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Football: No shoes to fill: McCarthy has own style

Chris Hine | Friday, April 18, 2008

It’s a question most people would get annoyed with if they heard it ad nauseum – “How are you going to replace Tom Zbikowski?” But if Kyle McCarthy is bothered by it, he doesn’t show it. Instead, McCarthy turns the question into a guiding force to get through the doldrums of spring practice.

“It’s a pretty big challenge,” McCarthy said of taking over Zbikowski’s strong safety position. “Anytime you’re replacing an All-American candidate and a fan-favorite, there’s definitely going to be a little bit of pressure, but I’m taking that as a way to motivate myself and just get better.”

Free safety David Bruton, who had breakout season in 2007 with three interceptions and 85 tackles, said McCarthy is going to put his own unique stamp on Notre Dame football and not simply try to be a replica of Zbikowski.

“He never takes anything for granted. He’s business-like,” Bruton said. “He might not be Zibby, but he’s Kyle McCarthy and you shouldn’t want to be like someone. You should want to be better or find yourself, and obviously, Kyle is doing that.”

Last season, McCarthy had 20 tackles and one interception. While he wants to create his own identity at strong safety, he’ll still try to maintain Zbikowski’s tough style of play.

“I definitely have my own personality,” McCarthy said. “There are a lot of similarities between me and him, but I’m definitely my own player my own person. After people watch me play I hope they see me kind of as a tough hard-nosed kid who has a nose for the ball and a good all around player.”

With Zbikowski, who was one of Notre Dame’s captains last year, gone McCarthy, along with Bruton, has stepped into more of a leadership role. Irish coach Charlie Weis said McCarthy’s confidence has improved this spring.

“It’s one thing when you’re filling in for Zibby, but it’s another thing when it’s your job to lose. And he’s playing like it’s his job, not like he’s trying to lose it,” Weis said in a press conference on April 11.

Part of any secondary’s success is communication among the defensive backs, and developing a rapport can be difficult with someone new tossed into the mix. But Bruton said the transition this spring has been smooth.

“He knows his calls. It’s not me trying to get everybody on the same page, it’s him working one side, I’m working the other,” Bruton said. “If he’s uncertain about something, I’ll blurt it out because he’ll do the same things. There are no question marks about whether we’re right or wrong on a call because we’re always on the same page.”

Weis has monitored the defense more this spring than in past years, and said he notices a good chemistry between Bruton and McCarthy.

“Now, he has been here for four years and the confidence is as much mental as it is physical because there’s a great line of communication between him and [Bruton],” Weis said. “It’s not like Kyle has to turn around and count on David. They’re communicating very well between the two of them which has made everything flow a lot better than I was anticipating.”

Though Bruton said McCarthy is “all business” on the field, McCarthy will add a different dimension to the secondary this season.

“He’s a fool. He’s a funny man, always joking, always laughing,” Bruton said. “He brings a different personality to the secondary. He’s a comedian and he’s a real cool guy.”