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Football: Tiptoeing back

Matt Gamber | Thursday, October 1, 2009

And now for your daily turf toe tutorial, here’s Jimmy Clausen.

“I’m feeling good. I practiced yesterday, and I’m just getting better every single day,” the Irish junior quarterback said at his Wednesday press conference. “It’s just a nagging injury. I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent healthy until the end of the season or after the season.”

Even with the lingering pain, all signs point to Clausen – and junior running back Armando Allen (ankle), for that matter – being fully prepared to play Saturday against Washington. As Irish coach Charlie Weis said earlier this week, Clausen is much further along this week, as compared to last, in terms of dealing with the toe injury.

“Last week after the Michigan State game, after I got injured, it was pretty painful. I could barely walk on it,” Clausen said. “Just to translate that to this week, I feel a lot better than I did. After the Purdue game, I felt pretty good on Sunday and [Tuesday] when I was out there to practice.”

The toe will require that Clausen play through pain, however, and he said he was prepared to do so for the rest of the season. He had a plate placed in his shoe that limits the mobility of the toe and limits the pain, but the pain is still there, he said, whether he’s taking drops from under center or out of the shotgun.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Clausen said. “When you’re out there playing, you’ve got to run around, throw the ball.”

Anyone watching Notre Dame’s 24-21 victory over Purdue last Saturday saw someone else in Irish white and gold doing just that for the better part of the second half. Sophomore Dayne Crist, Clausen’s heir apparent, saw his first meaningful game action against the Boilermakers, effectively guiding the offense on a pair of touchdown drives.

“Whenever guys are out there making plays, it gets me excited,” Clausen said. “Just seeing Dayne out there and just making plays is just a fun feeling. Having Dayne being another quarterback, it’s just fun watching him go out there and make plays, just like other guys on the team.”

Another way the Irish made plays Saturday was with the Wildcat formation. The formation-du-jour of both college and pro football was the subject of much discussion Tuesday, as captain Eric Olsen was asked several questions about the Wildcat’s role in Notre Dame’s offense.

“It’s a little bit of an unconventional set for a football team or for an offense,” the senior guard said. “It gives the offense an extra weapon, so to speak, in their game … When you use it effectively in certain situations in a game, it really helps out the offense.”

From a defensive standpoint, there are several things the Irish will have to worry about against Washington Saturday, beginning with Huskies quarterback Jake Locker. But Notre Dame is mostly focused on itself, especially early in the week with tackling fundamentals still an area in need of improvement.

Senior safety Kyle McCarthy said the Irish participated in some extra full-speed tackling drills during Tuesday’s practice in an attempt to shore up those struggles.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that our defense eels like we should tackle better than we did,” the defensive captain said. “So we had a much more physical practice, at least in individuals, than usual. We were working on our tackling, and hopefully that translates to better tackling on Saturday.”

Even with those issues, however, the run defense was much improved against the Boilermakers Saturday, and special teams captain and backup linebacker Scott Smith hoped to see that continue against the Huskies with a similar approach.

“Being able to stop the run has a lot to do with just attacking the line of scrimmage and kind of moving the offensive line back so we’re trying to get to the heels of the offensive linemen as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “Just like I talked about earlier, kind of trying to force the ball east and west and not let them run straight down the line because that’s the easiest way to score, just run straight down your throat.