Weis looking forward to season

Published 7:21 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2007

By By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – One would think that Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis would be concerned going into the 2007 season.
After all, he lost several outstanding players to graduation, including quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Darius Walker.
Yet Weis, who is entering his third season as the head coach of the Fighting Irish, seemed almost at ease as he spoke to a large throng of reporters at Media Day on Monday.
Weis opened the press conference by saying that it was easy to win his first year at Notre Dame because the expectations were so low. Last year the expectations were high and the Irish finished with a respectable 10-3 overall record.
But for many, the 2006 season was not a success as the Fighting Irish were blown out by rivals Michigan and USC and were humbled in the Sugar Bowl by LSU.
Now, facing his biggest challenge yet, Weis must find a way to replace a ton of talent. Add to that the fact that Notre Dame's first eight games are extremely tough and you should have a head coach that is sweating bullets.
"So coming in here was easy to win the team over because they just hadn't had anything but moderate success in their careers here," Weis said. "Last year I think it was just the opposite where they came in with high expectations, and I think we lost a little bit of the chip on your shoulders that you have when no one expects you to be any good. So now we've had a transition, a big transition in personnel due to graduation, so now it presents a whole different set of challenges, and I'm really looking forward to this season."
Notre Dame must first find a quarterback to replace Quinn so that Weis can figure out the identity of his offense. He must also find a consistent running game to replace.
"It all depends how the thing evolves – it really does," Weis said of his offense. "It depends how this evolves. You don't know what your run pass ratio is going to be; therefore, you don't know what your lead personnel grouping is going to be.
"I think a lot of times you have to figure out what your personnel groups and what your personnel can do, and then it might get heavy one way or another … things that, right now, the jury is still out. Remember, in the month of July when they're back here going into the second session of summer school, we can't watch them practice. When they go out there and throw, they're throwing on their own. We're not out there," he added.
A trio of quarterbacks are vying for the starting job. Weis said that right now it is too close to call as to who will break the huddle against Georgia Tech in the season opener and take the first snap of the season.
Weis also didn't rule out using more than one quarterback in a game, but it's not something he likes very much.
"I can't rule it out completely," he said. "I've always been under the guise that if you have two quarterbacks, it means you usually don't have one. I've always felt that. But I would not rule that out because I have guys that have different athletic skills, so I can't rule that out."
The three quarterbacks fighting for the starting nod are former Marshall standout Evan Sharpley, a junior; Demetrius Jones, a sophomore; and true freshman Jimmy Clausen.
There has been some speculation about the health of Clausen, something Weis said wasn't an issue.
"I've said it before. If people want to talk about procedures and being gone for the year, okay, he's out there practicing today like I said he would be," Weis said. "Would I say when we're teeing off on Sept. 1, would Jimmy Clausen be capable of being our starting quarterback and slinging it 30 or 40 times? The answer would be yes. None of them are going to be slinging it 30 or 40 times today, okay?"
Notre Dame also must settle in to its new defense. The Fighting Irish hired a new defensive coordinator over the winter.
Joining the Notre Dame staff is Corwin Brown.
The Fighting Irish will run a 3-4 defense this season, something Weis is very familiar with. He admitted that he did not know the Irish defense as well as he should have.
"Obviously I'm a big fan of Corwin," he said. "I tried to hire him when I first got here and he told me no, so I told him I wouldn't talk to him again. We had conversations then, and his family wasn't ready to move. They just had transitioned from Virginia to the Jets at the time.
"And when I reflected on the last football season and started to do some research to try to get on with something that I had more familiarity with, I think one thing that I didn't do a great job in the first two years is I wasn't as familiar with everything we were doing on defense. And this is no fault of the defensive coach, this is more the fault of the head coach. I wasn't as familiar with the scheme that they were using on defense; therefore when I'm watching tape sometimes, I couldn't be – I couldn't critically evaluate exactly what I thought the problems were because I wasn't always on 100 percent the same page.
"Now the guy who knows the defense second after Corwin probably is me because we've been familiar with this defense for so long. So now when I look out there I can say 'was that a baseball call?' and before I could never say something like that because I didn't know exactly what we were doing on every play," he concluded.
Despite the question marks surrounding the Fighting Irish, Weis is looking forward to getting things going and the season opener against Georgia Tech.
Weis noted that he always has high expectations for his teams and this year will be no different. But he really is only looking at the season opener.
"Well, first of all, I only worry about one game at a time as you know. Not to be redundant, but I'll worry about beating Georgia Tech. That's the first goal I have, beating Georgia Tech. I can't worry about anything other than that. I know we play them first," he said.
"I think that's the most important thing, because these kids are impressionable young men like everyone else, and when people pat them on the back and say how great they are, they believe it. When people hammer them and say how bad they are, they believe that, too. So there's two ways of looking at it.
"Right now, one thing that's very, very important is for these guys to grab on to the concept that if you want people to think you're worth a darn, then let's go do something about it. I think we're doing that as training camp starts today. It gives you an opportunity to transition to that period, but everything you're doing now is just for the plans of trying to win the opener," Weis added.
Notre Dame will kick off the 2007 season on Sept. 1 at home against Georgia Tech.
The Fighting Irish also have early road games against Penn State (Sept. 8), Michigan (Sept. 15), Purdue (Sept. 29) and UCLA (Oct. 6).
Notre Dame will host Michigan State (Sept. 22), Boston College (Oct. 13) and preseason No. 1 USC (Oct. 20).