Brown Takes Aim at Turnaround

Spring practice is only two sessions in for Notre Dame. Storylines abound for the Irish, who have to replace several key starters on both sides of the ball. The players are also getting their first taste of the new man in charge of the defense. Corwin Brown replaced Rick Minter as defensive coordinator at the end of the season and he's seen a few positives out of the first two practices.

"We have guys that like to play," Brown said on Friday. "They want to play hard, run around and go hit. That's my impression now."

Brown comes to Notre Dame from the professional ranks. He was the defensive backs coach for the New York Jets from 2004-06. Brown comes from the Bill Parcells coaching tree and has learned defense from the likes of Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini.

After employing a base 4-3 defense under Minter, Brown brings in a new scheme. The Irish will have 3-4 personnel on the field and be able to switch back and forth from a 34 to a 43 to confuse offenses. The changes are a welcome sign to Notre Dame, who have been torched the past two seasons by the big passing play through the air. Brown brings in a different philosophy and a different way of getting the job done on defense.

"Right now, we're just lining up and playing," Brown said of spring ball. "4-3, 3-4, we're just putting guys out there and lining up and playing ball. We're trying to run and hit and be fundamentally sound technique-wise. Those are the things we're focusing on."

This spring is a different one for Notre Dame. The past four years, Brady Quinn has been underneath center. But with No. 10 gone to the NFL Draft, one of the highest priorities in the spring time is finding a new signal caller. That falls under the expertise of head coach Charlie Weis. While he's trying to find a player among the quarterback quartet to lead the offense, Brown pretty much has free reign on defense to do as he pleases. Weis trusts Brown because both were brought up in the same coaching family. This doesn't mean that the Notre Dame head coach is clueless as to what's occurring on the defensive side of the ball.

"He knows the defense," Brown said. "He really doesn't have to ask me. He knows what he's looking at and the calls. He can look at the film and know what's being called. He's taking care of the quarterbacks and leaving everything up to us."

This is the first time Brown has had the title of defensive coordinator. The past three years he was with the Jets, Brown was the defensive backs coach. He would take orders from the defensive coordinator. Now, Brown has the power and authority to implement a scheme and issue directives to assistant defensive coaches Bill Lewis, Jappy Oliver and Brian Polian.

"It's like being the head of special teams," Brown said, who held that title while coaching at the University of Virginia from 2001-03. "You have to make sure everyone is on the same page. You have to make sure you're on the same page with the coaches and players. You have to make sure everyone understands their role. Just because you're not the coordinator doesn't mean your role is diminished. It means that everyone has to be on the same page. It's your job. When you're a position coach, you have to be on the same page as everyone else. My mindset is the same and I want to make sure everybody has that mindset."

Brown's job is to turnaround a defense that constantly underperformed in big games. In the six losses under Weis, the unit has allowed 44, 34, 34, 48, 44 and 41 points. Brown has a challenge of not only changing the performance on the field but erasing a mindset that's crept in because of the disappointing efforts, most notably against high-level competition. He's communicated with all of the defensive players and they now know what to expect in Corwin Brown-led defense.

"Through conversations, everybody fits in here," Brown said. "Everything we do here, we have a system and everyone is a part of. If you play hard and you care about your teammates and Notre Dame, you'll fit in here. I really didn't have to talk to individual guys because that's what we do. If guys didn't want to be a part of that, they wouldn't be here."

Speaking of being here, it'll be part of Brown's job description to bring in the type of defensive players Notre Dame has been missing out on. The Irish just missed on a few high-level recruits, such as defensive end Ben Martin and linebacker Chris Donald, who both decided to attend Tennessee. The 34 personnel defense should create some more opportunities on the recruiting trail. A solid year defensively could also do wonders to lure those five-star high school athletes to South Bend. Brown has already developed a clear and direct sales pitch to the prospects.

"That's it's going to be a fun group to be a part of and what we're trying to do is match what's been going on offensively," Brown said. "We want to match and surpass that. If you're a special player and you're tough and if you want to do it on Broadway, come here and do it. If you don't like pressure and competition and being on time and being on television with a chance to win playing for one of the greatest universities of all time, don't come to Notre Dame."


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