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Notre Dame Spring Football Report
by Tom Stryker - 04/28/2006
The weather just got decent in northern Indiana, but around South Bend, there are thousands that canâ€™t wait for fall. And you know why. Notre Dame Football Coach has the Irish legions dreaming again - dreaming about national championships and BCS berths - things that have escaped the Irish all too often since the departure of Lou Holtz.
Last Saturday Notre Dame concluded its spring practice with an annual Blue-Gold game that drew more than 41,000 people.
There is a new excitement around the the Golden Dome, and spring practice was devoted to shoring up some holes - especially defensively. After Ohio State riddled the Irish D for more than 600 yards, major improvement was the goal of the spring. The staff ended drills feeling good about the progress and Weiss left immediately afterward to work on recruiting top-flight defensive players.
One quick side note if you missed it, however. On the offensive side of things, Jimmy Clausen, thought by many to be the No. 1 quarterback in the 2007 recruiting crop, aired his intentions to come to Notre Dame. He will enroll in school in January and hopes to compete with others from the throne held now by Brady Quinn.
But back to defense. The spring game ended 10-7 and the Quinn-lead offensive unit labored to end up with 252 total yards. That in itself was a victory for the D.
Cornerback Terrail Lambert was impressive, as were young safeties Ray Herring and David Burton. Those three may help prevent the kind of embarrassment heaped on by the likes of the Buckeyes one year ago.
Trevor Laws, a defensive tackle, had two sacks and six tackles. He and linebacker Mitchell Thomas shared top honors for the â€œBlueâ€쳌 team.
The Irish numbers are impressive. Defensively, for instance, nine starters and 20 total letter winners are back, along with some highly touted new recruits.
On the other side of the ball, much of the most explosive offense in Notre Dame history will be back. The leader of course is Quinn, but wide receiver Jeff Samardzija (77 catches, 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns) is back, along with now healthy Rhema McKnight, who looked better than last fall in spring workouts.
Tailback Darius Walker (1,196 yards and nine touchdowns) returns as does backup Travis Thomas who electrified the spring game audience with an 83-yard touchdown run. Fullback Asaph Schwapp also returns.
Quinn is the ringleader. His numbers last year (292 of 250 for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns) make him a sure-fire Heisman Trophy candidate before fall even arrives.
If there are question marks after the fall, they are revolving the offensive line and special teams. Three 2005 starters are back with the offensive line (LT Ryan Haris, C John Sullivan and LG Dan Santucci). But veteran Bob Morton does return to give plenty of strength to that unit.
Kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick, who was both the punter and the placekicker, is gone. And the Irish know they have to find a suitable replacement - especially knowing the kind of schedule they play and the likelihood that the kicking game will decide at least one of those contests. One candidate to replace Fitzpatrick is Carl Gioia, who kicked a 20-yarder in the final seconds to win the spring game.
Notre Dame in the fall will meet Georgia Tech, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, UCLA, North Carolina and USC. Not too many patsies in that group, but the Irish also do play all three service academy teams - Army, Navy and Air Force.
But back to the defense and those nine returning starters.
Tackle Ryan Harris, end Victor Abiamiri and nose guard Derek Landri all return to lend some stability to the guys up front.
Maurice Crum returns at srongside lineback, but the loss of Brandon Hoyte will be a huge hole to fill. Joe Brockington and Mitchell Thomas may be vying for the weakside linebacking position.
Michael Richardson and Ambrose Wooden both return - but that is good and bad news. Good news in that they are experienced, but bad news in that they were picked on successfully by more than one opponent last fall. Both safeties are back, too, headlined by likely All-American selection Tom Zbikowski.
Notre Dameâ€™s 2006 recruiting class was judged certainly in the Top Five by most experts, lending hope that some of the newcomers can add to the two-deep if not get plenty of on-field time in the fall.
There is plenty of optimism and a renewed belief and confidence. Last year that produced nine victories. Weiss and Co. are hoping for better than that this fall.