I can't say anything about how the team will actually perform this fall. But I can say that I like how they're performing at this exact moment, based on the approximately five minutes of actual practice footage I've seen. Which clearly makes me an expert on the subject and entitles me to extrapolate on it at length, with the aid of key quotes, press conference clips, clever inferences, and the possibility of over-exaggerated extended metaphors which, if nothing else, seemed like a good idea at the time.
Take her to warp speed, captain!
So the main reaction to the first spring practice of 2010 (which took place yesterday, for those of you who haven't been paying attention) seems to be that it was fast. Really fast. Fast like a cheetah. Fast like a viper. Fast like Golden Tate on a straight route up the sideline past the Purdue secondary. (Sorry. Was that too much 2007 too soon?) Fast like the USS Enterprise or...whatever.
The point is, X out of X football journalists recently polled state that yesterday's spring practice was the "fastest" and the most "up-tempo" of any Irish spring practice they've ever seen, stretching back to at least the Devine era. No-huddle offense. Helmets on at all times. No standing still.
...you know, except for the necessary amount of standing still required to wait for instructions / water / the players' bodies to cool down enough so they don't vomit / pass out / begin imagining that the faces of people who mocked them in the past have suddenly been transposed onto the faces of the players on the other side of the ball.
This may or may not be an accurate assessment of the actual amount of hustle involved in practice, considering, you know, I wasn't there.
So anyway. This tempo of this practice seems promising, if you believe in the whole "you play like you practice" mantra. It seems to suggest a higher level of conditioning necessary to survive the practices, let alone the games.
Thinking optimistically...this may make it easier for the team to adjust to game speed in the fall, and might possibly improve the players' overall stamina enough for them to actually play all four quarters of football. And at this point, that would be something of a feat, considering how effing long all our home games have become (thanks NBC). On the flip side, too much intensity during practice could leave the players without their legs under them when game day actually does roll around.
But Brian Kelly has been a head coach for 19 years now (this season will be his 20th, I believe), so I'm going to have to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Beam me up, Scotty
It's only one day of practice so far, so it's impossible to say we've really arrived anywhere. It's impossible to draw any real, concrete conclusions. But here's a chunk of the WNDU article on yesterday's practice, complete with some optimistic quotes from Kelly's pre-practice presser:
"I think probably the thing that is absolutely non-negotiable is the intensity through repetition," Kelly told the media before practice.
Kelly said he doesn't want to hear any talking, complaining or see any fights at practice. But he does want to see some fight.
"If we can get the fight back in the Fightin' Irish, that's what I'm looking for," Kelly said. "I want to compete our butts off for four quarters.
"I want our guys to go to practice and compete, compete and compete."
For the most part, this is the sort of pre-season stuff you'd expect any new coach to be saying. I mean, you'd certainly hope that any new coach coming to Notre Dame would want to say something corny like he wants to put the "fight back in the Fightin' Irish." And any coach worth his cleats should be promising that his team's going to play for four quarters.
But it's one thing to claim "intensity through repetition," one thing to say that you want your guys to "compete, compete, compete." It's entirely another to go out on the first day of practice and prove it.
So... what do we got so far?
High-tempo practice. Lots of focus, lots of action. Lots of work toward getting the players to “think on their feet.” As previously mentioned, these practice sessions have been like nothing we’ve seen from ND spring ball for the last, oh, thirty years or so (at least), but as Kelly himself remarked after today’s practice, “It doesn’t mean it’s better, it’s just different for ‘em.” It’s intriguing, but we’ll just have to wait and see whether this approach pays dividends in the fall.
Chips all in. Anyone who could walk was on the field yesterday, including Dayne Crist and Kyle Rudolph, both of whom underwent off-season surgery. Both are looking to be in pretty decent shape for the coming season (we hope). The reporters are saying Dayne Crist will probably be the starter at QB, which seems logical, but it's impossible to make any concrete statements at this point, considering Kelly is operating with
No depth chart. Kelly apparently prefers to practice with different “pods” or groups of players, rather than dividing them into first-string and second-string teams. All the players are out there competing for a starting spot; nothing's guaranteed. Which, theoretically, is the way it should always be in spring ball, and it's definitely nothing less than you'd expect from a brand-new head coach. But I really like that there's not even a hint at first-string or second-string yet, except from the reporters. The players (including Dayne Crist) all seem to be feeling the pressure to get out there and compete, to earn the spot they want. Like I said, nothing really unusual here, but it’s still nice to see.
The position shuffle. A number of players have shuffled position already – I’m just going to mention a couple.
Sophomore running back Theo Riddick has been moved to slot receiver. I have to say I like this move. By all reports, Theo is the fastest guy on the team. Which means he’s faster than Golden Tate. Last year, Theo picked up most of his playing time on kick returns for special teams, and a few really scrappy plays against Washington State that, were it not for a few well-placed shoestring tackles, might’ve turned themselves into scampers for the endzone. (Okay, he may have had a few more carries than that, but mostly I remember the WSU game, because that game was really fun to watch, because we were, you know, winning.) I’m very curious to see how his speed will transfer to a receiving position. If you will recall, Golden Tate played fullback in high school. One could surmise that this experience had an extremely positive effect on Golden’s ability to make plays after the catch. It’s possible that the same could be true for Theo Riddick. Possibly. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, it’s only spring practice.
There’s also been a lot of flip-flopping throughout the linebacker corps. Harrison Smith is switching from outside linebacker to safety, Steve Paskorz is moving from inside linebacker to fullback, Manti Te’o is switching from middle to inside linebacker, and inside linebacker Brian Smith is switching to outside. The reason for all the switching? Apparently Kelly likes his strong, physical players on the inside and his athletic, faster players on the outside. Which makes sense, really, doesn’t it? Giving the faster guys more of the field to cover? But again, we’ll have to see how this all shakes down in the fall. I certainly hope all the shuffling in the linebackers will prevent one of the safeties from becoming next year’s leader in tackles. Not that I didn’t love Kyle McCarthy, but come on – when a Safety is your leading tackler, you’ve got some serious defensive issues.
To infinity, and beyond!
(Oh wait, that was a Buzz Lightyear reference.)
So anyway. One month of spring practice before the Blue-Gold game, which, sadly, I will not be attending. (Sigh.) ND’s spring practices this year started later than…pretty much every other school’s…so let’s hope these up-tempo practices and some intense focus can get us where we need to be by the end of April.
Six months or less ‘til football season……
GO IRISH BEAT BOILERS!