What has been your initial impression of the players after seeing them in person rather than on film?"We have guys that like to play, and they are going to play hard, and they are going to run around and hit. That's my impression right now."
What is your early impression of Chris Stewart?"It's early, it's early, and young guys - it's like a marathon - you just have to let them go and watch them. If there is a guy who has really impressed me early on, it's been Trevor Laws. You know he has kind of taken the bull by the horns, literally. I think he has really decided he is going to be a leader of the ‘D'. Our older guys are the guys that have really impressed me. So what we want from the younger guys is just for them to follow their lead."
How much of the 3-4 defense have you put in?"Right now we are just lining up and playing. You know 4-3, 3-4, we're really just putting guys out there lining up, playing ball, and trying to run. Trying to hit, and trying to be fundamentally sound technique-wise, fundamentally being aggressive. Those are the things we are really focusing on right now."
Have the players asked questions about the 3-4?"Our guys just want to know about playing football, period. You know the thing we are trying to do is just go at a certain pace.....just play fundamental, sound, good technique."
Did you meet with the players individually before spring practice to explain to them how they fit in the new defense or anything like that?"I spoke with each and every guy through conversation, and you know everyone fits in here. The thing we do here is have a system, and everybody is part of the system, and everybody fits in and everybody plays. If you play hard, and you care about your teammates, and you care about Notre Dame, you fit in here. That is what I said, so I really didn't have to talk to individual guys because that is what we do. If guys didn't want to be a part of that, they wouldn't be here. Those were the things we talked about and you know those are the kind of guys we have."
The offensive line has several guys playing more than one position. Do you plan to do the same thing with the defensive players?"More than anything else, the thing we are trying to do is we're trying to play wherever you are. We are trying to play sound technique football. If you happen to be on the left side and you are fundamentally sound on the left, and you happen to be on the right and you are fundamentally sound on the right. We really don't get into positions and who is where and this guy is here. We like to think that we can plug guys in anywhere and if you understand the concept, then you should be able to step in and play. That's what we are trying to do."
You have coached in college and the pros, was it much of an adjustment coming back to college? Did you have to adjust your style or the way that you taught on defense at all?"Yeah, but for the secondary, it's legal to hold past five yards now (laughing). You know, it's a little different, and the rules are a little different, but at the end of the day, it's blocking and tackling, and it's still football. And when they snap the ball, we go. That's what we did in New York and that's what I did when I played, and that's what our guys do and are going to do. Really whether you are in the pros or college or high school, it's still the same, and what we want to do is play at a certain level and we want to play at a certain tempo. More than anything else, that's what we are trying to get done. So really we didn't have to adjust much. Schematically there might be things we see differently than what we saw up there, but we'll handle it."
Has it been difficult making the adjustment from a position coach to head coach of the defense?"It's like being the head of special teams, you have to make sure that everybody is on the same page, and you have to make sure that you are on the same page with the coaches, and the coaches are on the same page with the players, and you have to make sure that everybody understands his or her role. Just because you're the coordinator doesn't mean your role is diminished. It just means that you have to make sure everybody is on the same page. Like, that's your job now. When I was a position coach, I was always going to be on the same page with everybody else and my mindset is the same, and I just want to make sure that everybody has that mindset. And those are the differences."
Where do you want the defense coming out of spring practice and the Blue-Gold Game?"We want to be fundamentally sound, and we want to be able to go into a game and play fundamental defense and not give up big plays and not do things that cause you to lose. Penalties, mental errors, not playing hard, not taking advantage of the other team's mistakes, all those things - situational football. We want to be able to handle all of those things. Getting off the field on third down, causing turnovers, playing good in the red zone, playing good in two-minute, playing good in sudden change, playing good on the goal line, playing good when they're coming out, those are things we'd like to do. We have a ways to go, but we're just working right now."
Are you spending time now getting the players into your mindset, and not so much work with the playbook?"Yeah, as a defensive unit, I think we all have to be on the same page. Coach Lewis, coach Oliver, coach Polian, and myself, we have a mindset and the players have to make sure they are wired in with us so that when we call something, they know why we are calling it. They know how to play the defense that we call, and if something comes up in the game, they have tools that they can fall on or they can fall back to where they say, ‘OK, I'm going to be OK because I'm just going to play my technique and my fundamentals, and I'm going to use my help.'"
How has the mindset process gone with coach Lewis, coach Oliver, and coach Polian?"That's a good process; those guys are good coaches. They're good coaches, and it's a pretty good process. We enjoy being around each other, I believe. They may say something different, but I don't think so. They have real good minds, very good minds, and they don't mind working, and that's good. We're just working right now trying to get better."
Does Coach Weis come over and talk to you during practice to see how things are going?"No, he knows the defense, so he doesn't really have to ask me. When he sees it on tape, he knows what he is looking at. He knows the calls even without me saying it. He can look at the film, and he knows what is being called, how guys are playing, and what they are supposed to be doing. He is taking care of the quarterbacks and sort of leaving everything else to us."
When you're talking to potential recruits, what do you tell them about the Notre Dame defense and what you are trying to do?"That it's going to be a fun group to be a part of and what we are trying to do is match what has been done around here offensively; match and surpass that. If you are a special guy, and like to play, and you are tough, and if you really want to do it on Broadway, come here and do it. If you don't like pressure, and you don't like competition, and if you don't like being on television, and having a chance to win, and play for one of the greatest universities ever, then don't come to Notre Dame. But if you embrace all that stuff, then it's an easy choice; nothing to think about."
How much has Tom Zbikowski impressed you so far?"Zibby is good because Zibby is working, and Zibby is being a leader. You ask him to do something and he does it. He wants to know and he is eager. So it is good when you have older guys like that; that you can lean on and kind of say, hey this is what we need to get done today and they're doing it."
When you coached with the Jets, they led the NFL with interceptions. How do you plan to carry that over to this defense?"At the end of the day, whether I'm a linebacker or whether I'm a defensive back, when that ball goes in the air, I have to become the receiver. It's a mindset and it's a mentality. I don't know, maybe we just had players that liked to do it. It wasn't much on my part. It was just something that we tried to convey to our guys, and I was fortunate to be around some good guys that embraced that; so we'll see; so we'll see."
What are some of the positive things you've seen so far in practice, and what are some of the things you feel you need to work on?"It's early, and it's hard to make a judgment right now. We are running around well, and they are playing with a good tempo, and that is the thing that sticks out the most."