Charlie Weis discussed the release of the latest depth chart with his players before taking questions from the media on it Monday.
“I told them that there was a depth chart coming out (Monday) and depth charts are obviously based off the performance to this point right now. You have to come out with a depth chart sooner or later, today was the first day for San Diego State, so I figured rather than wait for Wednesday or Thursday just to hold (the media) off, that’s where we are,” Weis said. “The coordinators went over all of the personnel packages to let people know what they’re doing and position coaches went over with the guys on what their roles are too. There is no one that wasn’t told first generically by me, then more specifically by the coordinators then more specific by the position coaches.”
The theme that jumps out from the depth chart heading into San Diego State is the presence of eight freshman names on offense and defense, but Weis said that there could be even more that play.
“When you’re bringing the guys here you tell everyone of them in recruiting that we’re going to give them all an opportunity to compete walking in the door. Now some of them are involved in the depth chart that aren’t listed on that list. Some of them are involved in maybe being a one or a two on special teams,” he said. “There will be more guys that could pop in, pop up from that group. I don’t think it will be limited to that number of guys that end up getting involved in the mix because special teams, in reality, often is the easiest way for these guys getting on the field.”
The freshman that is leading the way in this class is tight end Kyle Rudolph who is listed as a starter now that Mike Ragone is out for the season. Weis said that Rudolph had been running with the first-team offense as Ragone was limited and that he feels good about Rudolph, junior Will Yeatman and junior Luke Schmidt as the top tight ends.
“I think that I’m very comfortable with Kyle, Will and Luke. Will would be the swing guy where he could go either way, he could be a move tight end or a stationary tight end, so he’s the one that gives us position flexibility,” Weis said. “Kyle will kind of be locked down and Luke will kind of be locked down in what their jobs are and Will will kind of be that guy that gives us that flexibility to go in and out without really missing much.”
Despite the loss of a tight end, Notre Dame does not feel that it will be forced to play freshman Joseph Fauria.
“He doesn’t have to play. Of course, knock on wood, you could have more things that come into play, but I feel very comfortable. You don’t go into this with three tight ends without knowing what you’re going to do, you have a contingency plan,” said Weis. “Obviously we already have the contingency plan, so we’ll practice it this week and we’ll practice it next week. We’re not going to get caught short, that’s one thing that will not happen.”
Senior Michael Turkovich was the clear winner in the battle with Paul Duncan for the left tackle position.
“(Turkovich had) originally been a tackle then he played guard and he was in at tackle. Going into camp, to be honest with you, I wasn’t so positive that he was going to win the job and he won it convincingly. He did everything well. He showed he can pass block, he showed he could block at the point of attack. He showed he wasn’t a liability when we put him on an island, that we didn’t have to chip help every time he was over there,” said. Weis. “That’s a concern when you have a left tackle on the blind side of the quarterback, you can chip help on the blind side of the quarterback all day, but if you can get where the tackle can play in the game and be able to handle the position then it lets you get more guys out on the pattern which is always advantageous.”
Duncan is now listed as the backup behind Eric Olsen at left guard. Duncan’s versatility will help the Irish’s depth along the line, but the staff feels that it is pretty solid now.
“I think that Paul Duncan can obviously play guard or tackle, I know that he’s listed at left guard. Matt Romine has really come on pretty nicely as a pass-blocking tackle over (at left tackle), which is what he came here as. But he’s been banged up since he’s been here and then he was down to 270, now he’s back in the 290’s again and he’s been playing pretty well,” Weis said. “We’ve been very happy with (right guard) Trevor Robinson, we’re not going to be afraid to put him in the game. That (Thomas) Bemenderfer-(Braxston) Cave battle is going on (at center). I think right now if you had to flip a coin, you’d put in Beamer first through experience alone, but that’s a battle that’s going to continue to be ongoing. Taylor Dever at right tackle is a prospect that we’ve been high on all along. The question would then come if something were to happen to Sam would I just take Paul and just put him in there at right tackle, at this point right now I don’t yet.”
Cave is one of those freshmen that made the initial depth chart at center coming out of camp.
“He’s very strong. Just like Kyle being able to run down the field the fastest of the tight ends, Braxston is very strong. He’s probably the strongest of all the centers, just brute strength. Now he’s also the least experienced of the centers too,” Weis said of Cave. “Most times you’re playing with a guy over your face, right on your head when you’re the center and those centers that get pushed usually it doesn’t bode well for success in either the running game or the passing game.”
With the offensive line as an apparent strength, look for Weis’s offense to have a different look to it than the his past three at Notre Dame.
“Not to be a hypocrite, but ever since I’ve been here I wanted to be able to pound the football and we haven’t yet, so we’re going to find out because we’re going to pound it. The only way of finding out is to take the big boys up front, to come off the ball and hand it off to those backs because I like all of them, I like all of those backs,” he said. “You’ve got to keep fresh legs out there at back and keep pounding it and that will help everything get better. It will help the play-action pass, it’ll get guys open on intermediate routes and it’ll help pass protection because people are going to have to worry about stopping the run first.”
There has been no separation in those running backs that Weis spoke of, at least not on the depth chart where they are still listed as co-starters.
“I think that Armando is different than the other two guys. You could take Armando on one side and you could take Robert and James on the other side. If I were playing a game today, you could pick one out of the hat,” said Weis. “Today I’d pick Armando, yesterday I might have picked Robert. I know one thing all three of them are going to play and they all know it. One of the reasons it’s helped from being divisive is the fact that they all know because we’ve interchanged them so much but still let them get into a flow in practice they could see how this could work.”
