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Football: Questions, optimism mark start of spring practice

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Irish head coach Charlie Weis kicked off the beginning of the spring football schedule Tuesday at Notre Dame’s annual spring media day, saying his main objective for the coming weeks will be to raise the team’s expectations.

“I think that last year the football team just didn’t know at this point whether they were going to be any good or not,” Weis said. “I’m hoping they’re not satisfied with the season they had last year. I know that I’m not satisfied with the season that we had last year.”

Weis said he installed a large banner in the Guglielmino to help motivate the Irish players. The sign reads, “9-3 is not good enough.”

“I’m hoping this time around that raising the expectations should be a rather simple task,” he said. “We return 17 guys that are basically starters – nine on defense and eight on offense. We should expect a much higher level of performance this spring.”

The goal was one of four Weis highlighted for the team’s 15 practices over the next month leading up to the annual Blue-Gold game April 22. The first practice begins today at 5 p.m. at Cartier Field.

He began by saying he will concentrate on dividing his time equally between different aspects of the game in the coming weeks, not solely focusing on the offense.

“I probably didn’t do a very good job being a head coach [last] spring,” he said. “I think I did a pretty good job being an installer of the offense, but I don’t think I did a very good job as a head coach. This year, I think I’ll be able to spend more time on special teams and more time on defense than I did last year.”

Weis said his second goal is to “self-scout” his own team to eliminate unnecessary plays and improve in several areas.

“We’ve analyzed our 2005 season, and there’s some obvious deductions that slap you in the face,” he said. “We have to fix the problems we had last year. We also have to expand our packages. As a coaching staff and as a team, we have to do a much better job of playing to our strengths and minimizing our weaknesses.”

His final major objective is to fill in lingering questions about the depth chart, made more complicated by several injuries to returning players.

Weis said starting outside linebacker Maurice Crum and reserve linebacker Joe Brockington will see significantly limited repetitions in the spring after each underwent back procedures after last season ended.

Weis said that while the injuries will limit the depth of the linebacking corps during the spring, they also open new doors for evaluating young talent. After senior linebacker starters Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte both exhausted their eligibility this fall, Weis said freshmen and sophomores on the defense will have the chance to earn a spot in the starting lineup.

“I think this is an opportunity for some of those guys that backups to make a statement for themselves,” Weis said. “If they don’t make a statement for themselves this spring, when the new guys get here, they’re going in.”


u Six starters and two backups will return to Notre Dame next fall for a fifth season, Irish coach Charlie Weis announced Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Derek Landri, right end Chris Frome and cornerback Mike Richardson return on the defensive side of the ball, as all three started for the Irish in 2005.

Frome started six games for Notre Dame before suffering a knee injury in the team’s 34-31 loss to USC Oct. 15, 2005. Landri and Richardson started all 12 games for the Irish.

On offense, Notre Dame’s group of returnees is highlighted by veteran receiver Rhema McKnight, who suffered a knee injury in week three against Michigan State and was awarded a medical red-shirt season. McKnight led the Irish in receptions in 2003 and 2004 with 47 and 42 catches, respectively. He has 103 receptions for 1,370 yards in 38 career games played.

McKnight is joined by offensive line starters Bob Morton and Dan Santucci, backup tight end Marcus Freeman and reserve lineman Brian Mattes.

u Weis said several Irish players are injured and will see limited repetitions in the spring or be held out of practices altogether.

Freshman receiver D.J. Hord had an abdominal surgery and likely will miss all of spring practice, Weis said.

“He might be back by the end of the spring,” Weis said. “But he’s not going to be back for a while, so I figured I’d just go ahead and list him as a doubtful for the spring.”

Frome’s knee injury will keep him out of spring practices, and sophomore reserve linebacker Abdel Banda also suffered a knee injury that will prevent him from practicing.

Starting left end Victor Abiamiri had a minor knee surgery after the Fiesta Bowl, and Weis said he is “close to 100 percent.”

“I might pull off of him a little bit, but he’s ready to go,” Weis said of Abiamiri.

Weis said he will keep offensive lineman John Sullivan out of contact drills after the junior underwent a shoulder operation in the offseason.

Sophomore running back Justin Hoskins and freshman cornerback Kyle McCarthy will be limited by shoulder injuries, and Mattes has a foot injury that will limit his practice time.