August 12, 2009

Duval Kamara injured, Justin McCay update, Weis being Weis, and a schedule update

Multiple things going on in the world of ND football the last couple days, so let's take a look at some hot button issues.

4) Duval Kamara knee surgery

Tough break for Duval Kamara with the knee scope. He cannot seem to get his career on track. I know players come back from these types of injuries within a few weeks all the time, but you never know when it comes to a knee. He might be back soon, or this might be a problem all year.

Should be interesting to see if someone really steps up while Kamara is out between now and opening day. The Charlie Weis offense has been most effective (think: 2005 Pitt game with Samardzija, McKnight, Stovall) when we could play three good receivers at once and mix in the tight end as well. We've got 3 out of those 4 spots solidified, but that #3 wide receiver still feels up for grabs. Maybe Kamara is still the guy on opening day, but you gotta think someone like Shaq Evans or Deion Walker is licking his chops thinking that the job is still wide open.

Two other injuries to keep an eye on: Darrin Walls (hammy) and Hafis Williams (internal issues)

Definitely don't want any injuries to linger for either of those guys. Our best corner and one of our rotation guys at DT. Hopefully they'll be back on the field soon.

As strange as this sounds considering how bad we've been the last couple years, we've had decent luck with injuries in the Weis era. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but we haven't really had any season ending type injuries (blown out ACL, broken leg, spinal injury, etc) in the preseason for any of our key players as long as Weis has been here. Hopefully that good fortune continues.

Then again, I've noticed that injuries are more prevalent with the real physical programs like USC. USC goes at it so hard in practice (i.e. "Competition Tuesday") that injuries are inevitable. Maybe the physical practices hurt in the short term with guys getting banged up, but it makes you a tougher team in the long run. If a couple Irish players are getting carted off in preseason, that might be a sign that the hitting is much more intense in fall camp this year.

3) Justin McCay is a Sooner

Not terribly shocking news here, but stud WR recruit Justin McCay has verbally committed to Oklahoma. Not sure how much interest he actually had in ND, but he seemed to be the type of kid who would be attracted to a place like ND. Plus, his coach is Tim Grunhard. The other rumor is that WR Kyle Prater is on the verge of verballing to USC as well. Two guys who were on our radar, and we came away empty handed.

So what's the story here?? Why wouldn't guys like McCay or Prater, who would have put up HUGE numbers in the ND offense under Weis, be crawling on hands and knees to come to ND?? I suppose you could say that players are scared off by Weis' uncertain status at ND and worried that they'll be in playing in a different offense when they get to ND, but I have a different take. Perhaps this is completely out in left field, but I wonder if these stud WRs are getting scared off by the depth chart. You might be the next Jerry Rice, but if you commit to ND, you're not seeing the field as a freshman with Tate and Floyd and Kamara coming back in 2010. Tate is not going pro as a junior, and Floyd will only be a junior next year. And if Floyd plays his senior year in 2011 and Shaq Evans and Deion Walker are as good as advertised, you might not see the field all that much as a sophomore in 2011 either. It's a good problem to have for the current roster, but I could see recruits shying away from ND knowing that there's not much playing time available for the next couple years.

Now, from the McCay articles that I've read, Grunhard is quoted as saying that Oklahoma has low numbers returning at wide receiver next year. Maybe McCay thinks he can come in next year and get playing time at OU. That probably wouldn't happen at ND. And for all the talent at USC, I think Damien Williams is gone after this year. USC doesn't have quite the hierarchy at WR that ND has going into 2010.

I know there's room to play if you're really good, but it seems like all these freshmen want to get on the field right away. There's really not much room to crack our lineup in 2010 or 2011 at WR. Maybe we'll have a better chance to get a couple elite WRs in the 2011 class when the depth chart really starts opening up.

2) Weis being Weis

One of the things I've noticed in the first week of Charlie Weis press conferences is that Weis is trying to avoid his typical Jersey act bravado nonsense. No "schematic advantage," no "we're gonna pound it," no bragging, no chestpuffing. Weis seemed to go out of his way in his first press conference to point out that he'd rather see the team prove it on the field.

For me, this was a relief. I prefer the Lou Holtz approach. Talk down your team, play up your opponent, be humble, and dominate on the field. It's much sweeter to come in as the underdog with something to prove than the bloated, cocky team that rolls in with a bunch of hype and gets run off the field.

So I was feeling good about this new approach from Coach Weis until I read this quote from him about the new offense the other day.

“What I’ve tried to do this camp, taking over as coordinator, is get back into the way I used to set up offense,” Weis said. “The way I used to set up offense is take fewer plays, (but run them) from more personnel groups and more formations.

“This way, the players can get a core set of plays and get good at them. By using more personnel groups and more formations, you cause indecision with a defensive player. We’re not locked into any one personnel group with any one play — (for example) the only way we could run a certain play is with three wide receivers on the field.”

Ummm, can someone please scrape Mike Haywood off the bottom of the road after getting run over by that bus driven by Captain Charles Joseph Weis?? Weis went out of his way right there to distance himself from the offense in 2008, and he seems to imply that Haywood wasn't running the offense that Weis likes to run.

