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Saturday Afternoon Football



Victor Abiamiri By: Steve Wiltfong


Date: Apr 2, 2006


Charlie Weis invited the media to watch the full two-hour practice Saturday morning from the press box of Notre Dame Stadium. The team was in full pads, and the weather was rainy with a slight breeze. As everyone expected, special teams was the priority of practice, however we did get to see roughly 20 snaps of offense versus defense.



Notable Items


-James Aldridge appeared to be running full speed during sprints at the end of practice. D.J. Hord and David Grimes were running very gingerly during sprints. While the rest of the team was sprinting, Victor Abiamiri and Mike Richardson were riding the bike. Abiamiri participated in the drill against the offense, but he is obviously still limited. Bob Morton, who played center the whole practice, was doing sit-ups and push-ups as everyone else ran sprints.


-Terrail Lambert played cornerback opposite Ambrose Wooden with the first unit and opposite Leo Ferrine with the second group. Mike Richardson didn’t participate in the scrimmage.


-Linebacker Maurice Crum went through initial drills with the linebackers, but did not lineup during live action. Same story for Joe Brockington.


-Brady Quinn and Evan Sharpley came out wearing red jerseys while David Wolke and Justin Gillett were in yellow. That could be a sign of the quarterback depth chart.


-During live action, the starting defense played the first half of the plays. Running everything out of a two or three tight end set, the offense did not attempt a pass against the first-team defense, running mainly tosses and off-tackle plays.


-Only the first-team offense participated. The offensive line had Paul Duncan at right tackle, Brian Mattes at right guard, Morton at center, Dan Santucci at left guard and Ryan Harris at left tackle. Duncan and Mattes looked to be holding their own, but the plays were called to their advantage. John Carlson and Marcus Freeman were the primary tight ends, with Tim Gritzman seeing some action. Darius Walker and Travis Thomas rotated at tailback. They both looked quick and elusive. Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight rotated the lone receiver spot. Asaph Schwapp was the fullback.


-The first team defense looked like this. Abiamiri was at left defensive end, Derek Landri and Trevor Laws were the tackles and Ronald Talley at right defensive end. The foursome made good penetration on a few plays, making a couple stops behind the line of scrimmage. The linebackers were Steve Quinn at Will, Mitchell Thomas at Mike and Anthony Vernaglia at Apache. The three linebackers didn’t get much going, Vernaglia was even planted by Schwapp on one play. The secondary had Wooden and Lambert at corner and Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe at their usual safety spots. Lambert had a nice hit on Thomas.


-When the second team defense entered, the play calling opened up a bit. All of Quinn’s passes seemed like they went to his second or third check. He hit Carlson over the middle for about 20 yards on one play. Almost everything else was thrown underneath into the flat, however Gritzman dropped the same 20-yard pass later that Carlson hauled in earlier. The defensive line had Dwight Stephenson Jr. at left defensive end, Pat Kuntz and Derrell Hand at the tackles and Justin Brown at right defensive end. They were able to get good pressure on Quinn on a few plays. The linebackers were Kevin Washington at Apache, Nick Borseti at Mike and Scott Smith at Will. Washington dropped an interception. Borseti had a nice tackle for a loss. Lambert stayed out there with Ferrine. David Bruton and Ray Herring were the safeties.


-Ryan Burkhart was in attendance and got a good look at his future competition. Carl Gioia hit field goals from 38 and 35 yards, but also missed from those distances later in practice. There is no doubt Gioia is ahead of both Bobby Renkes and Pablo Nava in all facets of the kicking game. His problem is consistency. Geoffrey Price showed good leg strength on a few punts but shanked his first attempt of the morning. Gioia had good air under his punts but only about 30-35 yards of distance. Nava appears to have good leg strength but not to sure where that ball is going off his foot.


-George West, Lambert and Ferrine got the bulk of the work at kick returner. West had problems catching the football, but once he did corral the ball, he looked like he had some potential. Lambert was the only guy not to fumble any opportunities. West also struggled catching the ball in punt situations. Zbikowski looked like, well Zbikowski. Though all the returners looked like they can make a guy miss, there weren’t any big plays.


-Hord, Chase Anastasio and John Sullivan all jogged steps of the Stadium at one point during practice.


-The starting kickoff coverage unit was Richardson, Travis Thomas, Mitchell Thomas, Vernaglia, Carlson, Casey Cullen, Steve Quinn, Herring, Bruton and Wooden. Gioia kicked off. Lambert and Ferrine were the visors on the punt-return team.