Wide receiver is another position with great interest as sophomore Golden Tate and freshman Michael Floyd are listed as the backups to Duval Kamara and David Grimes respectively, pushing juniors George West and Robby Parris off of the two-deep.
“Two things happened. First of all, Golden is obviously the fastest guy we have. Mike’s been good in everything he’s done since he’s been here. There’s a couple of freshmen that have been like that, and he’s still a freshman, but he’s be good in everything he’s done,” said Weis. “In the meantime, Robby has tweaked his ham, George has tweaked his ham at different times. As those guys get fully healthy, there’s other guys that are waiting to take their spots. I think that right now Golden and Mike are going to have to get beaten out, they’re clearly 3 slash 4.”
Weis and receivers coach Rob Ianello have talked about Tate’s progress throughout fall camp, but not with the optimism that Weis did on Monday.
“He’s still progressing, he’s gotten so much better than where he was. I talked to him today about the thing that I want him to work on this week as he continues his progression, coming in and out of routes,” Weis said. “There’s been a number of times as you watch in the past, where he’s running and all of a sudden when he turns back to look for the ball he starts to slow down. That’s our point of emphasis with him this week.
“It’s not so much running the 15 yards to get to where he’s turning around, it’s getting to that spot and when you start looking for the ball going full speed so the quarterback knows where you’re going to be. Golden’s got great ball skills and great speed and he’s tough, so once you get him to do that point right there then you’re going to have a receiver that can do just about everything, but we’re still a work in progress.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Morrice Richardson and Justin Brown are listed as co-starters at end and John Ryan and Kerry Neal are co-starters at the Will linebacker position. Weis again pointed to that as a sign of increased depth for this year’s team.
“In the past we’ve had one-deep and really didn’t get into playing anyone after that. So I could see with those guys being interchangeable, ‘OK, you’re in, you’re in, you’re in.’ Because we tend to be moving pretty good on defense, the one thing we haven’t done is really done a great job of having the second-tier guys get significant reps to perform at a high rate to keep the first guys ready to go,” Weis said. “At both of those positions, I think that we feel comfortable with either one of those ends at either position playing and not worrying about who’s out there.”
As for Richardson who has missed the last few practices, Weis said that he does not expect it to limit him during the first game.
“He’s been banged up. He’s had a little foot sprain, he’s missed a few days, but I don’t anticipate Mo being any problem as it goes into the game,” said Weis. “As you know this has been a pretty physical camp, so this week is the week that there’s some guys on the cusp of being fully healthy, I want to make sure that I get them fully healthy because you can’t be worrying about that next week.”
Sophomore Harrison Smith is listed as the starting Sam linebacker with Sergio Brown and Ray Herring as the backup safeties, but Weis did not rule out Smith returning to the secondary in the event of an injury.
“Here’s a key point for Harrison, he’s still not wearing knee braces. Harrison has this mental thing if I make him wear knee braces he thinks I’m trying to make him into a slug-it-out linebacker. So as long as he’s a safety playing down there he’s happy,” Weis said. “If something happened to David (Bruton), I could see him playing back there (in the secondary).”
Terrail Lambert and Raeshon McNeil are the starting corners, with Gary Gray and Robert Blanton as the backups, but the staff also likes the potential of a couple of other players.
“I think that we have at least four that we could play, realizing that there’s different levels of experience,” Weis said. “Leonard Gordon has been very dependable for us, he’s shown up more on special teams than anything else in camp. Jamoris Slaughter is another guy who’s got a ton of ability who was a little banged up for a lot of early camp. He’s coming off of a leg injury and is really closing ground and gaining our confidence. But right now the four guys that we have are clearly the four guys we have.”
The long snapper positions will be handled by Cave and walk-on Kevin Brooks with Cave snapping for field goals and Brooks for punts.
“That’s because Braxston looked the best for field goals and extra points and Kevin Brooks looked the best for punts,” Weis said. “The guy who looks like he has the promise to be the best of all of them is Darius Fleming for a long snapper for punts. He’s got a lot of things on his mind right here between pass rushing and playing on special teams and a lot of other things.”
Weis said that Cave’s size makes him a better choice for field goals and extra points.
“You’d rather not have a light guy for field goals and extra points if you could avoid it.”
OTHER POINTS: Notre Dame announced that Bemenderfer was one of three walk-ons that had earned a scholarship for the 2008 season, but the head coach said that he has considered Bemenderfer as more of a scholarship player for some time now.
“It’s to the point now with him that I don’t look at him as a walk-on. Forget the fact that he was a scholarship player at Northwestern, he’s just been a nice, solid player for us where if we had to put him in the game I would not be concerned that the game would fall apart,” Weis said. “We’re finally at that stage, it’s taken a little time, but we’re finally at the stage where if somebody goes out you put the next guy in and you don’t feel like, ‘Oh, God what’s going to happen now.’”
With the Irish off for the first week of the season the staff inquired about going on the road to scout upcoming opponents like San Diego State who will play Cal-Poly on Saturday.
“We can’t go to the game, I asked about that by the way. No one from the athletic department can go because that was the next thing, farm off a couple of guys and send a couple in a couple of different directions, but we can’t do that,” said Weis. “We’ll come in early on Sunday and knock out that tape on the game. Cal-Poly’s offense is almost a wishbone offense, but what it’ll do is offense, defense and special teams give you an opportunity to get their personnel up to date.”
So what will Weis do on Saturday?
“Whatever my wife tells me to do. And that is an honest answer.”