Football: Spring ‘swagger’
Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, March 27, 2008
After one of the worst seasons in Notre Dame history, Irish coach Charlie Weis said his team needs to find its swagger if it wants to get better.
Weis did not give a clear definition of “swagger,” but said the key is to make big plays.
“It starts with making plays. Swagger is something that you evolve to. Confidence is something that comes after you start making plays,” he said.
Just as important as creating plays is to finish them, Weis said.
“What good does it do if you have a hot linebacker sitting there in the hold that just whooped the offensive lineman and everybody is cheering that he whooped the offensive lineman and then in the back [a defender] makes a miss?” Weis said. “You still have to finish the play, okay, but the first thing’s first. Put them in position to make plays. That’s why the first week we don’t do anything too exotic the first three days, and each week we’ll pick up more and more.”
Weis said that while some players such as safety David Bruton already have a swagger about them, the team as a whole needs to learn it.
“A guy like David Bruton who used to just be a special teams gunner and one of the better ones, at that, now is one of our best players on our team, okay, and it happened because he started making plays,” Weis said. “The minute you start making plays, you start getting some confidence, now it’s taken some time but now he’s got swagger.”
Bruton defined swagger as the mindset you have when you know you can beat anyone.
“You just go out there and feel confident. You don’t go out there thinking someone is going to beat you or someone is better than you,” Bruton said. “You go out with that chip on your shoulder, that pep in your step, that little limp. You go ahead and handle your business.”
Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said swagger is the belief a player has that he can frequently make plays to greatly impact a game.
“As a player, when you step out there, when you walk that line, if nobody ever fears you or if you have no affect on the game, then there’s a problem,” Brown said. “There’s a problem with you as a person or maybe with how you play. You always need to impact the game somehow.”
Hitting the weights
Some Irish players weighed in for spring camp significantly heavier than at the end of the fall. The most notable gains were by quarterback Jimmy Clausen (from 194 pounds to 212 pounds), right tackle Sam Young (from 287 to 330) and center Dan Wenger (from 282 to 300).
Weis said the team is much better conditioned for spring than they were in the fall.
“I think we are in very good condition as far as running goes, because coming off of [strength and conditioning coordinator] Ruben [Mendoza’s] program, it was a pretty grueling off season,” he said.
Three Irish players will miss parts of practice due to commitments to the Irish baseball team. Infielder/quarterback Evan Sharpley, who was recently named Big East baseball player of the week, outfielder/receiver Golden Tate and pitcher/punter Eric Maust are all excused from football practice as long as they are integral parts of the baseball team.
The baseball squad takes back-to-back road trips starting on April 10 and Weis said he and baseball coach Dave Schrage will reevaluate the dual athletes’ roles on the baseball team then.
“But what I’m not going to do is, I’m not going to hurt the baseball team, and take them off the baseball field if it makes a difference with [the baseball team] winning and losing,” Weis said.
Two Irish players will not participate in spring practices due to injuries. Defensive end John Ryan had two surgeries during the offseason, one on his shoulder immediately after the season ended and one more recently on a sports hernia. Walk-on receiver Kris Patterson had knee surgery and is also out for the spring.
Wide receiver Robby Parris and guard Mike Turkovitch also had surgeries for a sports hernia and appendectomy, respectively, but are active for spring camp.
A kinder, gentler Weis
Weis has tried to step back from the taskmaster role he played in his first three seasons at Notre Dame by opening up more to players. He started talking to them more outside of practice and even invited some to his house for dinner.
Irish safety David Bruton attended one dinner at the Weis home, where he said the Irish coach cooked lasagna.
“The man can cook,” he said of Weis.
Bruton added that off the field, Weis is very much a family man.
“He’s all about his son and daughter, his wife. He is very family-oriented,” he said.
Weis said he will name and announce the team captains by the Blue and Gold game on April 19, but he will wait for the freshmen to arrive this summer before he forms the leadership committee for next season.
Weis said he did not know how many captains he will have from each unit because that is based on player votes.
“We don’t know where all of the leadership is going to come from, and I think that we have to wait and see how that goes. The reason why we have had more than one captain on offense or defense is because the vote was too close to call,” he said.
Blasts from the past
Weis announced that the honorary coaches for the Blue and Gold game will represent the last six decades of Notre Dame football.
Representing the 1950s is former running back Jim Morse (1954-56), the Irish captain in 1956. Terry Hanratty (1966-68), quarterback for the 1966 championship team, will represent his decade.
Weis had a more personal choice for the 1970s in running back Terry Eurick (1974-77), who captained the 1977 championship team. Eurick was one of Weis’ suitemates during his freshman year at Notre Dame.
Former all-time leading rusher Allen Pickett (1983-85) represents the next decade. Bryant Young (1991-93) is the only defensive player on the honorary coaching staff. Representing the current decade is Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant (2001-04).
“He’s a perfect example of somebody who can rise from relative obscurity and through hard work and effort, all of a sudden his time came,” Weis said of Grant. “And this year his time came and he became a household name when last year, very few people even knew who the guy was.”
Weis contacted New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, but the former Irish lineman is in the process of planning his wedding and declined the offer.