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Football: Weis says starters to stay

Chris Khorey | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A smiling Charlie Weis walked into the media room at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex Tuesday to address reporters.

The Notre Dame coach hasn’t had much to smile about this season, with three blowout losses, negative total rushing yards, and the transfer of the opening day starting quarterback looming over his head – but the smile was on his face, anyway.

After losing 38-0 to Michigan Saturday, Weis said his team was going to “back to training camp.”

But that change hasn’t resulted in any significant changes to the starting lineup, Weis said. He said that, while the coaching staff is learning more about the players this week, most starters will retain their position on the depth chart – even along the offensive line, which has allowed 23 sacks this season.

“I didn’t want to start making massive changes because then you’re making sacrificial lambs,” Weis said. “You’re saying, ‘You’re the problem’ or ‘You’re the problem.’ Well, when you lose 38-0, there are a lot of problems.”

For four hours Sunday and for two more hours Tuesday, the Irish were in full pads, simulating game hits and tackling to the ground for the first time this fall – all in an effort to fix the blocking and tackling deficiencies that have led to more than 230 yards per game in rushing by opponents and negative-4.7 per game on the ground for the Irish.

Judging by Weis’ demeanor, those deficiencies must be slowly disappearing.

“I’m trying to develop a more physical mentality on both sides of the ball,” Weis said. “We want to run the ball with more physicality – and pass block for that matter.”

Weis said that aside from improving physicality, tackling to the ground also allows the staff to get a better read on a players’ performance. When the Irish were merely wrapping up ball carriers before a whistle blew, the coaches had no way of knowing how well a defender could tackle or how well a running back could break tackles.

“There’s no way to hide [now],” Weis said. “If you’re a running back, you’re going to the ground. If you’re a receiver, you’re going to the ground. If you’re a tackler, you have to take them all the way to the ground. There’s no whistle that’s going to blow the play dead.”

Weis said the team took the transition to more physical practices well.

“I didn’t know on Sunday how they would respond having just played a game and having lost by a lopsided score … and then being out there and going full pads,” he said. “I’ve been encouraged by the tempo we’ve had.”

All of the hitting is in lieu of a specific game plan for Michigan State, whom Notre Dame plays on Saturday. Weis said the Irish will focus less on “Xs and Os” this week and more on doing the little things well.

“We’ve kept it very simple on both sides of the ball,” Weis said. “We’re letting people tee off on each other and see who wins.”

Weis introduced specific game plans for both Georgia Tech and Michigan, utilizing the spread-option to try to neutralize his team’s inexperience. In both cases, the offense struggled. He said the days of special offenses week-to-week are over, at least for now. For the next few weeks, the Irish will work on mastering their base playbook.

“Sometimes when you try to find the Xs and Os schematics to best exploit the other team’s weaknesses, you don’t really have an identity,” Weis said. “The identity that I’ve always dealt with on the offensive side of the ball is multiple formations and multiple formations that can all run the same plays. We haven’t gotten that yet. Right now we’re trying to get to the core, because that can build off the core.”

Weis also said that the special offenses were designed to mask his team’s weaknesses, but he’s now decided to buckle down and correct the weaknesses.

“You have to start force-feeding who they are,” he said. “At this point you can’t be trying to figure out what they can do. You have to say ‘we’re going to do this.’ And then you have to do it, and do it, and do it, and do it, until you get it right.”

Even if the optimism on Weis’ face comes true and the Irish improve significantly this week, the coach said he will keep his team hitting hard in practice for most of the season.

“I think you have to keep some element of this in your planning so you don’t have a setback,” he said. “Say you go and win on Saturday. That doesn’t mean you’re okay. You still got the crap kicked out of you in three straight games and you’re 1-3.”

Notes:

u The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported on its website Tuesday night that quarterback Demetrius Jones will not be released from his scholarship, meaning he will have to pay his own tuition at Northern Illinois this year.

Weis said that he talked to Jones on Monday evening, four days after the sophomore abruptly left South Bend, but that he was not involved directly in Jones’ transfer.

“I’m not involved in any of that stuff,” he said. “It goes from athletic director to athletic director.”

u Weis confirmed Tuesday that sophomore offensive lineman Dan Wenger has suffered an injury, but would not comment on the specifics.

“He’s iffy for a little while,” Weis said.

u Suspended nose guard Darrell Hand will be back in uniform and is expected to play against Michigan State after missing the first three games of the year, Weis said.