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FOOTBALL: Offensive players grasping Weis’ playbook

Pat Leonard | Monday, April 11, 2005

Charlie Weis has dipped his hands completely into Notre Dame’s offense.”It’s a good thing that I have a dependable, veteran group of defensive coaches,” Weis said, “because I’m not down there as much as I’d like to be with as much time as I’m spending on offense.”Though Weis made special teams the main focus of Saturday’s practice in Notre Dame Stadium, the head coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator constantly sprinkled in aspects of the offensive system he is trying to implement.So far, running back Darius Walker says it’s working.”Individually, I feel I have a great grasp on what the playbook is like and what coach Weis is looking for when I’m out there,” Walker said.Walker, quarterback Brady Quinn and several receivers spent much of the practice standing straight and still at their positions as Weis explained side adjustments, motion exchanges and various sets. The coach walked back and forth between the hash marks, pointing his players to specific spots in explaining how to handle blitz packages, among other scenarios.”I think Brady’s gotten plenty of attention, and I think the other guys have gotten more mental reps than physical reps,” Weis said. “There’s definitely been some progress.”When players are getting physical reps, wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said groups like the receivers have to perform at a high level to attract Weis’ attention and to gain favor in the coach’s ever-evolving playbook.”Coach [Rob] Ianello made the point that when we get three or four [receivers] out there at a time, we’ve gotta take advantage of it,” Samardzija said. “We gotta show [Weis] when we’re out there that he wants us that there and that he can work with it the whole game or however long he needs it.”In his offensive system, Weis traditionally identifies a defense’s weak points and then pins those weaknesses against the strengths of his offense. For that to happen with Notre Dame, Weis first must understand the strengths of the Irish offense.That is why he is experimenting with a variety of formations, including trips, four-wide and the three-tight end.On Saturday, the offense did its first couple repetitions of the three-tight end set. Tight ends John Carlson and Anthony Fasano lined up on the left and right ends of the line, respectively. Marcus Freeman then went in motion from left to right, stopping behind quarterback Quinn, and blocked for Walker on a straight-ahead run play.Samardzija liked the look of Weis’ variety.”If we’re three tights, there’s really no letdown three-wide,” he said. “It’s a tough position for Coach, because he’s gotta weigh his options.”As Weis weighs his options, the game plan evolves and the coach takes more time out of practice to coach stationary players instead of simply watching physical reps. Walker said the players have taken to Weis’ style thus far and responded with excitement.”Coming from the NFL and in turn with the success he’s had, a lot of us think if we can know the game like him, then we can be just as successful,” Walker said. “In a sense, yes, coach Weis is a very good teacher and very good leader. But I think with his success, it kind of gravitates us towards him and makes us want to learn.”

NotesuD.J. Fitzpatrick was waiting in the back of the north end zone to punt Saturday when the snap sailed over his head and through the goal posts for a safety. But no worry. The special teams blunder was intentional.Weis made his team take the safety, and on another play he had Quinn turn and throw a spiral out of his own end zone – all in an attempt to make his players think on their feet come game time.”Those situations were all end of game situations,” Weis said. “I described it to the players: if you’re up by six, and you take a safety, you’re up by four and a field goal still doesn’t tie you. So taking a safety sometimes is a smart, strategic move.”uOn another occasion, Weis told Quinn to throw an incomplete pass and signaled for the defense to call timeout. No one on the defense was fooled, and none of them obeyed their coach’s orders, since an incomplete stops the clock and does not warrant a timeout in an end-game situation.”We were talking about situations where I want our team to be a smart football team,” Weis said. “I wanted to see what the reaction was gonna be when I called timeout. I expected them to screw it up there, but they reacted to it.”