The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Burrell leads defensive backs

Joe Hettler | Monday, April 19, 2004

Quentin Burrell knows people question the ability of Notre Dame’s secondary heading into the 2004 season.

Burrell has an answer for those critics.

“The secondary is not going to be a question mark – trust me,” he said.

Burrell is the most experienced defensive back returning to the Irish this season. He played in all 12 games in 2003 and led the team with four interceptions.

With the experience from his junior season, Burrell said he knows he’ll be looked upon even more this season.

“Me being a senior, I have to lead by example,” Burrell said. “So I have to try and get the young guys to follow me, which means I have to be perfect in everything I do.”

Notre Dame secondary coach Steven Wilks agrees.

“I’m hoping that Quentin will take the leadership role and run with it and be that kind of player on and off the football field,” Wilks said.

Burrell hasn’t participated in all the drills his secondary teammates have this spring because of off-season shoulder surgery. Burrell is still recovering from the surgery and is expected to be 100 percent by the fall. For now, he does individuals drills in practice and works with the team trainer when the Irish do group drills.

Burrell is likely the leading candidate to try and replace the loss of graduating seniors Vontez Duff and Glenn Earl. While Notre Dame has talented players at the defensive back positions, the team is still relatively inexperienced.

“I think it’s hard to truly make up for experience because experience needs to be made up with experience,” Wilks said. “Those guys need to be able to get more reps and practice at different things so they can get the looks and recognition they need.”

Besides Burrell, Preston Jackson and Dwight Ellick return to Irish secondary after significant playing time in 2003. Those three, along with a crowd of younger players will be fighting for starting positions and playing time in the fall. Jackson saw action in every Irish game and had 24 tackles and one interception, while Ellick participated in 10 games and had 21 tackles.

Wilks said two players in particular – rising sophomore Tom Zbikowski and rising senior Carlos Campbell – have stood out in the spring.

“Without a doubt Zbikowski has definitely impressed me,” Wilks said. “He’s stepped up and he’s leading by example.

“You look at some of the older guys like Carlos Campbell – he’s definitely standing out. He’s being vocal and making plays and doing the things he should be doing heading into his final year.”

After playing on offense last season, Chinedum Ndukwe and Isaiah Gardner switched positions for a chance at more playing time. Ndukwe said the change has been a challenge, but he’s adjusting more each day.

“It’s going well. Right now I’m just trying to get all the mental stuff down and just trying to adjust on the fly,” he said. “I’m really just learning by experience now.”

Despite the inexperience and new faces in the secondary, Wilks said the group is playing well and coming together as a unit thus far in spring practice.

“We’re improving each and every day,” Wilks said. “I don’t think anyone has separated themselves enough to say they’re a true starter. Guys are still playing hard and still competing, which in the long run will make everyone better.”