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Weis’ first year also provides Quinn’s biggest test

Pat Leonard | Friday, August 26, 2005

Brady Quinn’s been here before.

On Sept. 27, 2003, in his first career start on the road against Purdue, Quinn was in the exact same position as he will be come Sept. 3 against Pittsburgh.

He was playing away from home. He was at a new level of football than he’d been accustomed to the year prior (at Dublin-Coffman High School in Ohio). He was learning a new offense on-the-go.

But in 2003, Quinn was also a freshman.

Yes, he took his bumps (four interceptions against Purdue) and bruises (Notre Dame did not make a bowl). Critics fabricated a quarterback controversy and argued whether it was wise to throw Quinn into the fire.

But few people – if any – have pointed the finger at Quinn for Notre Dame’s mishaps or its 11-13 record over the past two seasons.

Beginning with his 59 pass attempts against Purdue and ending this spring in a brief Blue-Gold game appearance, Quinn has had the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card in the game of Notre Dame Football monopoly.

But now, with a championship-caliber offense in town under a head coach who specializes with quarterbacks, all eyes will focus on how well the junior – voted team co-captain with fifth-year linebacker Brandon Hoyte – can lead Notre Dame back to where everyone in and around the program expects it to be.

First, though, understand that Quinn deserved his Get-Out-Of-Jail Free card. He rolled doubles his freshman year, and that earned him an extra turn.

The past two seasons, the overall and offensive coaching were lackluster. Last season, the secondary made few plays to help a quarterback with a 125.87 passer efficiency rating.

All three of those areas have been addressed. Head coach Charlie Weis brought a proven offense from the NFL, along with quarterback experience in assistant Peter Vaas, offensive intelligence in coordinator Michael Haywood and NFL-level secondary coaching in assistant Bill Lewis.

Can Notre Dame’s coaches guarantee that the team’s problem areas will altogether disappear? No. Has Weis promised to win every game? No, in fact, he has said the opposite. He will make no guarantee other than his team being completely prepared for every game it plays.

But then critics and fans read about the coaching experience, the fresh start, the past success of so many of the men on staff, and it all comes down to one conclusion: People will expect Brady Quinn to play well under Weis, to score points and to win games – and they will expect it from him first, because during a dry spell in Notre Dame football greatness, Quinn remained a bright spot, and everyone will expect that to continue.

Right now, Weis and his assistants believe Quinn has the work ethic, intelligence, arm strength and touch of a starting college quarterback.

“Brady’s a student of the game,” offensive coordinator Mike Haywood said. “We watch film as a team usually, and every time there’s a correction being made, he’s the gentleman that is always writing down notes.”

The nation knows Quinn has the tools, as well. He was named to Maxwell Award watch list in June as one of 53 prospective candidates for college football player of the year. All it takes is adjustment to the system.

“What he probably lacks is experience as far as reading coverages and really understanding schematically in my offense how plays are going to be run,” Weis said. “In other words, [that means] where the ball is supposed to go based on what they do.

“The sooner that myself and Peter Vaas and Michael Haywood can get that conveyed to Brady, I think you’re go going to have a very good player.”

What the coaches expect from Quinn is not a complete mystery. Weis expects efficiency, just as he did from Tom Brady in New England. But he also expects leadership, and Quinn has no shortage of that, either.

“The fact that the team voted for him as a junior to be the offensive captain in a landslide, it obviously tells me without me even having to say it myself, what the team thinks of his leadership ability,” Weis said.

Quinn will hear what a lot of people think about his leadership, his adjustment, his skills and his presence this fall. But that should be alright with him.

As a season approaches with expectations but no certainties, Quinn has proved he is the closest thing the team has to a sure thing.

And he will become – along with Weis – the new face of Irish football, for better or for worse.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the The Observer.Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard.edu.