Some players saw it as an opportunity to get on the field. Others wondered what position they'd be playing. Trevor Laws thought he'd be the nose guard in the new scheme.
"It was interesting," Laws said Friday following the second day of spring practice. "We were all anxious to see where we'd all be playing and stuff like that, whose playing nose guard, things like that. So there was a lot of excitement to, because lots of guys new there would be new positions opening up and a lot more competition around the defense to see who could get on the field. So it was excitement and anxiousness."
Weis and Brown quickly answered a lot of those questions. Chris Stewart would be moving from offensive guard to nose guard. His 6-foot-5, 340-pound frame is perfect to eat up gaps in the new defense, if the sophomore-to-be can adapt quickly.
A key cog on the interior of the Irish's defensive line the last three seasons, Laws found out that the coaching staff envisioned him playing on the edge as a defensive end.
"I was debating what would be better for me before the season started, and I really feel like being outside, there is a lot more opportunity for me to make plays," Laws explained. "Maybe because being inside might be more natural for me next year when I leave or something, but at this level on the outside I think I can make more plays."
Laws made a lot of plays last year, making 62 tackles (fifth on the team), nine-and-a-half of those coming for loss. A sure-fire pick somewhere in April's NFL Draft, the 6-foot-1, 295-pound Laws opted to return to Notre Dame for his final season of eligibility.
"It was a tough choice, but I really felt like if I come back for a fifth year, it really gives me a chance to improve my draft status, and give me one more year at Notre Dame, and I thought that was best for me."
Going into winter workouts and spring practice, Laws wasn't sure what position he was going to play, but he knew the defense needed another leader. Brown singled Laws out as a guy that has really stepped up as a leader in his short time at Notre Dame.
"This year is a lot different from every year since I've been here," Laws said. "Every time there has always been an older guy with more experience, that's been out there leading the d-line and the defense. But this year, I look on the defensive line and really it's just me. I've really made a point to step forward and bring some of the other guys around."
One of those guys is Stewart.
"He's a little raw," Laws stated. "He's got that big ole nose-guard body. Coaches really told me to try and help him along, and get him used to moving like a d-lineman. I think towards the end of spring, I think he is going to be in there pushing guys around and taking on double teams."
****One of the other leaders of the defense, senior safety Tom Zbikowski, sat down with Brown a couple times before the season to watch film of himself and tapes of how the new defense is going to played.
Unlike with Laws, and guys like John Ryan who is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker, there isn't much change schematically for Zbikowski and the rest of the secondary guys. There is just a change attitude wise.
"A little bit, but we're in the basics right now, Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4," Zbikowski said. "It's pretty much the same with any scheme. I think it brings a little bit different philosophy, just turnovers all the time, trying to make plays all the time. We're loving it.
"We're practicing it pretty hard," Zbikowski said of the turnover philosophy. "It's always a message for any defense, but I think it's a real big point of emphasis right now."
****Senior-to-be linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. feels like he is in the same position heading into this football season as he was a year ago. He knows he'll be playing, he's just not sure where.
This past fall, Crum was the team's leading tackler, handling the middle linebacker duties out of necessity. A strongside linebacker the season before, Crum had to move to the middle after nobody stepped up and proved they could fill the role. Where Crum plays this fall depends a lot on what his teammates show this spring and during camp.
"It's tough to say right now," Crum said of where he'll be playing. "Everything is up in the air. Spring ball just started, so I guess that stuff will get settled when they figure out where to put me.
"It depends on who develops, who steps up, and figuring out who fits best where."
Crum really developed this past season as a solid staple of the defense. Now the coaches are asking him to make the next step wherever he lines up.
"To kind of get to that superstar status maybe," Crum said. "Be the big-time linebacker that they think I'm capable of being, that I think I'm capable of being."
Crum, who missed all of last spring because of back surgery, is bigger this spring than he was last season. He is broader around the shoulders, and his forearms were noticeably larger.
"I'm closer to 230 now," Crum said. "January was the year mark from my surgery so everything is starting to come back. My leg strength, I'm getting stronger and bigger.
"At times (last season), I felt it in myself that my legs were weak or I wasn't as strong as I needed to be or should've been."
****Brown is bringing a different level of intensity to practice than former defensive coordinator Rick Minter did, and the players are noticing it.
"He is a pretty intense guy," Laws said. "He's a great coach, he gets after you when you're needed to get after. He really knows what he is doing out there. Every play he lets you know whether you are doing good or bad."
"He is a very animated guy," Crum said. "He tells you how he feels and what he expects of you. He gives us all, all he has, and he expects the same from us."
Crum said he is not one of the guys Brown has had to get on during the first two practices.
"I'm trying to stay clear."