First, a thank you and an apology. From the looks of stats that the CoverItLive.com widget gives, our little blow-by-blow of today’s open practice got a lot of interest, and we’d like to say thanks for dropping by. Nice to know the effort was worth it. But also, sorry. We’re sorry that we couldn’t field questions during the event. The liveblogging mobile application didn’t support that feature, and apparently Twitter went down a couple times this morning again (yeah, Ruby! [/bad nerd joke]). Had the apps and our mobile connectivity supported it, we would have loved to have been able to take questions during the event as it would have really helped open our eyes to anything that we might have been missing.
Anyway, I’m going to use this post to sort of flesh out some of the comments I made during the live coverage and then perhaps throw in a little more, but first a little context: Today’s practice, by and large, seemed like a bit of a “rest day” for the Irish crew. Yes, if you watch video of the live drills, the players did a pretty nice job lighting each other up, but the majority of the time in practice was spent doing non-contact drills. And that makes a lot of sense. By the looks of things, there were a fair number of guys dinged up beyond the list of people with officially recognized ailments. After all was said, done, and mentally digested, I don’t have a problem with the tempo or intensity of practice at all. Some of my early comments in the live coverage may not reflect that attitude, but I didn’t know then what I know now.
Live Post: “It takes all of 2 seconds to recognized B. Smith.” Explanation: The kid just keeps talking. My God, does he ever not talk? Not that there’s anything wrong with it. As many of you probably know, the team captains were named today, and those titles were bestowed on guys who tend to be a bit quieter, but a team needs unofficial leaders too, and Brian Smith is surely one of them, helping to keep things loose while so many others keep things pretty locked down.
Live Post: “Corwin Brown just scored a TD.” Explanation: The defense was going through their usual, early practice drill of reading the QB, making an INT, and then everyone heading down the field to block for the ball carrier. One particular time, Corwin was running right down the field with the guys, and called held out his hands for a lateral. The safety (I think it was McCarthy) pitched it right to him and he took it in for the score. It was just a goofy play, but it was fun to see.
Live Post: “Really hate the ‘punch’ of most of the OL in their drill. Explanation: This post was made during a foot-work drill during which an OL would work his way forward, left, back, and right around some cones, and then they were supposed to drive to a teammate holding a blocking bag, sort of as you’d expect an OL to shoot to the 2nd level for downfield blocking. My biggest gripe was that most of the OL finished this drill with poor technique. Either they’d sort of just run to the bag with their arms already out, thus no “punch,” or they’d arrive at the bag with very little force. Not everyone, but enough that it was frustrating to see. A select few did arrive with excellent punch, making the lack of force in the others’ techniques all that more obvious.
Live Post(s): “TE run blocking drill looks better than OL run blocking drill.” “Lots of standing around for OL this session. Lots of coaching pts being made. Not a lot of reps.” “4 reps for OL in last 2 mins” Explanation: The TEs were working, during their position segment, on a lot of run blocking technique, and there was a lot of good popping and drive. Sometimes there was a lack of technique, but the guys were throwing themselves into the drill. Rudolph looks much, much improved at run blocking both in the individual drills, Irish Eyes, and live scrimmage. Meanwhile, the OL didn’t get nearly as many reps in per man as the TEs looked to be getting. And the move off the snap looked uniformly slow. Now, here’s a caveat: I was way too far away to know what the coaches were trying to accomplish at this time. I don’t have any context. What I can tell you is that I was encouraged that, while the OL were doing a lot of standing, Coach Verducci was doing a boat-load of coaching. Details after detail was being explained, critiqued, and encouraged by Coach Verducci. I just wonder if it’s enough. More on that later.
Live Post: “Team session: d killing o but they know its all runs” Explanation: The first live scrimmage session was all running plays and was scheduled to be so. As such, there was no need for LBs and Safeties to worry about the pass and they just teed off on that. At first blush, this might seem like a bad practice routine for the D, but you could sort of see how Coach Tenuta was using it to watch for very particular things from his defense. Meanwhile, Coach Hart, who must have the energy of an 18 year old, sprinted into the mix after every whistle to give one-on-one coaching to whatever particular DL he felt needed it the most. Guy is amazing to watch. He’s like an intense, leathery, terrifying humming bird. Anyway, for the O, this session is probably very beneficial in that it forces them to make the plays despite the D essentially knowing what was coming.
