Based on the reports of yesterday's practice from Michael Rothstein and Ben Ford, as well as the transcripts of Charlie Weis's press conferences from Tuesday and Sunday, here's an update on some of the major news swirling around the Irish universe.
First up, the quarterback situation. Weis said on Tuesday that he still wasn't sure whether freshman QB Jimmy Clausen was completely recovered from the injury he suffered against Purdue, though it was expected that he would be:
I'm not 100% sure what Jimmy (Clausen) is going to look like. He's supposed to be set and ready to go. I have to see that, you know? Some guys are set and ready to go, and they don't play for another two weeks. Other guys that are set and ready to go, they're ready to go that day. I'm going to have to see visually on the field how it goes right there, because (quarterbacks coach) Ron (Powlus) and I met today, and we didn't even script who was in for what plays because we figured we will go by what we see when they're out there.He made it clear, though, that only an unexpectedly slow healing process would keep Clausen from starting against UCLA:
Q. If Jimmy (Clausen) is healthy enough, he's the starter?
COACH WEIS: That's what it would be. If he's healthy enough, he'll start.
Ford says, though, that during the stretch of practice he witnessed, Clausen "ran laterally, seemingly pain-free, which you'd think would be tough to do if he had an injured hip." So at this point there's clearly no reason to expect to see Evan Sharpley starting in his place on Saturday.
One point that Weis made in his press conference which seems to have been overlooked by many of those who've called for Sharpley to start on the basis of his performance against Purdue is that the basis for these decisions also involves what happens on the practice field:
I don't think there's ever such a thing where there are two guys that are equal. They might play like that in a game, but I think when it's all said and done, you have to evaluate just not -- not just solely by game day. Sometimes game day -- like in last week's case, both quarterbacks did a lot of good things, neither one of them were perfect, but I think the evaluation is based on a whole bunch of things, not just one game.
When asked how Sharpley has handled being Clausen's backup, Weis said that it hasn't been a problem, though he emphasized once again that nothing is set in stone for next Saturday's game:
Evan is probably one of the most prepared people on the team, so he knows whether or not he starts or not that he's going to be ready as if he is starting. Right now I can't tell you for sure exactly how this is going to go down. I don't know what Jimmy's health is for sure, I don't know how it's going to happen in a game, but I do know that Evan will be ready to play when his number is called.
So we'll see how this plays out, but at this point there's obviously no reason to expect that Weis is going to make any changes unless he's forced to.
Up next, other news on the injury front. As both Ford and Rothstein note, junior wideout David Grimes, who injured his ankle against Purdue, was absent from practice yesterday. Weis said in his press conference, though, that Grimes is healing surprisingly well, but that he's "questionable" for Saturday's game:
He was in much better condition than we were anticipating. He probably won't go today, I would say -- I can give you my day to day answer, but I would say he's probably 50/50 for the game. So if I went to my background -- I would call him questionable, not doubtful, but not probable, either. I would say he's questionable.
Meanwhile, sophomore offensive lineman Dan Wenger, who's been out the past two weeks with a leg injury suffered against Michigan but was expected to possibly be able to return for the UCLA game, was practicing with the team. Ford, though, says that Wenger looked to be "moving slowly," while Weis said in his press conference that Wenger, like Grimes, was "questionable" for Saturday's game - obviously we'll have to keep an eye on this one.
Ford also notes that defensive end Justin Brown, who also sat out against Michigan State and Purdue, looked to be moving a bit better in Tuesday's practice than he had the previous couple of weeks:
Justin Brown was still running gingerly, but at least this week he was running laterally with the rest of the team, which is an improvement.
Weis, meanwhile, called Brown "probable" for UCLA. Brown was supposed to be a "game-time decision" against Purdue, but he didn't end up making the trip to West Lafayette. Obviously getting him back and healthy is very important for the Irish, who are very thin along the defensive line.
No word on the health of freshman offensive lineman Matt Romine, who missed the Purdue game with an arm injury, or sophomore cornerback Raeshon McNeil, who has been rumored to have been seen on crutches this week.
