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Football: Irish open second spring under Charlie Weis

Kate Gales | Thursday, March 23, 2006

After a Fiesta Bowl loss and a long offseason of strength and conditioning workouts, Notre Dame returned to the practice field for the first time yesterday to begin spring camp.

“Naturally, coming out on the first day, you’re going to be a little rusty,” Irish running back Darius Walker said. “You’ve got to get the butterflies and the kinks and things out, but I think as a team our morale is up. We’re definitely excited about coming in.”

The team spent much of spring 2005 adjusting to a new coaching staff and learning the style and schemes of new head coach Charlie Weis after the firing of former-coach Tyrone Willingham. This year, however, players found motivation in the loss to Ohio State on Jan. 2 and in higher expectations for next year.

“Right now it’s kind of where we were towards the end or the middle of spring ball last year,” Irish wide receiver Jeff Samardzija said. “We’re coming out, we’re starting fresh with installation and stuff but right now we’re out there playing as a group and I think everyone has that concept down, everyone’s putting it on each other to do their part.”

Samardzija, who will attend six of the spring’s 15 practices as he splits time on the baseball team, emphasized the effect of ending the season with a loss.

“You can look at the bowl game where we went out and lost our last game of the season which is, I bet you what the guys in the locker room were looking at,” Samardzija said. “They’re not looking at how many catches or how many pancakes blocks they had out on the field, they’re looking at that last game we lost.”

Walker said spring workouts offer players an opportunity to improve their games on an individual basis.

“You’ve got to understand you’ve got to get stronger and faster for the season,” Walker said. “I think that’s the main goal of the offseason, getting better at what you do … doing the necessary things that will help you.”

The first day of practice was held without pads as players became used to being on the field once again.

“We’re starting to form together,” Irish quarterback Brady Quinn said. “But at the same time, we looked kind of rusty, plus it’s kind of hard to tell without pads on, to be honest.”

Quinn said one problem with spring practice was the limited number of reps, especially for experienced players. Spring football allows coaches to get a better look at players who saw limited time during the fall.

Although he is also in the middle of Notre Dame’s baseball season, Samardzija was excited to be back on the football field.

“I thought we looked good,” Samardzija said. “I thought our defense was flying around out there making it tough on the offense the first day. You know the defensive guys are going to come out, it doesn’t matter what kind of pads you have on, they’re going to do what they do.”

His career as a dual-sport athlete means he receives more scrutiny as far as preparation for the season. But Samardzija said he “surprised himself” as far as cuts and other offensive drills.

Another player under scrutiny is Rhema McKnight, who received a medial redshirt after sustaining an injury against Michigan Sept. 10, and hopes to play a fifth year. In his first practice, he said he was not yet 100 percent but was excited to get back on the field.

“I’ve still got to get that mental aspect out of the way,” McKnight said of his injury. “As soon as we start hitting, hopefully I’ll come a long way.”

The team is looking to build on its team success as well this spring. Although the first game isn’t until Sept. 2, Quinn said he has high expectations for the team already.

“With the guys we have coming back and obviously our coaching staff and kind of the foundation we’ve laid last year for ourselves, our goal is to do it big, win every one,” Quinn said.


u While Weis named eight players looking to return after graduation at his press conference Tuesday, none of have yet applied for a fifth year. Their eligibility will be determined by the Faculty Board of Athletics.

Derek Landri, Chris Frome, Mike Richardson, Dan Santucci, Bobby Morton, Brian Mattes, Rhema McKnight and Marcus Freeman are the eight players who are hoping to return for their fifth years.