Live Post: “If dl can’t learn under hart they can’t learn” Explanation: Just want to revisit how intense and active a coach Mr. Hart happens to be. It would be remarkable to see a guy in his 20s coaching that actively. In live drills, if one of his men screws up, he’s there before half the team is even done moving through the play to tell the kid what he did and how to correct it. It must be like playing piano with one of those keyboards that lights up the correct keys. If nothing else, I expect a “new coach bounce” from the DL simply because of Coach Hart’s demeanor and activity-level, but I’ll bet we see much greater dividends than a simple bounce this season.
Live Post: “Shaq got killed on one pass. Came back for nice catch in next rep” Explanation: Shaquelle Evans was lit into and simply dropped a pass during 7-on-7 drills. He headed over to the sideline pretty gingerly and worked on stretching out whatever was bothering him. As soon as he looked okay, Weis sent him back into the drill and the ball came his way again. And this time he held onto it despite taking another pretty solid shot. Nothing huge, but it was good to see a freshman get back on the horse, particularly given the way either Weis, Sharpley, Crist, or all 3 have taken real notice of the kid and seem to send quite a lot of passes his way. The 3rd WR for ND in 2009 may well be Shaq if this keeps up.
Live Post: “Alford and hughes having lengthyish talk” Explanation: By this point in practice, both Coach Alford and Coach Weis had yelled at Hughes at least a few times, mostly critiquing Hughes’ stamina. I think they really want to be able to use him in several different ways, but are worried he can’t go a full series where he’d be able to take a couple carries, catch the ball, and then also save Clausen’s rear in a blitz pickup. With Armando Allen on the SL due to a ding, Hughes was getting a lot of attention as he was the #1 TB for the day. I think Alford was probably working on lifting the kid’s spirits a bit at this point but also trying to ensure that Hughes was getting the message.
Live Post: “Manti with 1s makes 1st tackle” Explanation: There wasn’t a person in the stands who didn’t notice that #5 was in the first team lineup during the scrimmage. And I’m not sure, but I believe it was the very first play in which he came flying in on pursuit to blow up a play that, from where I sat, looked like it could have gone 20 yards otherwise. Many of the spectators even applauded the play. And I don’t want to hype him up too much, but he moved so fast that I had to wonder who it was that just made the play until after it was all done. I can usually see it as it’s happening. Also, he’s 12 feet tall and shoots lighting out of his arse. Seriously though, he really can move around a football field. Whether he can do so well enough in his freshman year without lack of experience beating him up is tough to say, however. You can tell Coach Tenuta is enthralled to have a talent like him to play with. I wonder what the mad genius might cook up.
Live Post: “Hughes with nice 30 yd catch and run” Explanation: With live scrimmages like this, it’s tough to really judge a team’s performance. This particular play really highlights that, as JC, without the red jersey, would have been sacked by Ethan Johnson (A couple of other times as well. Did Ethan actually get quicker?), but the play continues, and Hughes did a nice job taking a dump pass down field. He was helped, in particular, by Mike Floyd’s nice block of a pursuing defender. Speaking of Floyd, the kid is pumped. I do think I detected the smallest of limps though. Didn’t look slow, but he might be a little dinged up.
Live Post: “Weis; “3rd and one why the hell r u dancing? Why the hell cabt u get 1?”” Explanation: Near as I could tell, the dancing part of this rant was directed at most of the RBs, not just one in particular, though the one who just ran the ball did commit the dancing sin on a 3rd and 1 scenario. The question about not being able to get 1 yard sure seemed directed at the entire offense. Weis was really pissed. The crowd actually applauded this rant. We were all wondering the same thing. Still, if the defense also knows it’s 3rd and 1, you can pretty much bet the defense realizes that Weis wants to work on the rushing game and took advantage of that knowledge. Don’t read too much into this single play. Perhaps read a little bit into Weis’ show of frustration. Perhaps.
