Football: Confidence breeds improvement for DBs
Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, September 14, 2007
Notre Dame’s defense has given up 32 points per game this season, but Irish coach Charlie Weis said his secondary still has the most important component for a solid defense – confidence.
“There are scheme changes, we’re playing a whole bunch of combination coverages, but I think that the one thing that [Irish defensive backs] coach [Bill] Lewis and [defensive coordinator Corwin] Brown have done is instill confidence in that group,” Weis said.
The new confidence has come with the new 3-4 personnel scheme this season, spearheaded by Brown.
“We’ve been able to play multiple personnel groups that we haven’t been able to play with such confidence before,” Weis said. “So now we’ve been able to put more DBs on the field against multiple receiver sets and we don’t get mismatched.”
The new scheme helped the defensive backs regain their confidence. In the past two seasons under former defensive coordinator Rick Minter, the Irish struggled against the pass, surrendering 203 yards per game in 2006 and 264 yards in 2005 – 103rd in the country.
The secondary has performed above expectations in the first two games this season, holding opponents to only 126 passing yards per game – good for 14th best in the nation.
Weis said the main reason for the improvement in the pass defense game is the emergence of talented players.
Sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls is one of those emerging players for the Irish. He scored the team’s only touchdown in the first two games – a 73-yard interception return in the first quarter against Penn State last Saturday.
“It was an exciting play,” Walls said. “Basically I just followed my blocks, my teammates made a wall, and I followed them. We practiced it all week and it happened in practice. I pictured it happening in a game and it did.”
Walls has played well enough in practice to earn a starting job at cornerback in both games this season, although Brown said every player in the secondary has improved during the preseason and the first two weeks.
“They’ve really challenged each other,” Brown said. “They’ve challenged themselves. The things that we’ve asked them to do, they’ve made. They’ve really worked hard at trying to get those things done.”
The touchdown was a prime example of improvement in the Irish secondary. The team’s practices helped them mesh as a team and have spilled over into games.
“We got a lot of confidence just working with each other, getting used to each other on the field, and being consistent,” Walls said. “The confidence level has been building in practice and in games so it’s been great to the level of play.”
Even though the touchdown added to the unit’s confidence, it was also a result of the teamwork and bonding the secondary has worked on all season.
“Attitude [has changed] – we’ve been more aggressive and more physical,” Walls said. “We hang together on the weekends. The camaraderie between us brings us a lot closer on the field.”
Brown said the team’s closeness is obvious in practice. The defensive backs, Brown said, work hard to improve their teammates.
“They really support each other,” Brown said. “They really do support each other and nobody gets jealous. It’s pretty cool.”
The secondary will face a tough test Saturday with Michigan receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. The Wolverines wide outs have not been as dominant as in recent years, but they have combined for 21 catches and 304 yards. Moreover, Manningham had four catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns last season against Notre Dame.
But this season, Michigan will be without four-year starting quarterback Chad Henne. Instead, the Wolverines will start freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Walls doesn’t think that will affect Notre Dame’s concentration.
“Our mindset is as if Henne was going to play,” Walls said. “Their freshman quarterback has a great arm, we watched a lot of tape on him. He can make any throw on the field. We just go in there and prepare.”