Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, March 28, 2007
One week into the spring season, Irish coach Charlie Weis has given no indication that he’s ready to say – or if he even knows – if any of Notre Dame’s four quarterbacks vying for the starting job any time soon.
The four competitors to be Notre Dame’s lead signal-caller next year are early-entry freshman Jimmy Clausen, rising sophomores Zack Frazer and Demetrius Jones and rising junior Evan Sharpley.
One of the main traits Weis said he is looking for in his quarterbacks is their ability to lead the offense.
“More than the players themselves, it’s just how they run the operation,” he said. “The first part of being a quarterback is being able to take the playcall, call it in the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage and just run the operation.”
Of the four, only Sharpley has taken a snap during a contest, playing in parts of eight games. Sharpley mostly handed off during those times, completing 1-of-2 passes for seven yards in his Irish career – not exactly significant experience.
But even though his playing time is extremely limited, Sharpley still has one more year in Weis’ system than any of the other quarterbacks.
“If there’s anyone that has an obvious, slight advantage through experience it would be [Sharpley],” Weis said. “Not necessarily playing time, but the fact that he was around me a lot when I was talking to [former Irish quarterback] Brady [Quinn].”
Despite Sharpley’s experience within the program, Weis said he is giving equal attention and “exactly the same” coaching to all four quarterbacks. One of the ways Weis has kept the coaching so equal is by teaching the system from the very beginning.
The equal coaching is especially beneficial for Clausen, the only quarterback to have spent no time in the system so far.
“I think he’s made some progress and we’ve seen some encouraging signs, but it’s way too early for me to be jumping on anyone’s bandwagon,” Weis said of the freshman. “He’s done some encouraging things in the first four days.”
Weis also explained how Clausen is at no disadvantage because he is a freshman.
“We’re kind of starting from scratch, so he’s not really behind on that end because I’m installing everything as if they’re hearing it for the first time,” Weis said. “But he doesn’t have the luxury of having heard the terminology or running the whole operation before in this system.”
During the spring practices, Weis has been at the lead in coaching the quarterbacks, along with quarterbacks coach Ron Powlus and offensive coordinator Mike Haywood.
But after looking at the four for a week, Weis still hasn’t seen “it” – an intangible to separate one quarterback from the rest.
“Let’s let them get through shell shock first,” he said. “They’re getting a lot of coaching, they’re getting scrutinized. They know that this is a competition and everything they do is part of the evaluation.”
Adding to the pressure for the quarterbacks is their general inexperience at the college level – something especially poignant at a school with the media attention and tradition of Notre Dame.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these guys right now,” Weis said. “Throw on top of that the fact that everyone in the free world knows who’s going to be the new quarterback at Notre Dame.”
Weis remains optimistic about his team’s quarterback, even if right now isn’t the right time to find answers.
“I think we’ll find out early on if somebody has that something when the time comes,” he said. “But right now I think it’s really early in the evaluation.”