Some further thoughts: I actually cut the liveblog short. I, along with many others, thought the practice was ending and Weis was telling the team to hit the locker room. In actuality, he had the entire team head to the north end zone for place kicking. Brandon Walker and Nick Tausch went head-to-head, with only Walker missing a kick that Weis deemed due to a bad snap. Tausch was left to kick the last attempt. Make it, and the team doesn’t have to run sprints. Miss it, and the team gets to run. Taush made it and you could actually see him take a big, deep breath before the kick, so that was sort of a fun moment, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the team could use some running, particularly given all the commentary on stamina that Weis shot at Hughes and Golden Tate (Tate failed to catch a pass, a pass that was tipped because Tate really failed to come back to the ball as it was in the air. In Weis’ opinion, Tate was tired and that’s why he didn’t come back to the ball. That left the flight path open to the DBs, who tipped it up and nearly intercepted it.)
As for stand-outs. Manti Te’o gets the “I can’t believe he’s a freshman” award. I remember when I first saw Brady Quinn live on the field in ND stadium and couldn’t believe the “look” he had for a freshman. Same impression about Manti. Ehtan Johnson might be the best football player on the field for ND this year. Seemed like every time I looked at him, he was winning whatever he was doing. Clausen looked really sharp, but he also was getting rested in favor of Crist and Sharpley getting snaps. Crist looked pretty good, but there was a moment when Weis called him back for calling “alert” on a play where, apparently, he shouldn’t have been doing so. Any notion that Robby Toma was just part of a “package deal” with Manti should be bludgeoned by now. My pick for best “out of nowhere” story of the 2010/2011 timespan. Watch out. It’s hard to explain why I feel that way. He simply looked like he belonged out there and, more importantly, looked like he was there to work and work hard. And some guys who might not be a the top of the depth chart but above him might want to take notice. Ian Williams seemed to have a pretty solid day, but Brandon Newman could develop into something very important for this program. The kid is built like a bowling ball with legs. Imagine trying to block that if it gets a good head of steam.
I don’t worry about Coach Verducci’s ability to coach the OL at all. My only worry is if he’ll have enough time to do it. He’s constantly coaching, but all that time between reps during which he’d do all that coaching felt like a lot of lost opportunity to build muscle memory and fine tune the machines of what should be a very experienced OL. What he was doing felt what I thought one might do if you had a crew with little experience and needed more chiseling than polish. Perhaps this is all just brought on by 2 years of OL ineptitude, but I fear that Verducci is too little, too late. Then again, if his style is at all effective, it’s not as though the skill players on offense need an OL of All Americans to win this year. Maybe Verducci’s style will be just enough in 2009 and will pay off big for the program further down the road.
2008 left many with the impression that the best OL on the team was Trevor Robinson. Nothing that happened today did much to disuade that notion. He just moves faster, hits harder, and seems meaner than the rest of the OL. That’s not to say that the rest of the OL looked slow, soft, and wimpy. Trevor just seems like a different make of beast.
Based on footwork drills, Jonas Gray has very quick feet. Quicker than Hughes, certainly. Will be very interesting to see how he fits in this season.
Overall, I doubt very much that anything I saw can be relied upon to make any predictions about future performance. When things were supposed to be fast, they looked fast (despite Weis having to remind the team that “live” meant “take the ball carrier to the ground” in the first live session). Lots of good plays were made on both sides of the ball, but usually a good play has a bad play counterpoint, or at least some reason for the play not resulting, effectively, in a stalemate. There were lots of opportunities to marvel at how big someone got (holy carp, Mike Floyd), or how good a coach someone seemed to be (Tony Alford for the win!), or how perfectly Jimmy Clausen can throw a ball (answer: very), but mostly the session amounted to a pleasant thing for someone to do between breakfast and lunch. Just wish I’d brought the suntan lotion.
Please, if you have any questions about details I left out and/or forgot to mention, ask away.