Good Rock, Bad Rock, Split Rock

Photos from zaggie

I really want this team to be very good, but as I look across the team landscape I can see we’re going to be dealing with both inconsistencies throughout the year and playing sleight of hand to hide our weaknesses.

On offense, we’re going to have some very good success in the passing game, but also be vulnerable to a couple of problems that could lead to some brutal games and unexpected losses.

Clausen and the offensive line both look much better, but we’re not there. Clausen is still behind where Quinn was going into his Junior year (as you would expect) and seems to be struggling with his progressions (okay, he doesn’t look like he’s going through progressions.) When he makes a throw, it’s a lay--zer. He’s got a hell of an arm, but under duress he’s probably going to have trouble and make some poor decisions. Our offensive line looks very good while run blocking, but still has problems picking up the blitz and defending against outside speed rushers. On top of those two problems, our wide receivers are just not improving as you would hope at this point. Duval, as was noted by Mike Frank’s board coaches, seems to have a concentration problem. That’s not good. One dropped pass kills a drive, as does a sack and we’re probably going to see a fair amount of both this year. Remember last year, over 50% of Clausen’s pass attempts resulted in either incompletions or sacks. Golden Tate, if he’s coached well, could be a very good receiver for the Irish. But Duval’s seeming regression comes on top of poor wide receiver development last year and a regression of McKnight and Samardzija the year before. Something’s not working in our development of our wide receivers. I expect us to be better in the passing game because we’ve improved our OL play and Cluasen has notably matured, but also to show a lot of inconsistency.

Our running game looks substantially better, but is it because our Offensive Line has improved (good rock) or that our defensive line is woeful (bad rock?) It’s clear that Hughes should be the starting back and workhorse. Hughes will almost always get you positive yards either with his feet, his vision or brute strength and shows good speed in the 0-20 zone. You can win a National Championship with a guy like that. Armando Allen still looks blazing fast, be he has a tendency to run toward contact. BREAK IT OUTSIDE, ARMANDO…. BREAK IT OUTSIDE. If I’m Hayward I’d make Allen run it only outside during practice. He’s a tough inside runner, but he leaves big chunks of yardage on the table because he’s always trying to run it inside. Ironic, given his 40 speed. Allen seems to lack the vision and the instincts of Hughes, but his raw speed makes him dangerous.

On defense, we’re going to be in for a long year unless the freshmen come ready to play. The book on ND will be fairly simple, run at us and wear us down (bad rock.) On the plus side, I haven’t seen as talented a secondary as this year’s in 15 years and you can see the value that seniors bring in our secondary. Lambert, Bruton and McCarthy all took 3-4 years to develop and now we’re seeing the payoff. None was ranked higher than a 3-star, but with time and some good basic talent, they’re turning into very good players. Behind them is a slew of talent. Harrison Smith stands out among the standouts.

We need to find a kicking and punting solution, if not it will cost us games.

Overall, a lot of positives from the Blue-Gold Game, but nothing that moved the needle one way or the other (excuse the sloppiness of grammar, got to get to work.) I would say, Saturday created some reasons for hope for a better than expected season.

We’re going to be better on offense and probably vulnerable on defense.

Here are some of our poster evaluations:

TRiccio;

Positives:

1) The Offensive Line: They Played with an attacking attitude and was physical when run blocking.

2) Robert Hughes: The Kid is a horse, who has great feet/quickness (for a 235 pound RB) and He plays with a passion that fires up the rest of the offense! IMO, he reminds me of a quicker, stronger, more elusive and better version of Ron Dayne!

3) Armando Allen: I like the way He hit the hole (He attacked the line Of scrimmage and ran well between the tackles), He showed great quickness, good speed and made some sharp cuts. He And Robert will make a great 1-2 tandem!

4) Jimmy: He looked, bigger, stronger, showed much better arm strength and poise. Also, He showed improved mobility and threw well on the run!

5) Mike Ragone: He showed great athleticism for a TE (He mad a great catch, when he went over B Smith for the ball) and plays with a nasty attitude. As long as he stays healthy, He has talent to be an impact player at TE!

6) Golden Tate: He showed great speed/quickness and explosiveness (in and out of his breaks and on the bomb that he blew by Gary Gray). Also, He made a tremendous leaping one handed catch. IMO, this kid can be as good as former MICH WR Mario M, (Tate is that talented)!

