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Football: Weis opens playbook for U of M

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Against Penn State, with a freshman quarterback in a hostile environment, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis simplified his offense, cutting down on the number of plays available to be called.

But after the Irish offense mustered only 144 total yards and a paltry three points, Weis isn’t going to take any more “baby steps” with quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

“He’s getting more [offense installed],” Weis said. “And he’s getting more within … what I think he can tolerate. Obviously, we’ve gone through two games without much production on offense, so you can’t sit back. You have to make some significant strides to try to get some production on offense.”

One element of complexity that Weis wants to employ more against Michigan on Saturday is using multiple personnel groups, especially the deep running back and wide receiver positions.

“‘Regular’ is two backs, one tight end and two wide receivers,” Weis said. “But I might call ‘regular’ and give a [jersey] number. So I might want a specific halfback or specific fullback or specific tight end or specific wide receiver.”

As the offense gets more complex, Clausen will be able to rely on fifth-year senior center John Sullivan to help him make reads, Weis said. One thing Sullivan already does is identify the defense’s middle linebacker so that the offensive linemen can figure out who to block.

Last season, senior quarterback Brady Quinn made the linebacker calls, but with such a young quarterback, Weis trusts center John Sullivan instead.

“All the quarterbacks would like for me to just have that in their hands and not have it in Sully’s hands,” Weis said. “But right now, I’ll definitely go with the experienced guy with handling that assignment.”

But Clausen is learning. He mimics Sullivan’s calls – both for his own education and for the benefit of wide receivers and running backs that can’t see the center.

“I think what happens is when Sully says who it is, then the wide receivers and everyone else needs to know who he’s identifying,” Weis said. “Because a lot of times, those guys outside can’t see what he says.”

Even if Clausen learns the offense perfectly, however, the Irish won’t be able to move the ball until the offensive line improves. Notre Dame has given up 15 sacks and rushed for -8 yards in two games.

Weis said competition for starting offensive line positions is still open, but that no back-up has shown enough in practice to unseat the starters.

“I spoke to a couple of the guys who were back ups last week and I said if they had done more in practice last week, they would have been in the game,” Weis said. “And they were told the same thing going into this week.”

Pass protection problems have especially hurt the production of fifth-year senior tight end John Carlson. Last season, Carlson caught 47 passes for 634 yards. This year, he has just four catches for 34 yards in the first two games because he’s had to stay in to help the offensive line so often.

Weis said Tuesday that he might take away the safety blanket from the offensive line and try to get the ball to Carlson more this week.

“When you don’t get any offensive production for two weeks in a row, there comes a time where you have to take off the gloves and we’re getting close to that time,” the coach said.”

And while Weis makes Xs and Os changes trying to get production out of his offense, the players are chomping at the bit to show they aren’t as bad as they’ve looked so far this season.

“If they aren’t mad and embarrassed, then they’re not competitors,” he said. “I know I certainly am. I think any time you put as much time and effort, and you feel you’re credible and things don’t go too well, and you don’t feel angry or embarrassed, then you’re not very competitive.”