Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Post-Spring Thoughts

It has been a while since I have posted anything here, but I wanted to wait until after spring ball to get a handle on my thoughts about where the Irish are. In general, I think the Irish made dramatic improvement this spring as a team. There are still holes, some glaring, but the biggest improvement I saw and heard was that this team has galvanized. There is a very different attitude on this roster right now. A funny thing happened this spring -- Charlie Weis upped the physical intensity of practice, and his team responded. The coaching staff made the guys hit at every chance, and they embraced it. I don't know how much better the Irish will be on offense or defense next season, but I know without a doubt that they will be a much tougher team, a much nastier team, a team that may lose, but they will put up a street fight and stand together. I will share my thoughts on the offense today and in the next day or so, I will post my thoughts on the defense.

1. Jimmy Clausen is MUCH improved. Physically, mentally he is just light years ahead of where he was. There is still plenty of room for growth, which is a good thing. I have said all along that the sky is the limit for this kid. If he can get the protection and the WR play, he is going to have a very good season. I also know, though, that he is not ready to take a team on his shoulders and carry them. He needs a solid running game and pass protection. This team will be much more effective, this year, with Jimmy throwing 20-25 passes per game than they would be with Jimmy throwing 35-40 passes per game. The Irish can win with Jimmy going 17-25 for 200-250 yards and limiting turnovers.

2. If the Irish do not take advantage of this stable of RBs and make this year the year they commit to the run, then they are making a huge mistake. It simply doesn't get much better than Hughes, Allen, and Aldridge. Everyone wants to know who will start, who will carry the load. At this point, I think you have to say Robert Hughes will be given the first shot. I really enjoy watching him. He is so raw and has not even scratched his potential yet, which is very exciting. I watch Robert run and he still struggles often with hitting the right hole, or making the right cut, but he is so powerful, and uncannily light on his feet that he is still productive! It defies explanation sometimes! Robert can be an excellent back this year. When he reaches his potential and the light goes on, watch out! While I think Robert will get first crack at being the workhorse, all 3 backs will play and from what I hear, the coaching staff will not be afraid to ride the hot hand if someone is making plays early in a game. Keep an eye on Armando Allen, because he is close to clicking. Real close.

3. At FB, Asaph Schwapp looks more agile, which is a good thing. Moving Paskorz to FB is also a great move, because if he can get the blocking down, he can be a weapon (though likely not this coming season). Moving Paskorz, if successful, essentially negates the need to use a recruiting scholarship this season on a FB, which is a good thing in a year where we are limited in available scholarship numbers.

4. At WR, I will be honest -- I am slightly disappointed. I am disappointed that the players have not made more dramatic strides and the intensity and concentration level is not where it needs to be. David Grimes is going to be a very productive football player for this team if he can stay healthy. He runs great routes and usually has sure hands. But let's be honest -- he is not a #1 receiver. The 2 guys I wanted to see step forward this spring were Duval Kamara and Golden Tate (I would have included Robbie Parris in this group, but he was banged up). Duval looked very similar to how he looked during the season -- incredibly talented, fantastic size, inconsistent hands, and inconsistent effort. No receiver currently on the Irish roster has the upside that Duval has. Unfortunately, I did not see as much development, growth, and maturity from him as I had hoped. Duval needs to go out every play driven to use his unique blend of size and speed to simply control a CB, He does this sometimes, but not every play and not nearly often enough. Jimmy needs to know that every down he can count on Duval being where he needs to be and being willing to fight for the ball. With Golden Tate, we all know he has speed. You can't deny it any more than you can coach it. However, he is still very very raw in his route running and understanding of the position. With the cavalry of talented freshmen receivers showing up this summer, I expected to see more of a fire lit under these guys and I just didn't see it.

5. Mike Ragone was the Irish TE position this spring. This young man got more reps than any other player other than Jimmy this spring. As an Irish fan, Ragone is going to come to symbolize next year's team I believe. He is tough, hard nosed, plays with an attitude, won't back down, is extremely talented, but is still young and will make some young mistakes. In case you can't tell, I am a big fan of this player. The catch he made in the Blue-Gold game over Brian Smith was an NFL play. Ragone has a lot of work to do on his technique in the blocking game, but he always give you 100% and he is flat nasty. He will have trouble blocking some of the bigger rushers this season, but the one thing you know is that he is never going to hang his head and he is never going to back down. Getting Will Yeatman back in the fall will be huge for this unit. Will is going to need to pick up the slack in the blocking game. I liked the experiment of Luke Schmidt at TE, but I am afraid that his unfortunate head injury will cost him. He desperately needed the reps he would have gotten this spring. With Yeatman back in the fall, Ragone as the starter, and 2 talented freshmen about to arrive, I think there is a chance Luke gets lost in the shuffle.