7) The offense play calling was committed to establishing a power running game (A must for ND, especially this year when we must control the clock to keep a suspect run defense off the field)!

8) David Grimes – Showed good quickness and looks to be a good NBR 3-4 WR type.

Negatives:

1) Poor WR Play: I counted 5 passes that should have been caught by our WR’s (Duval K, Especially). Beside Tate, the rest of the WR’s did not show me that they got much separation from the DB’s. Also, they need work on running their patterns better (I blame this on our WR coach, who I feel is not a very good WR coach). IMO, because of the issues I just mentioned at WR, Michael Floyd (A great WR recruit who reminds me of EX NFL WR Michael Irvin) will play from day one as a FROSH!

2) Pass protection from our OT’s (Especially Paul Duncan) needs work (They have problems with speed rushers). In fairness to our OT’s, they will not face a better group of pass rushing DE’s (Except for USC) of B Smith, M Richardson and Kerry Neal.

Overall:

I feel that this team has a chance to be a very good running offensive team and in time, a good passing team (As long as our young WR’s develop). This year’s offense will put a much better product on the field then last year’s offense. IMO, with all the experience this talented(but young) collection of offensive skill players will get this season, ND’s 2009 offense, can be a great offensive unit!

anhoioirish

Obviously, it’s hard to tell much from watching scrimmages like this, but there were a few things that stood out. Our offense seemed to have a lot of trouble getting set in time to beat the play clock. They burned a lot of timeouts and racked up quite a few penalties in such a short game. Granted, this is just spring so there’s time to sort this stuff out, but I thought they should have done better, considering how many returning starters we have on that side of the ball.

Our receivers made some good catches. They weren’t so good at getting open (or our defensive backs are going to be great in coverage), but they still caught a lot of passes thrown to the one place where they could catch it.

Which brings us to Clausen. He’s still got his amazing accuracy. He’s also a lot more confident in his arm and was willing to throw some riskier passes than he was last year. I thought that last year he was much too cautious, so I was somewhat happy to see the change. I say “somewhat” happy because it looked like he went too far the other way. Some of his passes were pretty poor decisions, like the interception for touchdown, but his pure accuracy bailed him out a number of times. The good news is that he’s shown the ability to change, now I hope he can find a happy medium between being too cautious and too risky.

Irishlord

Armando Allen needs to learn that the sideline can be your friend. He has the speed to get there and players are not allowed to tackle you from the bench. He is losing opportunities for big gains.
It is clear Robert Hughes runs with his eyes open.
Our defense seems more adept at picking up screens and guys releasing out of the backfield. It was so frustrating last year to see backs uncovered, and know BC was going to run that screen pass any time they needed 8 yards. It would be a big boost to our defense to eliminate these problems.

Clausen impressed me. Don’t forget our pass defense is supposed to be our strongest suit. He looked much better in the pocket and made accurate passes while moving in the pocket ala Montana. His arm is noticeably better.

There was improvement in the OL but some of them still need to expand their peripheral vision in pass protection.

I hope our punter just had an off day.

I was glad to see Golden Tate and Harrison Smith make big plays just because I personally want to see them on the field alot.

I will not be surprised if some of our Freshmen D-linemen see some playing time.

