Trying to Get Noticed

The Notre Dame defense surrendered a lot of big plays in 2006. The Irish gave up too many big plays in the passing game costing them numerous games last season. New Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown will try to solve that problem, but he can't do it without front-line players, and he'll need some elite corners to eliminate the mistakes.

Enter Raeshon McNeil. At 6-foot, 185 pounds, McNeil represents the exact type of corner Brown loves, a big, physical corner who can make plays. McNeil says he's up to the task.

"This year there's a lot more opportunities than last year," the second-year player said. "Opportunities are really what you make of it. This year we've got a new defensive coordinator, and everyone is starting off with a clean slate. You've got to be more focused, and everyone is doing what they can to get on the field. Everyone is getting equal reps, which is good for me. Everyone is getting a chance to show what they've got."

What McNeil has is a big body to play physical at the line of scrimmage, and the ability to play press coverage—something we haven't seen the Irish do a lot of lately.

"I'm one of the bigger corners at 6-foot, 185, 190 pounds, so being more physical is a big part of my game," he said. "I've got to be a lot more physical than a lot of the other guys because smaller guys are usually smaller and quicker. You've basically got to use what you've got in this game. I think being a lot more physical is one of my best assets."

"I think it definitely will," McNeil said when asked if his body type will be an advantage for him when competing for a starting spot this spring. "You've got to go with a bigger corner now days because the receivers are getting bigger. Playing inside, there's so many new formations now where corners play inside as a linebacker covering an inside receiver. You've got to be more physical, and be able to play down in the box."

McNeil also welcomes the addition of Brown. The Cooleemee, N.C. native says Brown's defense fits his style of play perfectly.

"I definitely see a change already," McNeil said. "He's bringing a lot of energy, a lot of aggression to our defense, which is definitely something I feel we lacked last year. All the great defenses have that great energy, and are aggressive on the ball. I feel we lacked that last year. With his schemes and his mentality, his whole personality is kind of running through the whole defense. He's only been here a few months, and I feel we're already taking on his personality." The former Army All-American Bowl participant says Irish fans should see the change on the field next year in a new attitude on defense.

"With coach Brown coming in, and the way he teaches, I think we're playing more aggressive, more confident and more loosely," he said. "I think it's going to be an exciting year for us. I think we're going to have the opportunity to make a lot of big plays this year. I think it's going to be big turnaround from last year."

For any young corner, learning new schemes and building confidence are usually the two hurdles they face before seeing playing time. McNeil acknowledged that both were his stumbling blocks last year, but he feels he's over the hump this spring.

"It is pretty hard," McNeil said of the jump between high school and college. "At first when you throw out a couple of coverages, things are alright. You take it kind of slow. But then down the road, when you put in another coverage, and then another coverage on top of that, and another, and then you have checks on top of that, some of the things start to run together. If you have too much, sometimes you find yourself thinking too much instead of playing. Being comfortable with that, and the confidence factor, I think makes it easier. That comes with experience.

"Confidence is the most important thing you have to have as a corner. If you don't believe it, it's not going to happen. Actually playing against players like Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight last year, you get to see the top level of talent at the receiver position every day in practice, and if you can make a play or two on those guys, it doesn't nothing to build that confidence. It allows you to play more aggressive." And McNeil has been playing with confidence and aggression so far this spring. He felt his first real test, Friday's scrimmage, went quite well for him.

"It went good," he said of Friday's scrimmage. "I didn't get many balls thrown my way, but I covered a lot of guys. I thought my coverage was pretty good. I got to make a few tackles. I got to bump around a little out there. It felt good to be out there in a game-type situation."
>br> The soon to be sophomore says he's hoping he can turn some heads this spring to put himself in position to earn a starting spot next fall.

"Spring is the time to come up in the program and do what they can to get on the field," he said. "I'm trying every day to get noticed. I think I'm doing that. We've been working on a lot of new techniques. I think just perfecting those new techniques, working on those fundamentals of those new techniques will help me move up." Top Stories