to the ball,” Weis said. “I really think that shows one major step towards being an unselfish defense where instead of looking to highlight and grandstand and pointing out to the crowd that you made a play, let’s go party with your teammates – that was very refreshing to see.”In addition to positive signs on the defensive side of the ball, a number of offensive players provided cause for optimism.However, Weis cautioned that spring practice – especially the first day – is a little different than Saturday afternoon.”There were several skills guys that I was both intrigued by and excited about that I’ve seen out there,” Weis said. “But this is in shorts without pads on, so I’m trying not to do cartwheels.”If there was one major source of disappointment for Weis, it was the lack of relatively unknown players that stepped up and made the coaching staff take notice Tuesday.”The biggest problem I had today was not seeing enough people that I don’t know that much about making statements for themselves,” Weis said. “If I’m going to have this open door policy where everyone has a fair chance to make a name for themselves, you’d like some people to stand out.”With Notre Dame spring practice officially underway, the next step is simply to build on what has been accomplished the day before.”We set the bar, and now we have a long ways to go,” Irish offensive coordinator Michael Haywood said. “That bar is a little low right now, but with the kids’ attitudes and expectations, I think we can raise it up each and every day we go out to practice.”Notesu Three Irish players – running back Justin Hoskins, defensive end Ronald Talley and offensive guard James Bonelli – did not participate Tuesday.”As of this time, they’re not participating with us for violating team rules – that’s as far as I’m going to go with that subject,” Weis said. “We’ll see how that goes at a later date.”u Weis said that Ron Powlus, the director of personnel development, will be substituting for assistant head coach David Cutcliffe during spring practice. Cutcliffe is at home recovering from heart surgery.”I went to the NCAA, and I applied to add a ninth guy onto the field so that I could have somebody that could help monitor the quarterbacks,” Weis said. “I felt that the guys after [starting quarterback Brady] Quinn would not get much coaching if I was spending all my time with Quinn. The NCAA granted that relief – that will be the case throughout the entire spring.”