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Putting the fight back in the Irish

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Notre Dame hired coach Charlie Weis to take over the reins of a program heading in the wrong direction. Tyrone Willingham was the second head coach in a row unable to put together an offense capable of getting the Irish to the national-championship level.

After helping the New England Patriots to three Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator, if there is nothing else Weis can do, he at least ought to be able to do something with the Notre Dame offense.

The Irish's offensive system may not be exactly like the one Weis ran at New England, but it will be based on the same philosophy of being able to run and pass with equal proficiency. Weis' definition of a balanced offense is one that can pass the ball just as well as it can run it, but that doesn't mean the offense should run 50 percent of the time and pass 50 percent of the time in each game. If one defense lines up every snap and takes away the run, Weis will pass it every down. If another defense drops eight into coverage every snap, he will run it every time. Weis would say he simply wants to do what works.

With 10 starters back there is a chance a lot will be working for this year's offense.

Quarterback Brady Quinn looks to be the perfect fit for the offense. He has excellent size and a strong arm, and he makes good decisions. He had a solid season last year, completing 54 percent of his passes for 2,586 yards and 17 touchdowns. Everybody surrounding Quinn is a returning starter except tailback Darius Walker, who set the freshman rushing record with 786 yards as a backup.

The defensive side may be another story. There are only three starters back from a group which ranked next to last nationally in pass defense. The good news is that whereas the players don't have a lot of experience, the coaching staff does. Highly regarded defensive coordinator Rick Minter spent 10 years as a head coach at Cincinnati. Bill Lewis, who has the biggest task of rebuilding the backfield, spent the last 10 years as a secondary coach with the Miami Dolphins. He also has served as a head coach at three different schools. Most importantly, he is well respected throughout the profession as an outstanding teacher focusing on fundamentals and techniques.

The strength of the defense may be the linebackers, led by fifth-year seniors Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays. The line will be solid, led by nose guard Derek Landri and last year's super sub Victor Abiamiri.

The big question, then, is can this year's team improve on last year's 6-6 record? The schedule is very tough, with four teams (Michigan, Purdue, USC and Tennessee) from my preseason Sweet 16. As I wrote in my "What To Watch For" article back on Aug. 4, I still am having a hard time finding seven wins on this schedule.

However, I like what I've seen so far in preseason practices. I'm going to say the Fighting Irish will get seven wins and a nice little bowl game. More importantly, the football program will be heading in the right direction.

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