Eliminating Big Plays

The rule is the defense has to create two turnovers during practice or everyone does 10 up-downs for each unforced opportunity. Through two practices, there hasn't been any up-downs yet.

The defense also hasn't yielded too many big plays. Of course the guys get a kick out of seeing head coach Charlie Weis get on his offense a little bit.

"He gets a little mad," cornerback Leo Ferrine said. "He is paying a lot of attention to us. He hasn't got that upset about it. He is just realizing the defense is doing better than before."

That's a great sign, considering the defense was a liability at times last season.

Weis pinpointed communication as the big issue with the secondary last year. Mental breakdowns allowed big plays to go against the Irish. There is a lot more talking going on with the defensive backfield already.

"When we are out there going through drills you hear communicating, making sure we are hammering, making sure everyone is on the same page," said Ambrose Wooden, the team's returning leading tackler with 74. "When game time comes, it's second nature."

Just playing defensive back is finally becoming second nature to the four returning starters. Wooden and Mike Richardson at corner, and Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe at safety, all arrived at Notre Dame as offensive players. On top of that, Ferrine, the other major contributor, was seeing the field for the first time at nickel back. Hopefully now that they have a good feel for what they are doing, the mental mistakes will start to disappear, and with it, the big plays.

"I think kind of last year we weren't sure who was going to be where in the secondary," Zbikowski explained. "I think with everyone back we feel a lot more comfortable. Everyone is flying around to the ball."

Defensive backs coach Bill Lewis has seen a carry over with his top DBs from last season to this season. Being through the fire once already, the guys in the secondary should be more familiar with offensive formations, what teams do out of those formations, and how to communicate amongst each other and make plays.

"It's something that they consciously have to work at every day, the communication that's needed between players," Lewis said. "It's not just a secondary thing, it's secondary to linebackers.

"Anybody that is involved in the run support scheme, if you are talking about that faze of it, or if you are talking about the coverage part of it, because coverage is a whole group working together. They have to understand first of all their responsibility. Then they have to understand, what's the guy in front of me doing, what's the guy to the side of me doing? Then how does my responsibility tie in with theirs and how does their's tie in with me. That's just comes from repetition and repetition"

Irish fans can still expect the defense to still gamble and be opportunistic. That's what they've been doing so far this spring.

"Creating turnovers has been the main focus of running to the ball," Zbikowski said. "As long as we are running to the ball big plays won't break for that big. If they are going to happen they are going to for 15-20 yards if everyone is running to the ball."

As long as everyone continues to swarm to the ball well, the defense has a good chance to avoid doing up-downs all spring. That offense is pretty good though.

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