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Samardzija up to speed



Tribune Staff Writer


SOUTH BEND -- Jeff Samardzija was back at Notre Dame football practice Saturday, a day after pitching the Irish baseball team to a 6-1 victory over Pittsburgh.


The senior-to-be wide receiver flashed his All-America form during the small segment of practice Saturday that wasn't dedicated to skipping, stretching, sprinting, position drills, special teams work or kneeling and listening to head coach Charlie Weis pontificate.


The only visible difference from last fall was that his normally untamed locks were a little less wild -- the good hair day a product of ND baseball coach Paul Mainieri's edict, not Weis'.



It is Weis' amended time share agreement with Mainieri, though, that is having the biggest effect on Samardzija overall this spring. Last spring, the wideout/pitcher did not miss a spring football practice while doubling up. This year Weis is allowing the 6-foot-5, 216-pounder to miss nine of the 15 spring sessions.


And that has made a world of difference in baseball.


Already projected as a first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, Samardzija is moving rapidly in that direction for June's baseball draft.


"There's no question that having time off from football has helped him with baseball," said Mainieri, who expects Samardzija to play minor league baseball this summer before returning to ND for football in August.


"He's more rested when it comes time for him to take the ball and start a game. His body is more conditioned to being ready to pitch. His velocity -- he has touched 96 miles an hour with his fastball every time he has pitched this spring. Last year, I think he topped out at 91 or 92."


Compare that to Notre Dame's two current major league pitchers -- Brad Lidge (Astros) and Aaron Heilman (Mets). Mainieri said Lidge topped out at 97 mph his junior year at Notre Dame, while Heilman was at 93 to 94.


"Now don't confuse that -- Jeff doesn't pitch consistently at 96," Mainieri said, "but his velocity is much improved. His breaking pitch and change-up have gotten a lot better, too. There's no question not spreading himself so thin has allowed him to become stronger and better as a pitcher. He's a legitimate pro prospect, and there's a lot of scouts watching him this spring."


Charting the depth


Saturday's practice in Notre Dame Stadium was the only one open to the media this spring. Injuries complicate the depth-chart picture, but only slightly. But here's a look at how the Irish starters were lining up during the full-scrimmage portion of the workout.


On offense, which ran two-tight end sets, Brady Quinn was at quarterback, Darius Walker at running back, Asaph Schwapp at fullback, Marcus Freeman and John Carlson at tight ends, Ryan Harris at left tackle, Dan Santucci at left guard, Bob Morton at center, Brian Mattes at right guard and Paul Duncan at right tackle. Michael Turkovich would rotate in on the right side of the line.


Center John Sullivan is unavailable while recovering from shoulder surgery. He is projected to be the starting center in the fall, with Morton moving to right guard. Mattes, Duncan and Turkovich could all be in the mix at right tackle with incoming freshman Sam Young. Rhema McKnight projects as the other starting wide receiver.


Defensively, the first group lined up as Ronald Talley and Victor Abiamiri at ends, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws at defensive tackles, Anthony Vernaglia at Apache linebacker, Mitchell Thomas at middle linebacker, Steve Quinn at outside linebacker, Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe at safeties, Terrail Lambert and Ambrose Wooden at cornerback.


Injured starting cornerback Mike Richardson didn't play, nor did incumbent starting linebacker Maurice Crum, who is recovering from back surgery. Crum, the starter at Apache last year, could start in the middle this fall if Vernaglia and Quinn solidify the outside spots.


The second-team defense comprised Dwight Stephenson and Justin Brown at the ends, Derrell Hand and Pat Kuntz at the tackles, Lambert again at cornerback with Leo Ferrine, David Bruton and Ray Herring at safety, and Kevin Washington, Nick Borseti and Scott Smith at linebacker.


Early enrollee George West and Zbikowski fielded punts. West, Lambert and Ferrine handled kickoff return duties. Last year's return tandem of David Grimes and D.J. Hord sat out that portion of practice with injuries. Another early enrollee, James Aldridge had been auditioning on kickoff returns, but his work Saturday was limited to straight-ahead running in non-contact drills.


Weis admitted he would have liked to give Lambert a chance last year in the return game.


"We all know Terrail has front-line speed," he said, "but last year he was playing a good portion of the year with a cast on. The last thing I want to do is have a guy with the ball in his hands with a cast on."


Quick kicks



Five members of Notre Dame's incoming freshman class were on hand Saturday to watch practice. They were quarterbacks Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones, fullback Luke Schmidt, wide receiver Barry Gallup and kicker/punter Ryan Burkhart.



Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, engaged to Brady Quinn's sister Laura, wrote in his draft diary on NFL.com that he plans to attend Notre Dame's Blue-Gold scrimmage on April 22 in ND Stadium.


"Brady Quinn and I are friends now, and I want to go see the game," he said. "I was at Notre Dame once when my brother was being recruited there, but I don't remember it well. I'm looking forward to seeing the campus and the stadium up close."

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Guest gallup21

i liked the bit about barry and the rest of recruits being there, i also think i heard somewhere zach was there but i cant remember where? :)

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i liked the bit about barry and the rest of recruits being there, i also think i heard somewhere zach was there but i cant remember where? :)


yes, Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, Barry Gallup, Ryan Burkhart, Luke Schmit were all there. Here's the link.http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060402/NDSports02/604020352/-1/SPORTS

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