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Football: Weis concentrates on running game

Chris Hine | Sunday, April 22, 2007

A record crowd of 51,852 filed into Notre Dame Stadium for Saturday’s Blue and Gold game expecting to see an exhibition from next year’s four potential replacements for Brady Quinn. But those that came to see the changing of the guard might have seen another kind of change – a change in philosophy. Saturday’s scrimmage included a total of 54 running plays and 24 passing attempts – a marked departure from the pass-heavy playcalling Irish fans were accustomed to with Quinn under center. Irish coach Charlie Weis said after the game that he wanted to control the number of throws each quarterback had on the field, but no matter who starts behind center in September, Weis said Irish fans could expect to see a more balanced attack.”I kept the number of passes to a minimum because I wanted them to come out there and run the football,” Weis said. “I think the one thing, one of the main things I wanted to come out here in the spring was establish a toughness on the offense that I think we’ve started to get away from a little bit. “That’s why I want to see a heavy dose of running.”Weis said over the past two years his team relied too much on Quinn’s right arm to lead Notre Dame to victory, but inexperience at key positions on offense may necessitate a change in the gameplan this season. Aside from the quarterbacks, no starters return at wide receiver while only two starters at offensive lineman – center John Sullivan and right tackle Sam Young – return. The Irish, however, do have experienced players coming back at tight end and running back. Rising fifth-year seniors John Carlson and Travis Thomas both return. “So if we can establish a mentality where we can run the ball with power, the whole offense opens up,” Weis said. “Now you have play action, now you can throw a drop back. But the first thing is first, you have to be able to run the ball with power, and I think that we’ve gotten away from that a little bit and we’re trying to get back to that.”Saturday, the power running game was on display. Gold squad rising senior Junior Jabbie tore up the Blue team for 87 yards on 13 carries. Jabbie – whose name had been forgotten by many in the running back position battle – earned offensive MVP honors for his performance. Thomas had 36 yards on nine carries, while early-entry freshman Armando Allen had five carries for 19 yards for the Blue teamThomas and Allen, however, gained their yardage against a Gold defense that included returning starters Maurice Crum Jr. and Trevor Laws – two of Notre Dame’s top defenders from last season. Jabbie and rising sophomore James Aldridge, who finished with 34 yards on nine carries, had the luxury of having Crum and Laws wear white for the scrimmage. No matter who starts at running back September, Weis seems to be moving in the direction of a more run-oriented offense. But over the summer, one of the four quarterbacks could prove that he is capable of leading Notre Dame’s offense as Quinn did for the past two years. And Weis has always been known for his unpredictability as a play caller. So while opponents will start gearing for a power rushing attack from the Irish, Weis and company could come out throwing the ball in a five-receiver set with an empty backfield. Or, they could split the running back out wide – as Weis did with Allen more than once Saturday – to match him up against a linebacker and then throw it deep down the sidelines.Regardless, Weis said, Notre Dame will have more “toughness.’