Here's my question though. Wasn't Charlie Weis the offensive coordinator for the 2007 season when we had one of the worst offenses in the history of Notre Dame football?? He acts like the offense fell off a cliff in 2008 when he gave up control, but the offense was even worse in 2007.

And even more importantly, wasn't he the head coach of this team in 2008?? Isn't he ultimately in charge of the product that is put out on the field?? Weis acts like he had nothing to do with the offense in 2008. If that was the case, then what the heck was he doing all of 2008 when the season was spiraling out of control?? And if he delegated that much to the point where Haywood was completely in charge of the offensive philosophy, then why doesn't Weis just mail the university back his paycheck for the 2008 season??

The reality here is that this quote is a load of garbage. It's a bunch of revisionist history that couldn't be farther from the truth. I watched every game of the 2008 season, and that was the Charlie Weis offense that we saw. I mean, come on. It was the same offense only every team has adjusted to it by now because they've seen it on film for four years. And because we had no running game and a bad line, we couldn't do anything to change it up and present a different look. We were a soft football team, and that starts and ends with the head coach. Schemes and personnel groupings are meaningless if you're getting blown off the ball every play. Don't give me this nonsense about "getting back to the way you used to set up the offense" like Haywood was the guy who screwed everything up.

Teams have been catching on to our offense going all the way back to 2006. Michigan ran us off the field that year, and even teams like Georgia Tech and UCLA gave our offense a ton of problems that year. How many sacks did that Bruce Davis guy have against us in that 2006 UCLA game?? I also specifically remember watching the 2006 USC game, and it looked like USC's players knew what play was coming as if they had been in the huddle. They snuffed out every screen play we ran and completely shut down our running game. Weis' offense has been showing cracks for years, so it's not like we were some juggernaut offensively until Haywood took over.

Mike Haywood wasn't the reason our offense stunk in 2008. Charlie Weis was the reason. He's the head coach of the team and is the one responsible for what happens on the field. Heck, Weis took over as o-coordinator for the last couple games of the season, and we lost to Syracuse and got throttled by USC in those games.

Now, I think Weis made some good changes by bringing in Verducci and Alford, and I do think it's for the best that he is the offensive coordinator (albeit in the booth), but let's not go back and say that things fell apart the last couple years because of Mike Haywood and his "personnel groupings." The offense fell apart because it was a fundamentally unsound group that couldn't run the ball. I think this offense has a chance to be much better this year, but I thought Weis' comments were unfortunate.

1) BC-ND rumors

Big rumors out there that ND and Boston College are in negotiations for a home-home-neutral series sometime in the middle of the next decade. One game would be at ND, one game at BC, and one game in Chicago as the "neutral site" game.

First, I'm completely in favor of continuing the Boston College series. Saw what you want about BC, but it's a rivalry game, they have similar kids, and it's a Catholic school. Plus, BC is a pretty safe school to schedule since they are about the same every single year. 7-9 wins, experienced talent, solid program. If you schedule BC, you know you're getting a solid mid-tier opponent.

Second, while I'm not really crazy about the neutral site stuff, I'm willing to acknowledge that it's not going away any time soon. NBC seems to really be pushing for it to get their primetime game, and our hands our tied as long as our games are televised by NBC. So if we have to play a neutral site every year, I would rather use it as a vehicle for a 1-1-1 series instead of one of these bogus "buy games" like we are doing with Washington State and Army. Give me a 1-1-1 with BC or Wisconsin or Miami over one of these "Baylor in New Orleans" games every day of the week.

The other thing I like is that I get the impression that we're finally going to strong arm the Purdues and BCs and Stanfords of the world into playing on our terms. In other words, if you want your true home game against us, you agree to play us on the road and in an NBC "neutral" site home game. In other words, it's a 2 for 1 deal. FINALLY!! I've been in favor of doing this for years. There is no reason to use up valuable home and home spots for Purdue and BC and Stanford every year. If anything, I would push for a 2-1-1 deal where we get 2 home games, they get one road game, and we get a neutral game. That's still a good deal for a school like Purdue because they get a home game against ND instead of having to play Central Michigan and McNeese State. Purdue can scream bloody murder all they want, but the reality is that they are LUCKY just to be on ND's schedule at all. If they want to stay on the schedule, it's on our terms.

If we do these 2 for 1 deals more often, suddenly it opens up room for 1-2 interesting home and home series with other schools like Bama and Clemson, et al.

The only thing I'm wondering about is why we're playing the neutral game in Chicago. What's the point?? We already play in South Bend. Is there really any benefit to playing a neutral game in Chicago?? Why not just play the game in South Bend and get a true home game in ND Stadium?? I'd rather watch ND-BC at ND than at Soldier Field.

Playing a neutral game in the Midwest seems like a waste of time. We already play 7-8 games a year in the Midwest region. Why play another one in Chicago when Midwesterners can just go to South Bend for a game?? If you're going to do a neutral game, do it in New York or one of the southern venues. DC would be another option.

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