Consistent, though limited access to the Irish football program yields myriad anecdotes from players and coaches; the occasional good-natured shot at a teammate; and my own observations regarding how particular players fared on a given day of camp.
There are a handful of brief interviews that don’t result in full columns or player profiles, or a feature regarding a particular player’s position unit. And in some instances, May-June-July had already yielded an extra piece or two on the Irish player whose interview provided the best column in terms of camp fodder (I’m a fan of Golden Tate’s game, but he and his WR mates received quite a bit of pub on our pages over the summer).
Rather than allow these August nuggets to meet their collective demise in my desktop folder marked “Un-used” I’ve decided to include them below.
Weis Regarding the Team’s Choice of Captains
“I don’t force leadership, I think that’s really important (to note). When you see the captains and the leadership committee that’s just how they vote. So there are some guys that I get surprised just like the rest of you where I’d think ‘hey, he would have gotten more support (or someone else)’ but it is what it is.
“I think the fact that they picked the quarterback as one of the leaders of the team – the guy that has the ball in his hands on every play, and as a matter of fact the two guys that have the ball on their hands on every play, the center and the quarterback – that’s who they picked to lead the offense and I think that’s a very good thing.”
No Need for a Re-Vote
“On Offense, it was interesting to see how this was going to go but there were two guys that were runaways from the rest of the pack but both of these guys are very vocal guys: Eric (Olsen) is very vocal and Jimmy (Clausen) has become very vocal in a positive way. He’s really learned how to say the right things at the right time which when you’re a young quarterback that’s not always the case.”
The Late Bloomer
“I think first of all, Kyle (McCarthy) was a runaway winner on defense,” explained Weis on August 17 while discussing the captains and leadership committee. “I think that sometimes when you’re a fifth-year guy you sometimes get support just because you’ve been around here the longest. But I think in Kyle’s case, just in how tough he plays and how he plays through pain and how he settles the defense down (and he’s) consistent; I think that’s one of the reason’s why the defense admires him so much.
Regarding McCarthy’s Ability as a Recruit
“He had very good athletic skills; you just weren’t really sure whether or not you’d end up playing him on offense or defense," said Weis. "But I recruited him and told him when we got involved with him that I thought his natural position would end up being safety.
“He still contends that he could have been an option quarterback here if he were allowed – very similar to a previous strong safety we had here – but what he’s turned into is one of our most consistent tacklers in the secondary since I’ve been here.”
(The “previous strong safety” Weis alluded to was of course Tom Zbikowski).
“I’ve talked with a bunch of pro scouts,” Weis continued “and every one of them – they’re almost surprised when they watch on tape at how good he plays. How many tackles (knock on wood) do you see the guy miss? It seems like he’s always making a play. You can’t put a value on that.
“He’s in the right place at the right time for the majority of the time. He’s been a very consistent player both physically and certainly mentally, because he’s done a good job of making sure we’re in the (correct alignment) and he’s been a very good mentor for Harrison (Smith) to tell you the truth. Harrison’s a smart guy but going from SAM (strong side linebacker) to safety – you still need someone back there to help guide you along.”
“I always got along well with Eric because we grew up in the same area, and we saw things the same way," explained Weis. "But I think he’s changed his physique from when he first got here.
“Now he’s one of the strongest guys on the team; he’s playing inside, and he wanted to have the opportunity to compete to be the starting center, because he wanted to be the guy to make the calls – he wanted that responsibility. He wanted to be one of the guys that everyone else was counting on.
“As I’ve said before, we give a lot of responsibility to our center as far as making calls and he was looking forward to that challenge. He’s grown a lot but I tell you what, the team was ready for him to be one of those guys to step up and take charge.”
“Well first of all he has very good running instincts,” Weis explained. “Second he’s one of the best guys we have at picking up the blitz despite his size. Third, mentally, he’s our sharpest guy there too. And he’s made himself physically stronger because he’s putting himself in position to be an every down back.”
Regarding the competition behind Allen
“There are a lot of (‘backs) that I think will end up getting reps but they have to take them from him (Allen). He’s the guy they’re trying to get the reps from.
“He’s the bar that they’re competing against. I feel pretty good about the competition and I feel pretty good about having to roll some guys in there but they’re going to have to take (reps or playing time) from Armando.”
Weis on the New Blood Up Front
“(Junior) Taylor Dever has been running as contender for backup right tackle during the whole camp. After missing the spring he started out a little rusty, but that’s what he’s trying to do (become the definitive backup right tackle). We want to get to the point that we can get someone in there when Sam (Young) not in there and not have a huge drop off.”
Regarding the pleasant surprise (at least through the eyes of the media) that is backup interior DL (and sophomore) Sean Cywnar
“As far as Cwynar, he’s worked his way up the depth chart, and it was at the very end of the spring where we started to see that and he’s really picked up where he left off at the start of camp.”
IrishEyes With Leadership Committee Members
“Well my class has seen the ups with Brady and we saw the worst,” explained senior defensive end John Ryan. “But I think it's built a lot of character in our class. We know how to deal with adversity and obviously we’ve seen how Brady and those guys dealt with success. We’ll find out against Nevada.”
