Weis says the time was right to give linebacker more time
October 6, 2009, 10:07 PM
By: Eric Hansen
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Along with a scintillating 10 tackles in Notre Dame freshman linebacker Manti Te'o's coming-out party Saturday, came roughly an equal number of visible growing pains.
At least by Irish coach Charlie Weis' unofficial count.
But on Tuesday afternoon came the payoff. The first time Te'o stepped on the field since Notre Dame's 37-30 overtime survival of Washington, the vaunted 6-foot-2, 244-pound bundle of exuberance from Hawaii had perhaps his best practice in an Irish uniform.
"I think the arrow is pointing way up on Manti," Weis said.
The timing couldn't be better. Seventh-ranked USC (4-1), the team Weis wrested Te'o from on national signing day in February, comes to town Oct. 17. Both teams have an open date this Saturday.
While quarterback Jimmy Clausen has put the Irish (4-1) on the periphery of a BCS trajectory, to what extent the Notre Dame defense can improve in the weeks to come is likely the determining factor in whether the Irish can lock into that BCS tract or fade into mediocrity in the second half of the season.
Te'o is one of the players who could move that joystick around the most. In the only game in which he played more than a quarter this season, he actually passed, on the list of season tackle leaders, the player he replaced in the lineup (senior Toryan Smith).
"Nevada's offense was totally different from Michigan's offense, which was totally different from Michigan State's offense, which was totally different from Purdue," Weis said of his reasoning for bringing Te'o on more deliberately.
"But we just made a decision that regardless of which offense was coming up next, we needed to put him in there and start the natural learning curve that you go through at this time. I think we gained more than we lost."
Roughly 10 frontline Irish players spent Tuesday's practice in the training room convalescing from injuries -- including quarterback Jimmy Clausen, leading rusher Armando Allen, leading receiver Golden Tate and leading tackler Kyle McCarthy.
Another handful of starters -- among them tight end Kyle Rudolph and offensive tackle Sam Young -- had limited contact and did not practice in full pads.
A funny thing, though, happened after practice. Clausen, who has played the past 2½ games with a painful turf toe injury, complained about missing practice.
Weis also wanted to give the junior Wednesday off, as well, but Clausen vetoed Weis.
"This is the only week I can really give him as much rest as I can," Weis said. "He asked to go tomorrow, so he'll end up going at least the first half."
Starting fullback James Aldridge had his first full-contact practice since suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener with Nevada on Sept. 5 and could return to action Oct. 17 against the Trojans.
Freshman tight end Tyler Eifert has a back injury that is likely to require surgery in the coming days, Weis said. He would be eligible for a medical redshirt year.
A couple of sophomore backup linebackers who see a lot of action on special teams for the Irish -- David Posluszny and Anthony McDonald -- will both have to pass cognitive tests before returning to full contact next week. Both suffered blows to the head against Washington, with McDonald's serious enough that he actually started running the wrong way after the hit.
USC is starting to get healthy at the right time. Even running back Stafon Johnson, in the hospital after a recent weightlifting accident, is making significant progress. Listed as probable for the Trojans at this point are linebacker Malcolm Smith (ankle), wide receiver Ronald Johnson (collarbone), defensive tackle Armond Armstead (foot) and fullback Adam Goodman (shoulder). Listed as questionable are linebacker Jordan Campbell (ankle), linebacker Nick Garratt (ankle), cornerback Brian Baucham (abrasions) and offensive guard Martin Coleman (foot). Out for the game with the Irish, beyond Johnson, are wide receiver Scott Stephens (knee), defensive tackle Hebron Fangupo (ankle), cornerback Marshall Jones (neck), tailback Marc Tyler (toe), tight end James Boyd (knee), wide receiver Robbie Boyer (hand) and cornerback Shareece Wright (ineligible).