6. Perhaps no position was more scrutinized this spring than the OL, and with good reason after the debacle we witnessed last season. Overall, I am encouraged. I am actually encouraged more by the change in attitude and cohesiveness than anything else. That will go a long way towards fixing many of the problems we witnessed last season. Trust me on that one. I don't often single out guys on the OL, but if you want to know where the improved aggressive attitude comes from, look no further than Eric Olsen. This kid is an animal. Every practice video you watch shows him sprinting to lead a drill. Every skirmish and he is right in the middle of it. Every time a back or QB goes down, he is the first man there to pick him up. I said last year that talent and experience were not going to be enough to fix the OL problems for next season -- they needed an attitude adjustment. That has happened. Having said that, there are still issues with this OL. If you were to ask me today how the Irish will line up for San Diego State, I would say that from left to right the starters would be Duncan, Olsen, Wenger, Stewart, and Young, with Turk rotating in often at both guard spots. I have read a lot of criticism from the spring game about the play of Sam Young, and to be honest, I don't see it. No OLineman is going to be perfect every snap. Everyone gets beat occasionally. Sam is what he is -- a powerful run blocking lineman who is solid in pass pro, but struggles against elite outside speed rushers. You can win, a lot, with a guy like Sam at RT. I think the Irish have a special combination in the running game on the right side with mammoth Sam and Stewart to run behind. To be frank, my concern is with the LT spot and Paul Duncan. Duncan has improved, but I am just not sure how much ability he has left to improve. Through no fault of his own, I just don't see Paul as an elite tackle. He is not powerful in the run game, and he struggles to hold his ground in pass pro. That spot will be the weakness of next year's line in my view. I think the Irish will have to struggle not to telegraph their play calls, because I think they want Schwapp in there at FB on running plays and they know they are going to need to give Duncan help in the form of 2nd TE Will Yeatman in the passing game. Nevertheless, you play with the guys you have and right now the Irish do not have a better option at LT than Duncan, who when he plays hard and smart, can be ok. I wanted to see Matt Romine step forward and take that spot this spring, but it didn't happen and Romine was hobbled with an apparent ankle injury.

Overall, this offense will be improved next season. It would be hard not to improve off last season's performance, however, I think the improvement will be genuine and significant.


Ted Eberle said...

IG, I really like the way you analyze what you see. For the fan who takes in everything, it is great to have people like you sharing your thoughts.

We were at the stadium last Saturday, and I believe there is so much to look forward to this year and beyond.

As CW calls them, the reinforcements will arrive this summer. Some of those young men will see playing time quickly.

I believe the future in '08 and beyond is going to be very interesting. If the recuiting continues and coaching develops the players, one can only wonder what might lie ahead in 2009, 2010,
and beyond.


Andy said...

Given last year's dreadful performance at FB, here's hoping we just train Aldridge to be FB, and let Hughes and Allen run free.

IrishGlory said...

Ted - You are absolutely right. I think the Irish will be improved next season, no doubt. However, I think some of the wild fan predictions of a 10 win season are not realistic. I think the Irish will be competitive in 2008 and 2009 is the year Charlie has been building for. That is when he takes his first legitimate run at the crown.

Andy - I think you will see some 2RB sets this season, but I highly highly doubt you will see James as a FB in this offense in the traditional sense of a lead blocker, etc.

BigE said...

The offense is still very young, though seemed much more focused and without the many distractions of last year. I agree there will be marked improvement, but youthful mistakes will cost them a couple games. The lighter schedule is a big plus and I say they will reverse last year's record with a 9-3 mark. Would that record get us to a bcs game? Not sure if we have the talent to win that contest, but we can worry about crossing that bridge when we come to it. Go Irish!

IrishGlory said...

bige - While I don't think 9-3 is impossible, I am just not sure I see it happening. There are still many holes and lots of youth on this team. 8-4 is about where I see them if things fall right. While 9-3 might qualify for a BCS game with the ND name attached to it, I am not sure we want that. At this point, ND MUST end the bowl losing streak. Trust me, it would advance the program mush farther, and help recruiting much more, for the Irish to go 8-4 and win in the Gator Bow or the like than go 9-3 and get smashed by a Florida or LSU in a BCS bowl.

Sir John said...

I won't predict win-losses (I did a bad job last year) I do agree with Irish Glor that Ragone wii be something exceptional for the team. I was In his corner before everyone back when. Yeatman I feel need to overcome his not being at practices, unless come August he jumps the rail? Great anaylisis Irish Glory

wsmitheGH said...

Great analyzation. What do you think of Clausen vs. Quinn at his age?

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