Up next, a bit of news on special teams. Both Ford and Rothstein note that senior punter Geoff Price, viewed a preseason All-America candidate in the eyes of many after a very strong 2006 season, has apparently lost his starting position to sophomore Eric Maust, who replaced Price in the Michigan State game and handled all the punts against Purdue. Weis had this to say about the situation in his Tuesday press conference:
Weis also emphasized that he thought Maust did a "nice job" punting the ball against Purdue. Ford, meanwhile, notes that Price was holding the ball as Brandon Walker practiced kicking field goals - Evan Sharpley, meanwhile, was the holder for Nate Whitaker, who Ford notes didn't do as well - at least on Tuesday - as Walker did: Once again, we'll just have to wait and see how all of this shakes out.
Walker, with Geoff Price holding, missed wide left from 32 yards and Whitaker, out of Evan Sharpley's hold, was good from that distance. But from there it was all Walker. He hit from 35, 40 and 43 yards, while Whitaker missed from those distances. So edge to Walker in the kicking game, at least Tuesday.
Weis also emphasized that he thought Maust did a "nice job" punting the ball against Purdue. Ford, meanwhile, notes that Price was holding the ball as Brandon Walker practiced kicking field goals - Evan Sharpley, meanwhile, was the holder for Nate Whitaker, who Ford notes didn't do as well - at least on Tuesday - as Walker did:
Once again, we'll just have to wait and see how all of this shakes out.
Finally, a few words on the talk of the town, freshman wide receiver Golden Tate. Weis was probably asked as many if not more questions about Tate than about the quarterbacks, and here's some of what he had to say:
I used Golden Tate this morning as an example to the entire team as what you can do by running full speed on the show team. We had this conversation on Sunday with the team. Sometimes when people are running the "look squad" to simulate the opponent's offense or defense, they look at that like it's a penalty. Other guys use it as a way to get themselves down the other end of the field, and that's what he's done. He's just gone down -- for the last two or three weeks he's easily been the best player on the field going against our defense. And when you watch the tape, and you see him make these plays, then you want to get him on the field on offense.
We have a guy who can run fast down the field and catch the ball, can go up and get the ball. We see that in practice every day, and if you go back to -- what game was it, the Penn State game where we threw it up the left sideline and it got called back for holding. He was in the game for one play -- no, for a couple plays, but one that we threw to, he goes up there and gets it, but it's not his fault it was called back. He's in a jump ball situation and he comes down with it. He has an uncanny ability to do that.
While Weis made it clear that Tate isn't going to be relegated to show team this week, he did emphasize that the Golden Boy still has a ways to go:
... we all found out the other day that he can run go routes and catch the ball in traffic. That's what he's done in practice every single day. Now we have to make sure he can run a handful of other routes and run them with some type of precision, so you're not guessing where he's going to be on different routes. That's what we're going to work on this week.
Weis emphasized that the "draw it up in the dirt" strategy he was able to employ with Tate on Saturday against Purdue can only get the team so far:
Q. When you see these guys making big catches in games and another one and another one, are there situations where maybe you will put them in on plays that they haven't practiced and say the play before, "Hey, this is what you're going to do, now go do it"? COACH WEIS: Well, we sort of did that the other day, grabbed them and said, "Come in here and run a go," and they said, "What?" I said, "Run right by that guy," and the (defensive) guy is sitting there listening to you, and he's looking at you like you're a liar, and he runs right by him. You can't do that with all the routes, now, because sooner or later they figure that out.
Q. When you see these guys making big catches in games and another one and another one, are there situations where maybe you will put them in on plays that they haven't practiced and say the play before, "Hey, this is what you're going to do, now go do it"?
COACH WEIS: Well, we sort of did that the other day, grabbed them and said, "Come in here and run a go," and they said, "What?" I said, "Run right by that guy," and the (defensive) guy is sitting there listening to you, and he's looking at you like you're a liar, and he runs right by him. You can't do that with all the routes, now, because sooner or later they figure that out.
Weis also went back to the comparisons he'd made before between Tate, who played primarily at running back until his senior year in high school, and fellow frosh Duval Kamara:
As we talked about the other day, Duval has been up the whole time because Duval was a more polished receiver. Golden just might be one of the best athletes on the team, and he's certainly one of, if not the fastest one on the team. So it's one of the things that we felt we needed. We need more straight-line speed to stretch this field right here, and he certainly does that. I think Duval is ahead in route running, but you can't coach speed. Either you have it or you don't.Anyone who doubts that, of course, needs to take another look at this:
You keep climbing that ladder, big guy.