March 22, 2006

Weis looking forward to second time around

SOUTH BEND, Ind. Just like last year, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis plans to do a lot of teaching this spring. The difference is he's going to spend more time instructing players and less time instructing assistant coaches.

"Last year was a scramble," Weis said Tuesday as he prepares for his second season as the Irish head coach. "I had to hire a staff and then you spend more time coaching the coaches to get everyone to buy into the philosophy.

"When you've been through (spring football) once it's easier."

Bolstering a defensive unit which ranked 103rd nationally against the pass and 75th overall will be the top priority during the 15 days of practice that culminates with the Blue-Gold game on April 22, and that doesn't figure to be easy.

It will primarily require developing depth at linebacker, upgrading the pass rush and improving communication in the secondary.

Although nine starters return from last season's team that finished 9-3, the linebacker depth appears painfully thin with Maurice Crum and Joe Brockington limited with back injuries.

"The door is open there," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Our goal is to find our 11 best players, then our role players and then our second-best 11. Then we'll let them get better the next few months and come back in August ready to go."

Weis hopes more communication will mean fewer big plays yielded. A long pass completion on fourth-and-nine enabled USC to escape with a 34-31 victory over the Irish, and Ohio State scored four touchdowns from 56 yards or farther in a 34-20 Fiesta Bowl triumph.

There may be no quick fix for those issues, but Weis said the solutions can be expedited.

"The quickest way is to minimize mental mistakes," he said. "When you turn a guy wide open free you've got a problem. The problem usually is not that the guy is that much faster, it's usually a mental problem. They don't understand what to do and that comes back to me as the coach or they just didn't get it.

"The first thing we need to do is make sure the players know what they're doing."

SANS SAMARDZIJA
All-American receiver Jeff Samardzija is also a star pitcher on the Notre Dame baseball team, which started its season on Monday, and Weis has excused him for more than half of spring football practice.

Samardzija will participate in six of the 15 days of practice.

"I want to give him every opportunity to excel in both sports," Weis said. "Last year I demanded a lot and this year I feel I have to give him his opportunity in baseball."

Last year Samardzija caught 77 passes for 1,279 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his previous two seasons he'd managed 24 catches for 327 yards and no touchdowns.

Weis said he's willing to allow scholarship football players to compete in other sports as long as they're excelling in them and have no academic shortcomings.

SECONDARY BATTLE ON AT GEORGIA
Most of the attention in Athens this spring is on the quarterback competition, but there's an interesting battle going on at cornerback, too. The Bulldogs must replace 2005 starters Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter, and the leading candidates appear to be Paul Oliver and Thomas Flowers, a couple of juniors with limited experience.

Oliver started two games last season and nabbed three interceptions. Thomas did not start and recorded one interception and seven tackles.

Although they haven't played much, they're grizzled veterans compared to their competition, redshirt freshman Bryan Evans, freshman Asher Allen and sophomore Ramarcus Brown, who recorded just one tackle in 2005.

That might appear a position in big trouble, but Mikey Henderson has been moved from cornerback to receiver, which may suggest the Georgia coaches like what they're seeing from their youngsters.

"They're making some plays," defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. "They're playing where we're expecting them to play right now."

The Bulldogs have only one starter safety Tra Battle returning in the secondary.

USC'S BOOTY EAGER TO TAKE REINS
The last two USC quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy, so could it be just a matter of time before John David Booty picks up the big prize?

Maybe or maybe not, but Booty, a fourth-year junior, says the time is right to take over the Trojans offense.

"I'm going into this (spring) with the attitude that it's my time," Booty said. "I've been patient, I've waited and I did everything I've been asked to do. Now, it's my chance to go after it."

Booty has spent his career as a backup to Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman winner, who replaced Heisman recipient Carson Palmer.

Last season Booty completed 34 of 56 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. He'll compete with redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez for the starting job.

KANSAS SAFETY INJURED
Kansas safety Rodney Harris sustained a neck injury in practice last week, which could end his career.

Harris had returned to the team this spring after leaving before the 2005 season. He started 11 games as a sophomore in 2004 and recorded 62 tackles and four interceptions.

COUGARS BRUISED
Washington State is beginning spring drills without several key players.

Starting tight end Cody Boyd is recovering from heel surgery and won't be available, while defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua is being held out of action while he continues to recover from a broken leg suffered last year.

Also, strong safety Eric Frampton (knee), receiver Chris Jordan (knee) and tight end Jesse Taylor (shoulder) will be limited.

Olin Buchanan is the Senior College Football Writer for Rivals.com. Buchanan files his national notebook every Wednesday. This week he's in South Bend, Ind., for an inside look at the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.




 

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