In 2005, I expect a significant increase in toughness. This won't be hard because ND has been a soft team for a while. Yes, we do have a few tough guy players, but overall we've grown soft. We did not have many injuries last year because Willingham limited the amount of contact in practice. Consequently, the tackling on defense was atrocious and the special teams were even worse. The offensive line was anything but nasty.
While Weis is likely to run more physical practices, the chance of injury will increase. You can't have it both ways.
Another key is the development of Brady Quinn. Much of our success during the next two years will depend on how well he absorbs Weis' instruction and executes on the field. We don't know if Quinn has what it takes, but we're going to find out.
On offense, we also need receivers that can separate from defenders, particularly in man coverage. Teams like USC enjoy an advantage because they can play man defense against us without fear of being beaten. This has to change, but there is no quick fix. Weis needs to recruit.
I'm amazed that Weis did so well at NE since only Deion Branch is a guy that can consistently beat man coverage, but you have to have at least one like him. I'm not discounting Shelton but Weis will need to develop Vaughn, Hord and Grimes while he's out recruiting guys that are even better.
I'd also like a big back that can get the tough first down or run inside the opponent's 10, but I don't see one on the roster.
The offensive line seems to have the potential to be pretty good with the right coaching, but this unit and the secondary are what I mean when I say that ND has been soft.
Speaking of the secondary, I expect immediate improvement but not a miracle. I never thought New England could lose its starting corners and shut down good teams including the Colts by "coaching up" a rookie and a free agent. ND has some decent young talent in the secondary, and the staff will have to optimize that raw ability.
We have a lot of young talent and decent speed at linebacker. We don't have a presence in the middle now that Goolsby has departed, and that will take time to fix. We're also a bit undersized in the interior of the DL. We need to recruit more wide bodies that can play.
Special teams is just awful. Our softness and inability to tackle has really been exposed. Our guys don't seem to enjoy the contact, and Weis must change this.
Weis will be a shock to some players. Not everyone will adjust to the changes and other improvements will take more than one season. There will be times when we're tempted to criticize Charlie, but his track record and the depth of the challenge that awaits him suggest that we should give him plenty of rope.