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Football: On the offensive

Jay Fitzpatrick | Monday, April 2, 2007

Despite position battles on both sides of the line of scrimmage, two of the most glorified positions on the field – quarterback and wide receiver – are still catching most people’s attention.

The quarterback battle is by far the most closely examined aspect of Notre Dame’s spring practices, largely because of its unique nature. Irish coach Charlie Weis has four competing quarterbacks – rising junior Evan Sharpley, rising sophomores Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones and incoming freshman Jimmy Clausen – with different styles and abilities, each competing to be the lead signal caller for the Irish.

Weis said although he is willing to change depending on the situation, he is generally against using a platoon system at quarterback – making the competition for the top job even more intense.

“There’s been more than two quarterbacks but usually the competition’s only been between two people,” Weis said. “This one’s a little bit unique because to give them equal opportunity, you have a rotation system built in place where guys are lead guys at certain times, and we’re halfway through that process.”

Weis said he will rotate each quarterback through the first, second, third and fourth strings each week throughout the spring. In this way, each quarterback gets the same opportunities to run plays with the starting receivers and backs. Weis said this keeps him objective since no one has extra time with the starting offense.

“But really when you just take out the subjectivity and just making it objective analysis, it usually cleans itself up,” Weis said. “Even in those cases, sometimes it’s still too close to call even when you get it down to two and then you have to make a hard decision.”

This rotation system was in full effect Saturday, when each of the four quarterbacks took turns throwing during the one-on-one drills. The quarterbacks threw to receivers up and down the depth chart and against all skill levels in defensive back.

In the one-on-one drills, Weis made it clear that rising junior David Grimes and rising sophomore George West are currently his top two receivers.

Grimes – whom Weis called the most consistent receiver this spring – has the most experience in an Irish uniform out of the receivers. Grimes finished last season fifth in yards (336) and receptions (26) and caught two touchdowns, one of which came during Notre Dame’s 41-14 loss to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

But on a team that lost its top two receivers in Jeff Samardzija (78 catches, 1017 yards) and Rhema McKnight (67 catches, 907 yards) along with running back Darius Walker (56, 391), Grimes moved up the depth chart with ease.

West lacks Grimes’ experience, with only two catches for 14 yards all last year, but acclimated himself to the speed of college football by serving as a kick returner last season next to Grimes.

“He isn’t just running with that first group by default,” Weis said of West. “At this point he’s running with that first group because that’s where he would be.”

Weis still hasn’t made any decisions about the rest of the receivers because he said they are all too similar to make judgments.

“We’re just looking for people to pull ahead or fall behind,” Weis said. “But there are too many guys besides David and George that are just in that pack right now.”

Regardless of the position or the players, Weis said he tries to remain balanced and objective in deciding the depth chart, and a large part of that depends on his own honesty with his team.

“I think it’s important to never lie to your players and always tell them the truth and where they stand,” Weis said. “It isn’t like depth charts never change. Depth charts change eventually and injuries occur on top of that.

“That’s part of being a starter and part of being a backup.”