CountyKerry

RClausen: 1) Still has youthful habit of staring down primary receivers. 2) Paradoxically, when the designed play broke down, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to find an open receiver and hit him with a strike. 3) Showed improved pocket presence and a quicker release, which should yield fewer sacks this year. 4) Arm is noticeably stronger, but not yet Quinn-like. Hughes: 1) We have a running back that we can begin to control games with. He picks up 4-5 yards regularly, and the tough yards when needed. He has good vision, nimble feet, and doesn’t subscribe to the notion that you automatically fall down when the first guy hits you. 2) Still not much of a threat coming out of the backfield on passing plays. Allen: 1) His quickness is apparent. He is a legitimate threat to get to the corner, but still seems reluctant to do so. 2) Took some very hard shots, and still got up for more. Showed a little more toughness this spring, breaking a few tackles here and there. Tate: 1) Still raw, but he has enough speed to separate from DB’s, can get vertical, and has great hands. He will become a major threat as his career developes.
Kamara: 1) Does not separate well from DB’s, but he has the body to make plays in the red zone and possession situations. 2) Occasionally takes plays off, and has suspect hands. Grimes: 1) Not a homerun hitter, but he will make the defense pay if they relax on him. Has good hands, runs good routes, and ad libs well when the play breaks down. 2) General comment about our receivers is that we need Floyd to be as good as advertised, in order for defenses to fear our passing game. Offensive line: 1) Certainly more physical and aggressive. 2) Young is an absolute monster of a physical specimen. Ragone looked strangely small lining up next to him. 3) Young, Stewart, and Ragone on the right side should be able to move the line of scrimmage when we need a yard or two. 4) Less evidence of confusion and missed assignments, which is a great thing. 5) Still too many procedure penalties. 6) Jury is still out on pass protection. The format Saturday did not allow a clear perspective on this. 7) We can win six games just lining up and running the football. Defense Backs: 1) This is the strength of the team. Coverage skills and speed everywhere. Not that our receivers are a great benchmark, but they rarely got any separation. Clausen’s completion percentage was low for the day, not because he was terribly inaccurate, but because it was a challenge finding an open receiver. 2) Walls is an NFL corner. 3) Harrison Smith needs to find the field. He is quick, likes to hit, and has a nose for the ball. Give me 10 more like him. 4) Gary Gray was very impressive. He was a siamese twin of most of the guys he covered. Linebackers: 1) Like the OL, this group was more aggressive than last year. 2) They will make a lot of plays this year. I fear, though, that strong running teams will move our front seven off the ball. Brown/Tenuta will have be created with run blitzes. Defensive Line: 1) There’s just no ignoring that this is a weakness for the team. 2) It will help when Kuntz comes back, but the lack of size, veterans, and numbers will wear heavily on the team this year. 3) If it wasn’t for this weakness on the team, I would be very optimistic about our chances in 2008.

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12 Responses to “Good Rock, Bad Rock, Split Rock”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Well done, Rock. Hopefully, ND’s running game can help control the clock (keeping the defense off the field) and hide some of the deficiencies in the passing game (pass blocking, WR drops, Clausen’s ability to check down). If Charlie is smart, this is the year to play to the offense’s strengths and run the (damn) ball.

    Let’s also keep our fingers crossed and hope that depth can be built along the DL (i.e., Kuntz returns with a vengeance, Ethan Johnson is able to provide quality minutes, and the other back-ups are able to rotate in and provide support).

  2. PJ Says:

    Agree with most especially the receiver analysis. Not sure about your Armando comments – How come I usually find myself yelling for him to “Turn it upfield!” To my eye he often seems to spend too long stretching a play out behind the line of scrimmage.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Wow. (wow) That sure was a positive “Rock Report.” (yawn) Here’s my read of this report: “Another year of something-other-than Notre Dame football.” So, will it be a “coaching issue” ~ again ~ this year? Or will it be that our highly-rated recruits just can’t play to their potential? Or will it be that we’re still “a year or two away?” Well, 20 years and counting. 20 years! And so many of us now sound like Cubs fans! Ugh. Makes me sick.

    ~mps,ND72

  4. Anonymous Says:

    “A regression of McKnight and Samardzija the year before”, I know this comment fits into the theme of your article in which you believe certain players are “regressing” under Weis but McKnight and Samardzija are poor examples.

    How could McKnight regress from 2005? He played in one and a half games? Even then his 2006 year was clearly his best year at ND.

    As for Samardzija regressing in 2006, he had 232 less yards and 3 less TD’s but he did have an unbelievable catch and run to beat UCLA in the final seconds. If that’s regressing, I’ll take that.

    Remember, McKnight, Stovall and Smardzija were all at Notre Dame at least 2 years before Weis was hired. Kamara has been at Notre Dame less than a year, he just needs time to develop.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Great article, I would have to disagree about the line. Its not Paul Duncan that needs the most help, it is Sam Young. He let up a sack/holding at the end because he didn’t get his slide steps fast enough and Kerry Neal flat out beat him off the edge. The next play was also a sack, (That most fans didn’t agree with) because the tight end stepped right and picked up the end/olb and Sam tried to double inside while the linebacker came right through the gap. Add on top of that the offsides on him earlier on.
    I was a Sam Young fan since day one but that kind of lack of mental concentration is carrying over from last year and I’m starting to dislike him each time I see him underachieve. I’m just glad that Eric Olsen and Dan Wenger seem to have taken a leadership role on the line and hold others accountable.

    I also wanted to say that Kerry Neal is a great pass rusher but still needs to work on his hands a lot while rushing. He seems to like to chest thump people instead of dipping and ripping.

