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Irish Insider: Brockington confident after first start last weekend

Ken Fowler and Greg Arbogast | Saturday, October 7, 2006

Notre Dame senior linebacker Joe Brockington made his first start last Saturday against Purdue. He just might make his second against Stanford.

With starting outside linebacker Travis Thomas “iffy” for Saturday’s game as he recovers from a rib injury suffered against Michigan State, Weis said he is considering keeping Thomas off the field for a second straight week. But for Weis, that decision might be easier to make after Brockington’s performance against Purdue.

“I thought Joe was fairly solid,” Weis said. “He certainly wasn’t the reason that [Purdue] had production. He was part of the reason, now, mind you, but … it wasn’t like they exploited Joe.”

The 6-foot-2, 232-pound Brockington had one solo tackle and two assists against Purdue. After nearly catching a pass tipped by Irish defensive tackle Chris Frome in the first half, Brockington added one pass deflection in the fourth quarter, a play on which he had a chance for an interception until the slippery ball fell out of his hand to the ground.

“Probably the biggest play of the day that you noticed him is when he dropped the interception, which he took a lot of ribbing from his teammates on,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said during his Tuesday press conference.

Brockington didn’t need his teammates to get on his case about the dropped ball. He was his own critic.

“The second one that I dropped, there was no excuse for that,” he said. “It was pretty horrible.”

The “no excuse” line fit in perfectly with Brockington’s mentality about the game. Although it was his first start, Brockington said he was “probably too calm” and expected to play at a high level.

“I was definitely excited, but I think I was prepared going into the week,” he said.

The preparation paid off. Weis said Brockington’s absence from the big plays the Notre Dame defense surrendered to Purdue was a positive, especially for a first-time starter.

“You didn’t really notice him getting exploited out there,” Weis said. “I think that’s a very good thing when a guy goes in there really for the first time with a bunch of meaningful reps and you don’t really notice him too much.”

Before the game against Purdue, Brockington had recorded just one tackle – a solo stop against Georgia Tech – this season while playing in all five times.

A Palmyra, Penn. native, Brockington played in 11 games in 2004 and 2005, but Saturday marked his first career start. As a sophomore, Brockington saw almost all his playing time on special teams. Last season, he played at linebacker in seven games. Against Michigan State in 2005, he made his first career tackle for a loss.

Irish strong safety and defensive captain Tom Zbikowski said Brockington’s three tackles only tell part of the story of his performance in his inaugural start.

“He made the plays that he had to make and was always in the right position for coverages and run plays,” Zbikowski said. “He had a couple of nice pass breaks and a lot of plays where he was in coverage that may have gone unnoticed, just because the pass wasn’t thrown to his side … So definitely a good performance for his first start.”

Those pass defenses will be important for the Irish this week against a Stanford team that utilizes its tight ends running routes against linebackers in the passing game. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter said Cardinal coach Walt Harris is much like Weis in that respect.

“He, like Coach Weis, loves the tight end in the offense,” Minter said. “He loves to get the big bodies downfield.”

Brockington said he has to be ready to face Cardinal tight ends Jim Dray, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, and Patrick Danahy, a 6-foot-4 senior, in between the hash marks. If he starts, Brockington said, he would have to play even better than he did against Purdue to shut down Stanford’s air attack.

“I was somewhat happy, I would say, with my performance [against the Boilermakers],” he said. “But when I watched the tape on Sunday, I knew there was still a lot of work to do.”