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Football: Weis sees team developing swagger in spring

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, April 7, 2008

At the beginning of the spring, Irish coach Charlie Weis said he wanted his team to play with more swagger. After Saturday’s open practice, he elaborated on the building blocks to that goal – confidence, passion and emotion.

Weis said getting players to play with these three things is imperative to move past last season’s 3-9 record. But more importantly, he said he has seen this growing.

“So the two things that we’re trying to emphasize the most, they’re starting to get. It’s a slow process, but we’re making some strides,” he said

Weis reiterated that gaining confidence stems from making plays. But he added that, since the team has started practice, he has seen growing confidence in a larger number of players than before.

“Not the whole team, but there are guys [playing with confidence],” Weis said. “Ultimately, you are trying to get enough of them where it becomes the whole team.

Weis said he tries to work with the players who need more confidence building this spring. For example, he said he never has to worry about the confidence of linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr., and safety David Bruton. But he also said cornerback Gary Gray, who missed all of last season with a broken arm, has started making good plays in practice this spring and is gaining the confidence needed to be a good player.

Weis said passion and emotion go hand-in-hand in trying to rev up his young team. He said that, with any young team, these things have to be explicitly taught so the players understand what they need to do.

Weis said he is trying to avoid the “deer-in-the-headlights” style of play that many young players fall victim to.

“I think there were a lot of times with a fairly young and inexperienced look, that you get that ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look. They freeze. And not that they freeze in the game, but you don’t see that same passion and emotion,” he said.

Weis’ plan to coach emotion this spring became most evident Saturday during the “Irish Eyes” drill, a modified “Oklahoma” where an offensive and defensive lineman square off with a running back trying to make it past the defender.

After one big defensive play in the drill, Weis said the celebration afterward had to be immediate and genuine.

“This can’t be something that’s faked. It should be an instantaneous reaction to a positive play,” Weis said.

Following that, the drill became more intense, and a couple of skirmishes even broke out. There was no major incident, as Weis allowed the pushing and shoving to run their course.

“Occasionally a fight breaks out, but sometimes a fight’s not a bad thing, especially when it’s not people cheap shotting or ripping off helmets or stuff like that,” he said. “I think that they’re starting to not only be more physical but more competitive as well.”

Wide right

At the end of practice on Saturday, Irish kicker Brandon Walker missed his only field goal attempt of the day – only his second miss of the two dozen he has taken this spring.

Walker lined up to kick when Weis blew his whistle to simulate at timeout. Walker lined up again and the kick sailed wide right.

Weis said the reason he only allowed Walker to kick once was because it was the best way to imitate real game scenarios.

Weis took part of the blame for the miss because he did not give Walker a lot of notice that he was going to kick after practice.

“Kickers, you know they’re a little different cats to start off with. If I had given him plenty of time and he was ready to go, you might have had a different result,” he said.

Battered up

Three Irish players missed parts or all of practice due to injury on Saturday.

Tackle Matt Romine was banged up in practice last Wednesday and missed practice Friday and Saturday.

Tight ends Luke Schmidt and Mike Ragone both missed some drills due to injuries. Schmidt banged his head and had to sit out of some parts of the day and Ragone tweaked his ankle, Weis said.

Weis attributed the injuries to the fast-paced tempo he has run practices at this spring.

“You can see by the tempo, we’re banging guys around pretty good,” he said. “The tradeoff is you get more guys in the training room.”

Team camaraderie

Weis continued with his team-building goals this spring by trying to lighten the mood.

Right tackle Sam Young fielded a punt against the second team coverage squad and returned it for about 15 yards before Weis blew the play dead.

Weis also sat with some of the high school coaches at the practice (Saturday was also the coaches clinic) and watched the linebackers practice during individual workouts.

Even though Weis did want to keep the mood light, he said the team needs to know when to be serious and when not to.

“I wanted to make sure they can differentiate between how football coaches have to be on you and the fact that when they’re on you they’re trying to make you better, not on you just to be on you,” Weis said. “And I think they’re starting to get a better understanding of that.

“When it comes down to it, it still comes down to getting players to make plays. And I think as coaches, we have to put them in position to make plays and demand that they make them.”