One of my great joys in life is spending time with my grandsons, there are 4 of them, all future Notre Dame football players, of course.
Two of my boy's other grandfather played tight end at Army back in the 70's as well so he thinks that at least those 2 will be playing at West Point! One of the other great joys is watching Notre Dame play football.
The only TD I ever scored was in the spring game my junior year off of an interception and 36 yard return dragging numerous stunned offensive players with me as I crossed the goal line to add to the Blue teams domination that year. Don't tell me spring football games aren't real games, it sure feels like it when you get drilled, even if it's your teammate knocking you silly! My roommate suffered two serious injuries in back to back spring games effectively ending his very promising career so they are very physical encounters when you go against your buddies.
This year's game was important on many fronts but most important is developing team chemistry and a sense of ONEness. As I watched and listened to Mirko and Reggie do the color on the internet I was reminded just how important the TEAM concept is to winning football games in the fall. Both of those guys played on terrific teams at Notre Dame as did I and we would all like to see the TEAM concept return to Fighting Irish Football. I am particularly impressed when Coach Kelly says you don't come to Notre Dame to play in the NFL, you come to Notre Dame to play for NOTRE DAME! With that in mind I'd like to share some other thoughts with you about what transpired out there.
So much has been written about the game itself and the contribution of individual players both good and bad but the players, in all fairness, get pummeled by their coaches in film study, so there is no need to pile on when you see mistakes on the field. You will never see me critical of one of the players because I know firsthand what they go through and how difficult it can be when your play is not up to standard. They know it, they see it on tape, and have nightmares about what their position coach said about them in front of their teammates. Thank God their teammates don't really hear it because their ears are getting blasted as well! There is always room for improvement in everyone play!
That being said I was thrilled by what I watched for the most part, especially on defense, as the tackling was much improved from a season ago. One of the things I noticed was when a player exited the field how many coaches greeted them on the sideline telling them about their play. There was COACHING going on! If the coaches hold them responsible their effort and production both will increase. Make them accountable every play. To get what you expect, inspect! Show them you're watching, correct their mistakes, point of the good things with a pat on the butt or helmet. Coach the hell out of them! That was especially encouraging to see.
Another bright spot was the gang tackling and the number of same color jerseys around the ball carrier. Even though the front was very basic they seemed to have a better understanding of the gap they were responsible for. Misdirection tested the backside for separation and over-pursuit and the offense won that battle but the defense will improve in that area because the coaches will drill that responsibility into them. The opening play was an example of a backside outside linebacker turning his shoulders in and not staying square long enough to see Michael Floyd coming back with the football on a reverse. That will be corrected!
The play of the inside linebackers I thought was so much better than in the past few years and with pre-fall practices look for the overall linebacker play to be a team strength this year and not a liability! The outside guys need work but they have players, really good players, at those positions. Much needed technique work is still necessary. The secondary played hard but without the blitz and disguised coverage options it made them look rather ordinary. They will be anything but. This is a talented group on a talented defense.
The most encouraging sign was when my 4 and 1/2 year old grandson came in the computer room to watch the game with me said, "Look, Coach, the Irish are Winning"!
Based on what he and I saw Saturday, with continued improvement in strength and technique, look for Notre Dame to win and the defense to be dominant once again!