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March 20, 2009

Weis ready to spring forward

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For Notre Dame to get back up, its football coach will stay down.

Of all the topics Charlie Weis addressed Friday in his welcome back to practice press conference, what generated the most chatter was his choice of location to call plays next season. After internal consideration and external consultation, the verdict is in.

Weis will stay on the sidelines next season instead of returning to the press box where he pulled strings in Notre Dame's blowout of Hawaii. That means recreating that success will require more innovation from the Irish coach, whose fifth spring practice schedule kicks off this afternoon.

"My intent is to coach the game from the field, that's my intent," Weis said. "(Bill) Parcells said years ago, 'I reserve the right to change my mind.' But that's my intent. By a very, very, very large majority almost everyone I talked to were overwhelmingly thinking that I was thinking way outside the box."

So Weis won't call plays from inside one.

With that seemingly settled, the coach can get to work on making Hawaii Bowl performances more regular around South Bend.

That requires meshing his shuffled staff that added Frank Verducci, Tony Alford and Randy Hart and flipped lead defensive coordinator duties from Corwin Brown to Jon Tenuta. With the heavy re-titling and press box debate, the concern of too many cooks in the kitchen seemed plausible.

"Oh no, there's one cook," Weis said. "You can erase that vision. There's one you. There's some helpers. Let's get that out of the way now."

Regardless of who's calling what shot from where, it's the players that need to grow up the most. The Irish return starting experience at every position on offense but fullback, although that's a possibility too if James Aldridge shifts there.

The line returns five players with extensive first team experience plus Trevor Robinson, who will be limited during spring ball. Weis said that if healthy, Robinson could have been a candidate at left tackle, which now turns into a race between Matt Romine and Paul Duncan.

The best spring competition on offense might be receiver, where Deion Walker and John Goodman will vie with Duval Kamara and Robby Parris for reps. The fact Golden Tate will attend only five practices (including the Blue-Gold Game) opens up the race further.

The Irish will practice without full pads Friday and Saturday before the real fun begins Monday.

When that happens the defense will take the field in a traditional 4-3 front, ditching last year's nomenclature along the way. The opening depth chart listed Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams and John Ryan as the starting line with Zeke Motta, Brian Smith and Steve Filer as the first-team linebackers.

However, those ranks will be fluid with Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming sidelined by injury. Neal remains at defensive end with Fleming shifted to linebacker where Motta is listed as the starter.

At cornerback, Robert Blanton and Raeshon McNeil are the starter with Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown at safety. However, the opening day depth charts don't include fifth-year seniors, which have not been approved by the University. That means Kyle McCarthy, Scott Smith, Mike Anello, Ray Herring and Duncan were omitted.

With the roster swollen, Weis hopes that competition can turn from a talking point into reality.

"It's time for them to step up," Weis said. "We've got potential fifth-year guys we're talking about. You've got some recruits coming in in the summertime when the reinforcements end up getting here. Some of these guys it's their last opportunity to put themselves in the mix."

Competition for Clausen?

There's no quarterback controversy in South Bend. In fact, there's not even a competition, at least for the starting job. Weis did sit down with Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist to talk about leadership during spring practice, but there's no doubt about who'll start all spring and into next season.

"Absolutely, Jimmy is the starter," Weis said. "It's his job to lose."

The more interesting part comes after Clausen and Crist. Weis said Nick Montana is the third option, but John Goodman and Dan McCarthy could get looks as well.

"Well, first of all, I'd go to Montana on just the regular things here," Weis said. "But if we were going to run an expanded version of our offense, it would be Goodman. He can throw the ball as far and as hard as the first two guys. I mean, this kid can sling the football. But the thing is first comes first. I want to give him an opportunity to compete at wide receiver, because I can see him in our two-deep at wide receiver."

Talking Te'o
There aren't many days that go by when Manti Te'o isn't a topic of conversation at Notre Dame. Weis said he's not sure where the five-star linebacker will develop in his defense, although inside linebacker appears likely. However, that's where Brian Smith and Toryan Smith are listed, at least for now.

"I think that coming in all likelihood he's going to be one of those two inside positions," Weis said of Te'o. "But right now he's not here. For example, I could have easily taken Brian Smith and put him at (outside linebacker), and put Toryan Smith at (middle linebacker) because they're the two most veteran guys.

"I've got to find out what (Steve) Filer can do. I've got to find out what (David) Posluszny can do. When the reinforcements come, if they're behind those guys they can find them. If they can beat them out, they can beat them out."

Championship Coaches

Weis wanted a Super Bowl feel to his Blue-Gold Game coaching staff.

He couldn't have done much better than landing Justin Tuck, Reggie Brooks, Jeff Faine and Bertrand Berry to return to campus for the April 18 exhibition. Tuck played for the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII and Berry played for the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

"Last but not least, I'm excited about the group of coaches we have coming in for the Blue and Gold Game," he said.

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