-Also spotted at practice were Demetrius Jones, Zach Frazer and Barry Gallup as well as Burkhardt.

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Irish battles play out in practice

Coaches keeping an eye on lesser known players

Published: Sunday, April 02, 2006 -- The Truth, B1

Last updated: 4/1/2006 11:56:17 PM

By Ben Ford

Truth Staff



Spring fling

Notre Dame players listen to instructions from a coach during spring practice Saturday.

Photo: Jennifer Shephard / The Truth


NOTRE DAME -- The mystery of what happens after the first 20 minutes of a Notre Dame football practice -- that intriguing period after an airhorn sounds and the media are escorted off the field -- was finally solved Saturday.


It turns out there's not much mystery to it at all. It was just what you'd expect: Plenty of repetitive drills, lots of sprints and yes, even a little insight that couldn't be gleaned from that first 20 minutes.


Due to injuries and graduation, inexperienced players are being given a chance to impress the coaching staff. But that window of opportunity won't be open long, though, with more seasoned players eventually to return from injury and "the cavalry" -- coach Charlie Weis' term for the highly touted freshman class -- arriving in the fall.


Still, if Saturday's open practice is any indication, it might be a good idea to shell out for a program at Notre Dame's Blue-Gold scrimmage later this month.


Here are some other observations from the two-hour workout at Notre Dame Stadium, which the media were permitted to view from the press box (Irish players and coaches were not available for comment afterward):


Competition at the linebacker spot is fierce, with Maurice Crum, a starter last season, and Joe Brockington, a leading candidate to inherit Brandon Hoyte's spot, being held out with injuries. Junior-to-be Anthony Vernaglia, who moved from safety to linebacker during spring practice last season, worked with the first team Saturday alongside senior Mitchell Thomas and sophomore Steve Quinn. Vernaglia was the most active of the three, bouncing around behind the line and becoming almost a fifth down lineman in some situations.


Most of the other first-team defenders were holdovers from last season. Victor Abiamiri, Trevor Laws, Derek Landri and Ronald Talley were the linemen and Mike Richardson and Ambrose Wooden the cornerbacks. Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe were the safeties.


Running back Darius Walker broke free for a 30-yard carry down the left sideline against this group before being pushed out of bounds by Zbikowski. Fullback Asaph Schwapp had carries for 7 and 8 yards, but the defense bottled up most of the other runs (there was no tackling; officials blew plays dead).


On the offensive side, center/guard John Sullivan was held out of practice because of a shoulder injury. Senior Brian Mattes played a number of snaps at right guard and sophomore Paul Duncan was the right tackle. Sophomore Michael Turkovich, another sophomore, backed up Mattes and Duncan. John Carlson and Marcus Freeman were the tight ends and Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight the wide receivers.


When the Irish put their second-team defense on the field, the linemen were Dwight Stephenson Jr., sophomore Derrell Hand, sophomore Pat Kuntz and junior Justin Brown. Brown was the only one of those players to see any significant playing time last season. The linebackers were sophomore Kevin Washington, senior Nick Borseti and sophomore Scott Smith. In the defensive backfield, juniors Leo Ferrine and Terrail Lambert were the cornerbacks and sophomores Ray Herring and David Bruton the safeties.


Walker had a relatively easy 40-yard run against the second team and Tim Gritzman, a walk-on tight end, dropped a pass from Brady Quinn. Washington had an interception slip through his hands.


Few of the drills involving the offense and defense were run at full speed.


Notre Dame also spent more than a half-hour on special teams and showed plenty of room for improvement. The punters, Geoff Price and Carl Gioia, were inconsistent, and one snap sailed over Gioia's head. There were also two punts blocked.


Zbikowski and freshman George West, one of three first-year players already enrolled at Notre Dame, returned punts. West muffed and then recovered one kick and fumbled away another, though he made good moves on his other runbacks.


West was one of three players -- with Lambert and Ferrine -- who rotated into the deep spots when Notre Dame switched to kick returns. Freshman Chris Stewart, a 6-foot-5, 340-pound offensive lineman, helped form the wedge on returns. The kicks, by Gioia and walk-on Pablo Nava, were mostly kicked to the 5-yard line or deeper.


Gioia made field goals from 30, 32, 35 and 38 yards and missed from 36 and 43. Nava and fellow walk-on Bobby Renkes each missed two kicks. A spectator in a red high school letter jacket -- presumably incoming freshman kicker Ryan Burkhart from NorthWood -- watched the special teams workouts with interest.


Contact Ben Ford at bford@etruth.com.

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