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Football: Linebackers link together through adversity

Bobby Griffin | Friday, October 27, 2006

Predicting that a rib injury to linebacker Travis Thomas, which came in the final moments against Michigan State, would eventually yield some positives for Notre Dame’s season might have been difficult to imagine four weeks ago.

Of course, the pluses stemming from the injury had nothing to do with the late game hit itself – they had to do with what resulted from the hit.

Notre Dame found its linebacking corps.

Because with Thomas injured, senior Joe Brockington was thrown into the mix. And when Brockington played well enough to remain in the lineup, the Irish coincidentally found the unit that will likely take them through the end of the season.

Thomas returned from his injury against UCLA and played alongside Brockington – his backup heading into the season – and second-year starter Maurice Crum. Crum led the team with eight tackles, while Brockington and Thomas each totaled seven.

“This year with Travis being a fairly inexperienced guy, just very athletic, [Brockington] got the opportunity to play and played well – it gave us the opportunity to get them both on the field,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said after practice Wednesday.

Crum, who is the unquestioned leader of the group simply because he has the most experience, said Wednesday it’s up to the coaches to decide who plays. He has confidence in whoever plays alongside of him, and credits all his teammates for being prepared.

But he’s also pretty excited with the current situation – especially when considering the time remaining for the group to gel. Crum has two years of eligibility left while Brockington, who is Crum’s roommate on road trips, and Thomas each can return for a fifth year.

“I’m sure that would be a big positive for us as a unit, just have a core of guys just play together for a whole year and guys who’ve been around each other for a while,” Crum said Wednesday after practice. “I really think that can be nothing but positive for us.”

But this isn’t the first time Crum has played alongside Brockington, either. The two have history together on the scout team in 2004. Brockington laughed after practice Wednesday recalling some of those stories.

“When we were on the scout team together, it was pretty serious and we took our job pretty serious,” Brockington said. “We flew around and tried to put our hats on people.

“It’s definitely kind of funny looking back at it. If you were to tell me back then that we were going to be playing together I would say that year, it was going to be a lot of fun.”

The current lineup features Crum in the middle, Brockington on the weak side and Thomas on the strong side. Thomas, who switched positions from running back to linebacker at the beginning of the season, was again asked to move to the strong side when he returned from his injury.

But that’s just a credit to Thomas’ flexibility and athleticism – something defensive coordinator Rick Minter complimented after practice Wednesday.

“He’s done a nice job. He was obviously a good running back before he came over. He came over in a time of need for us, and really responded well,” Minter said. “My hat’s off to him.”

All three members of Notre Dame’s newest linebacking corps will be instrumental in stopping Navy’s rushing attack Saturday. The Midshipmen average 316.6 yards per game on the ground and have six players with over 100 yards rushing on the season.

But with the recent production from the Notre Dame linebackers, the Irish could be in decent shape this weekend against Navy.

“The biggest thing is just being fundamentally sound and making sure you are where you’re supposed to be and [not trying] to do anybody else’s job,” Crum said. “Whatever your key is read that, make sure you can take care of that first instead of guessing.”