John Ryan regarding his senior season at DE
“That’s what I did my whole life (played with his hand on the ground). Obviously through course of sophomore year (2007) and a little bit of last year (he played OLB). It’s more natural inclination to put my hand on the ground.”
Sophomore WR Michael Floyd on the team’s young receivers
“I think physically and in terms of their (improved) speed,” explained Floyd of sophomores John Goodman and Deion Walker who were withheld from game action last season. “They learned the offense real well (last year) and I think when people (sit out) – a lot of players don’t really focus because they don’t see themselves playing, but these guys – Goody and Deion – took it all in knowing they weren’t going to play and that’s something to really like about them.
“They got at it this summer,” Floyd continued, “Getting stronger and faster, and the coaches and the guys that have played (Floyd, Golden Tate, Duval Kamara, Robby Parris) like to see that because there’s a lot of depth and you have help when someone goes down.”
Floyd’s observations of freshmen receivers Shaquelle Evans and Roby Toma
“Both are really quick. Roby’s a shorter guy, but he can get out of his break really well – that’s what I like about him. And Shaq is taller than Robby; has speed, but what I like about him is he can get off press (coverage) really well.
“But like any freshman and like when I came in here, it’s a totally different thing from high school so there are a lot of things to work on but we all get each other right.”
Floyd on his evolution from playing almost exclusively on the right side last season
“They’re (coaches) switching us around. They switch us all around to see who works well with other players; just being able to rotate everyone is something we like to be able to do.”
Leadership Committee Member and DE Kerry Neal
“It feels good, man. It’s an honor for my teammates to pick me as part of the Leadership Committee. We just keep getting after it in practice and keep working hard; keep pushing my guys on and off the field in the meeting room.
“For the most part now we know (the defensive linemen) what we’re supposed to do. The first couple of days was just install, install. Now, the guys know what to do and we just have to go out and perfect our footwork, get all the technique down.
“There’s a huge (amount of) progress from Day 1 to today. Everything is a much faster pace. We go to our drills and everybody knows what they’re doing compared to the first day when coach would say something and everybody would look lost.
“The freshmen (and first-time sophomore contributors) are flying around, both on offense and defense. They’re coming around and making plays.”
Neal when asked about the backup tackle situation
“(Matt) Romine: He’s a good pass blocker; his footwork is really good. He’s one of the tougher guys (to face). He’s just quicker than most offensive linemen.”
Leadership Committee and Nickel Back, Sergio Brown
“It’s an honor that my teammates look at me as a leader and I‘m really proud of it.”
Regarding the difference between playing his nickel back position and his “actual” position of strong safety (where Kyle McCarthy is the starter).
“It’s not really much different. Basically the spots (in the Irish defense) are interchangeable when the strong safety is playing down (in the box). So there’s not a lot of cross training needed. All of he defensive backs know (the requirements) of all of the positions anyway.
(Brown admitted that covering the deep third (as a free safety basically playing centerfield) is the biggest adjustment from his position to another in the defensive backfield.)
Regarding his own need for improvement
“Basically knowing the defenses better and being more aware (on the field). I worked on maturing as a DB – watching film (correctly) and making sure to prepare the way a crafty veteran should.”
Leadership Committee Member and WLB Brian Smith
“(Laughing at the question) – Yeah, we still have some bodies left (I saw at least three linebackers missing during the previous practice)…still got some left. It’s the dog days of camp; guys are hurting hamstrings getting concussions but they’ll be ready.”
Regarding competition at linebacker
“Its’ not even about the competition it’s about putting the best possible combination we can get out there on the field. Coach Tenuta has done a great job of shuffling us all around seeing what combinations would work best. That’s what’s great about our linebacker corps, we have so many different bodies that can do so many different things that we can put together plenty of great combinations.”
On the SAM LB position
“You have to have a different skill set and (a good example) is Darius (Fleming); he’s a lineman converted to linebacker but has the moves and the strength of a defensive lineman, so its pretty nice to have him at SLB.”
Captain and Strong Safety Kyle McCarthy
“I viewed myself as a leader last year. It’s really not going to change my day-to-day approach but it really is an honor for my teammates to think highly enough to be elected a defensive captain. I’m honored and privileged that they respect me enough to elect me as a leader and hopefully I can live up to their expectations and do well.”
When asked about the younger defensive backs
“All the defensive backs have really picked up the schemes very well, and for the young guys like my brother Danny McCarthy and (freshman) Zeke Motta, they’ve been doing a great job picking up the entire defense considering how young they are. We’re excited to see what they can do for us this year.”
Regarding IrishEyes observation that no cornerbacks were involved in the teams top goal line defense at a recent practice
“Absolutely (that the coaches must have faith in the safeties coverage skills). Sergio (Brown) is kind of a hybrid player with his athleticism; he can basically do anything that the coaches ask of him. So it’s a privilege to know they have the faith in us to hold it down in those special situations.”
(McCarthy and Brown joined nine defensive linemen/linebackers in the first-team goal line set we saw in mid-August).
Irish Running Backs Coach Tony Alford
Random IrishEyes Writer: "Coach, one last thing - maybe you can settle this: Jonas (Gray) told me that he's quicker than Theo Riddick. Your thoughts?"
Alford: "I'm quicker than both of them."