Jimmy Clausen had limitations placed on him as a freshman in ’07 because of physical issues following a spring procedure to clean up bone spurs on his right (throwing) elbow.
That wasn’t the only thing holding him back. For all of the gifts the Irish signalcaller has been blessed with and has polished, he still needed to learn about the multitude of ways defenses could trick him.
“Jimmy’s (improved) understanding of the offense (comes from) understanding blitz protection,” said offensive coordinator Mike Haywood. “As a freshman, it’s really difficult to understand where your ‘hots’ and your ‘sights’ are coming from, as well as how you have to identify the Mike (linebacker) to protect yourself. He’s doing a better job with that.”
When the opposing defense sends a linebacker up the middle or a cornerback from the edge, the quarterback must understand which receiver to throw to in a split second, based upon where the pressure is coming from, how the receivers are being defended, and how the offensive line is protecting him.
That’s a lot for a freshman—no matter how talented—to decipher.
“The biggest thing for me last year were the ‘hots’ and ‘sights’ when the defense was blitzing,” Clausen said. “I really didn’t know the protections last year as well as I should have. I think I have a good grasp of that now.”
Many times in ‘07, the offensive line just collapsed; other times, Clausen ran himself into a sack or pressure from the defense by rolling into the blitz. Now that Clausen has gathered additional information, some of those natural leadership skills are in greater evidence.
“Jimmy is a good leader because he has an air about him that guys tend to flock to him,” Haywood said. “They like being around him. They like hanging out with him. Those are the guys that line up and play with you on every down. It carries over from off the field to on the field.”
Now that Clausen understands more and is considerably healthier than he was a year ago, he sometimes has to fight the temptation of trying to do too much and taking too many chances.
“You obviously want to make every throw out there,” Clausen said. “But in order to be a real good quarterback, you have to know your limits and just drop the ball down to the back and let the back run around.”
Charlie Weis wants his players to play with passion. Playing with passion naturally happens when a team gains more experience.
“It’s important when the young men play with passion, play with emotion, play with excitement,” Haywood said. “It gives something to your team. At the same time, when you’re playing that way, it also builds a little more confidence. Guys play a little faster (when you play) with passion.
“It comes from the knowledge of the game. When you study the game and you understand what your assignments are and you’re not thinking about your assignments, you understand the three or four things the defense can do to you. Then you have the opportunity to play a little faster.
“When you’re playing faster, you start playing with excitement, you enjoy it, you’re having fun. You’re not thinking about ‘what ifs’ because when you’re playing with ‘what ifs,’ you play slower and don’t have as much fun because you really aren’t sure about what may happen and what’s going on.”
Sharpley still sharp: Senior Evan Sharpley may not be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback come the first weekend of September. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t continued to progress and prepare himself for playing time.
After all, he remains just one play away from being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.
“Sharpley has been a really mature young man,” Haywood said. “He’s done a really good job of stepping in and taking control of the second unit and executing appropriately.”
While Clausen clearly is the starting quarterback, Sharpley is just as clearly the No. 2 man as freshman Dayne Crist sifts through the barrage of information that has been thrown at him in the first week of pre-season drills.
“We practice against the new 40-second (play) clock every day, and the other day, we had an audible,” Haywood said. “(Sharpley) stepped in, made the audible real quick, changed the cadence, and we were off and running. That was real impressive. I’m not necessarily sure if that would have happened last year.”
What has been preventing defensive end Morrice Richardson from emerging before this spring and fall?
He is just two seasons into his collegiate career, in addition to having difficulty piling on weight. He weighs just 258 pounds, which is undersized according to Charlie Weis’ description of a defensive end in a 3-4 personnel scheme. But Richardson has been listed with the No. 1 unit during pre-season camp.
Defensive line coach Jappy Oliver thinks Richardson has matured.
“Morrice has been somewhat of a guesser in the past,” Oliver said. “He’s got some quickness, he’s got some speed, and instead of taking on people, he would swim them and try to make them miss. He just wouldn’t take on people.
“Now he’s not shying away from contact. He’s taking on people, and still utilizing his quickness. He’s still coming. That’s a work in progress. We’ll do enough movement to help him. But when we’re not, you’ve got to take them on.”
Sophomore nose tackle Ian Williams admitted that there were times when he found it difficult to concentrate in those early morning meetings last year during training camp.
Receivers coach Rob Ianello said he used to fire a Nerf gun at his players to keep them alert during meetings back when he was at Arizona.
Oliver isn’t overly concerned about keeping his defensive linemen awake during meetings.
“They know better than that,” Oliver said. “We ain’t allowing that. I have my ways of keeping people awake.”
Oliver would not reveal his “no-doze” formula.
He played more than 200 minutes as a junior at nose tackle last year. But Pat Kuntz missed spring drills due to some academic deficiencies, and now he’s trying to round back into form. For the most part, Kuntz has worked with the second unit through the first week.
“I’m not letting him get away with things that he used to get away with,” Oliver said. “When you start making those plays that you need to be making on a daily basis, I’ll loosen up the reins.”