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Football: Mining for gold

Chris Hine | Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Notre Dame is halfway through spring practice. So how did defensive coordinator Corwin Brown say his defense is doing so far? Not that bad.

“From a schematic standpoint, I think the guys are picking what we’re asking them to do,” Brown said after practice Monday. “We’re adding a lot of things to what we did last year and we’re getting a lot of looks. They’re getting comfortable … We’re starting to find out who does what fairly well.”

Brown has been comfortable enough with the defense to move several players around and try some new looks. Rising sophomore linebacker Brian Smith has seen time on the inside of Notre Dame’s 3-4 defensive scheme this spring and rising sophomore safety Harrison Smith, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 206-pounds, has taken snaps as a part of the linebacking corps. These moves, Brown said, represent an attempt to create depth on defense.

“We’re trying to juggle some things around, put together some different combinations and see if we can get the same play from different spots but also create some depth just in case of injury or maybe a young guy that you plan on doesn’t pan out as well or just trying to get different looks … ” Brown said. “You do that with a number of different combinations and hopefully you strike gold, you hit the jackpot and then you got something special.”

Brown also said he wanted to move Harrison Smith around because he has the ability to make big plays no matter where he is on the field. But Brown jokingly cautioned against giving him such glowing praise.

“If you see certain guys making plays, you kind of want to see how far you can take that, so you try to put them in different positions because you know what you have here … ” Brown said. “He’s a hard-working [player], he’s smart, he’s tough. I don’t want to say too many good things about him, though, because he’ll probably poop in my lunch bucket.”

As for Notre Dame’s secondary, Brown’s specialty, David Bruton has filled some of the leadership void left by the departure of Tom Zbikowski.

“David leads by example, which first and foremost that’s the most important thing you have to do as a leader,” Brown said. “You have to be able – without opening your mouth – show that a. you’re dependable, and b. you’re going to be there, you’re going to make plays, you’re going to do it the right way. And that’s what leadership is all about. Leadership is not about being around four years and all of a sudden just because you’ve been here, you’re a leader.”

At cornerback, last year’s starters, rising fifth-year senior Terrail Lambert and rising junior Darrin Walls, return. But right behind them on the depth chart are rising sophomore Gary Gray and rising junior Raeshon McNeil, who have provided stiff competition for the returning starters this spring.

“The competition only helps us and I think that’s one thing we’ve been pushing each other on is helping each other out,” Walls said. “We just know that we’re trying to make each other better and make this team better.”