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Football: New faces may return for Weis

Ken Fowler | Monday, March 27, 2006

Early-enrollee freshmen James Aldridge and George West will compete for the kickoff return job during spring practice, Irish head coach Charlie Weis said Saturday.

“George, on the one [hand], and James will get some looks at kickoff return,” Weis said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of guys with return ability that are coming in the door.”

Aldridge, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back, and West, 5-foot-8, 172-pound receiver, are settling in to spring practice well, Weis said.

“I think they’re going through a little bit of a transition [to a faster pace],” he said.

Weis said competition in special teams will be important after Notre Dame averaged just 19 yards per return last year on kickoffs. Rising sophomore receivers D.J. Hord and David Grimes were the main return men for the Irish at the end of last season.

“Let’s see if we can’t get the [best] returners back there – whether it’s David or D.J., or … George West,” Weis said. “I don’t care who it is, we need to start getting the ball past the 30 when it’s not a touchback.”

On Friday, Irish safety and punt returner Tom Zbikowski said his expressed desire to participate on kickoff returns is subordinate to his need to improve on defense.

“I’ve got to stick to getting better and worrying about the secondary right now,” he said. “I’ll try to step into his office, maybe. I don’t know.”

A day later, Weis said he was opposed to the idea.

“He wants to play quarterback – you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Weis said. “Any time he can touch the ball, he likes to touch the ball.”

Weis said the competition for kickoff returns will be similar to the competition at almost every other position. He said he has reminded all the returning players that 25 incoming freshmen will arrive in August to compete for starting jobs as motivation for the team.

“I think that our competition … will be better this year because we will have more quality athletes competing for the same jobs,” Weis said.

Weis said he is most focused on the competition between potential starters at the linebacker position and is looking for improvement at the other defensive positions.

He said the first three days of practice went well in evaluating talent at linebacker.

“We’re getting a legitimate look at all of the contenders because they’re getting a lot of action,” he said.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter said he was watching the contest for the starting role closely.

“The new guys have got to step up,” Minter said. “It’s going to be fun and challenging and scary all at the same time to see who those three are going to be – who’s going to be starting at linebacker for the spring game.”

While the linebacker spot has garnered the most attention, Weis said a lack of depth on the offensive line has forced him to alter his practice setup.

“When you don’t have two complete offensive lines … it forces [changes],” Weis said. “We have the same number of reps we normally have but it’s broken up so much more so people aren’t dropping out on you.”

Practice resumes today at 4 p.m. at the Loftus Center. Weis said practices will remain indoors until the grass on Cartier Field grows thick enough to avoid injuries.