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Football: Fair game

Chris Khorey | Tuesday, March 27, 2007

After four spring practices, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis doesn’t have a starting lineup.

And that’s just the way he wants it.

Weis said at a post-practice news conference Monday that the Irish, who must replace 13 starters from last year’s squad, have not established a depth chart yet.

“There’s just guys we put out there first and guys we put out there second,” he said.

Weis said that rising fifth-year seniors like defensive end Trevor Laws, center John Sullivan and tight end John Carlson are relatively secure in their starting positions, but in other areas Notre Dame is “not even close to being able to set up a depth chart.”

“Some guys are moving up and some are moving down, on a daily basis,” Weis said.

Despite the nebulous nature of the Irish lineup and the amount of youth on the team, Weis said this spring has been similar to his past two in South Bend.

“We don’t look like the Bad News Bears out there,” Weis said. “We just look like a team that’s in the fourth day of training camp. That’s actually an off-handed compliment. I’m not out there saying, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?'”

The most high-profile position battle for Notre Dame’s is at quarterback, where rising junior Evan Sharpley, rising sophomores Demetrius Jones and Zach Frazer and early-entry freshman Jimmy Clausen are competing to replace Brady Quinn, who set 36 school records over his career.

Weis said the offense is being executed with all four quarterbacks at once to ensure that all four are on a level playing field.

At two other positions where the Irish must replace most of last year’s production – wide receiver and running back – Weis said that while he is not ready to name starters, the competitors for playing time are coming along nicely.

At running back, rising fifth-year senior Travis Thomas, rising senior Junior Jabbie, rising sophomore James Aldridge and early-entry freshman Armando Allen, among others, are competing to replace Darius Walker, who ran for 1,267 yards last year.

“I’m very encouraged by the running back position,” Weis said.

At wideout, where rising junior David Grimes is the only experienced returning player, Weis said that some players have been impressive, but would not give specific names.

“Some guys are starting to separate from the pack,” he said.

Weis did say that rising junior D.J. Hord, who missed all last season with an injury, is completely healthy but has struggled to re-adjust to the speed of the game.

“He’s rusty,” the coach said. “He doesn’t look hurt, he just looks rusty.”

Weis said the Irish have not had a full-contact practice yet, but he expects Hord to shake off the rust as soon as they do. Players coming off injuries can be skittish until they get hit for the first time.

“Because we don’t take to the ground yet, he hasn’t gotten hit yet,” Weis said. “We need to create a ‘take to the ground’ situation for him so that he can get that first one out of the way.”


uEarly-entry freshman cornerback Gary Gray broke his arm in practice Friday and will be out four to six weeks, Weis said Saturday.

“Gray landed on his right forearm, and he has a crack in his right forearm,” Weis said. “It’s not displaced, but there is a crack.”

uRising sophomore Munir Prince has been moved from running back to cornerback, Weis said Saturday.

“I think we were about to get a little too light at corner with Gary down, so we switched that over,” Weis said. “Munir and I talked about this last night and again this morning, and we kind of finalized this.”

Prince was an all-state cornerback in high school.

“He asked me to consider it,” Weis said.

uWeis said captains for next year’s team have already been named.

“With the youth on this team, we thought it would be a good idea to establish some form of leadership in between the coaches and the players,” he said.

Thomas and rising fifth-year senior safety Tom Zbikowski will reprise their roles from last year, while Carlson and rising senior linebacker Maurice Crum will also be captains.