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FOOTBALL: Ianello, Irish receivers bearing fruits of labor

Mike Gilloon | Monday, October 10, 2005

Notre Dame entered the season with one of its deepest receiving groups in quite some time, as Rhema McKnight, Maurice Stovall, Matt Shelton and Jeff Samardzija all had talent and experience.

But that didn’t matter to Rob Ianello.

“We just started from ground zero,” the first-year Irish receivers coach and recruiting coordinator said. “I told them all when we started spring practice I was coaching them all like they were freshmen. Because in this offense and [with] their experiences with our staff, they were freshmen.”

These “freshmen” have come along pretty fast.

Despite the loss of Rhema McKnight during the 17-10 Notre Dame win over Michigan Sept. 10, the Irish receivers have made huge strides this season.

Stovall, Samardzija and Shelton are each averaging more than 11 yards per reception. Samardzjija has drawn national attention with his knack for snagging touchdowns. His eight scoring catches lead the team and place him No. 18 nationally in scoring.

Samardzija is an example of what happens when Ianello’s coaching strategy succeeds.

His 6-foot-five frame and athletic ability honed from spending his summers on the mound as a pitcher for the Irish baseball team have been utilized this season.

“You have got to use your advantages,” Ianello said. “For some guys it’s quickness, for some guys it’s height, for some guys it’s both. We just try to use whatever advantages we have for each individual.”

When one of these individuals is taken away, as McKnight was with a knee injury sustained against the Wolverines, Ianello believes it’s important for each player to know he has a responsibility to give his best possible contribution to the team.

“You develop your depth from the bottom up … so everybody has got to be ready to go and be plugged in and get a chance to get their opportunities and take advantage of them,” he said.

The Irish have been successful this season in developing this depth. The squad has looked fluid and explosive so far – especially in scoring 49 points against Purdue on Oct. 1. But, No. 1 USC will present the Notre Dame receivers with a huge challenge.

Though Ianello knows about the talent and ability of the Trojan defense, he still stresses that the Irish need to take care of themselves each day in practice and not worry about how USC will play.

“We’re just trying to develop complete receivers,” Ianello said. “Complete receivers block. Complete receivers run good routes. Complete receivers read coverages. Complete receivers make plays down the field. We’re trying to develop that, and every drill has its own different aspect of that part of the game.”

Ianello knows no one will ever become a perfect receiver, no matter how many drills or practices a player goes through.

But that doesn’t mean Inanello and his colleagues won’t strive for it.

“The coaching staff is trying to get perfection,” Ianello said. “There’s a bunch of things when you go through the game films that need to [be improved]. And the neat thing about this group of receivers is they see it too. So they know there’s plenty of room for improvement.”