    The last comment that I wanted to agree with is that Armando is not an inside guy. This happened last year as well as the spring game. If he gets popped hard he gets injured and usually doesn’t run with that same intensity he had before. And Duval Kamara looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world. If he is that slow, which he seemed to be on his deep routes then don’t run that with him. He has a hard time adjusting and he also doesn’t concentrate. His biggest strength his is ability to get off the line vs man coverage, but after that its a toss up on what he’ll do. He just jogs around and loafs.
    Oh well! at least the positives outweigh the negatives and it is only spring ball.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Yet another “doom and gloom” Rock Report. Weis and company have run out of excuses, there is absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be a good team this year. Enough with the “lack of talent, lack of depth” excuse – its getting painfully old. Countless schools have done far more with far less than Notre Dame.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I’m not sure why Tate can’t break into the receiver corps full time. Does route running ability really make a difference if you can’t catch? Seems like these guys catch everything in practice, but come game time they get a horrible case of the drops. Tate has proven he can catch the ball under pressure. I’m not sure on Young either. Those holding penalties and the offsides mental errors really cost the team. He had what seemed like 2 a game last year.

  8. John Says:

    From what everyone is saying about Clausen, he reminds me of a young NFL QB who has found success early in his career. With his ability to move out of the pocket and find the open receiver, and taking his excellent arm strength into consideration, Clausen reminds me of an unpolished Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger doesn’t always make the best reads while in the pocket. However, he does a great job of buying time by moving out of the pocket and finding the open receiver. I think that if Clausen is able to stay on his feet this season, he will find some of the same success Big Ben found in Pittsburgh during his second season in the NFL, in which his Steelers won the Super Bowl.

  9. frommy12 Says:

    I went to South Bend full of optimism, and left with a feeling of impending doom. No matter what Clausen thinks, he is not the man. Continues to hold the ball too long, the whole time staring at the first receiver he looks at. I would bet that 3/4 of his throws always go to the left side, regardless of how open his receiver(s) on the right side might be. Our opponent DB’s are going to jumping our routes on a regular basis. I don’t think that Hughes was running as hard as he could, as he usually let up on first contact. Will that change when his tackler is not a teammate?

    Our kicking game is attrocious. I don’t think it was a co-incident that the PA annouced decent (+40 yds.) kicks, and was strangely silent when it was a +/- 35 yd. squib. Our place kicker was practicing from the sidelines towards the goal posts?!? Can someone explain that to me? His field goal attempts are like knuckleballs…this is the best we got??????

    I think the lone bright spot was the defense. I don’t think we saw near the variety that we’ll see from that group once the season starts. I think we’ll get alot more pressure on the opposing QB with other blitz packages…which we were sparing Clausen from….

    All and all, not encouraging.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    first, i want to comment on those saying allen should run outside…as i was once told by a nfl coach, staying inside until the runner is past the whole team is the way big runs develope. Going outside just limits your running room and gives the D a chance to get an angle on the runner before they can break free.
    Hughes is going to be a beast, and i liked the way he picked up the blitz in one play of the Blue Gold game…ITs imperitive that the runners learn to block..if they can do that, much like darius walker did so well, it will help immensely with the passing game. I think the recievers need to start working with the machines like tex tech a few years ago to get their hands better. baseball machines using tennis balls to learn better hand eye coordination..things like that.
    as for the d line, im sure Ian Williams will be quite effective in the run game. Most poeple forget i think that he had more tackles that Kuntz did, and he only started 3 games..the kid is a man child, ready to pound on anyone that gets in his way..as long as the LB’s do their jobs, i see no worries there.
    overall im impressed at the improvements, but they have a long way to go before their ready to be a NT team..much can change in the summer though, just depends on how bad they want it..and we’ll know in the fall how much they have taken it upon themselves to learn their positions and techniques better (mainly the O line)..by the way, i see H Smith making a huge impact on the field and creating several turnovers, something we lacked last year (no disprespect to walls or Zibby)..
    9-3 this year, 12-0 and a title next year….GO IRISH!!!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    just like to add that armando allen needs to watch film on Keegan Herring of ASU..he would learn so much from what he has, mainly because their the same type of runner and athlete..

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Rock,

    I remeber after the Michigan game in 2006 you said that Clausin in his 2nd year would be better than Quinn in his 4th. I just wondered if you still stand by that…..

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