"Everyone needs to play a little better back there, especially at that position," Brown said about the safety spots. "At d-line, if you make a mistake, you have linebackers, corners and safeties that will take care of you. At linebacker, you can make a mistake and you have the secondary. At safety, if you make a mistake, the band is going to be playing. If the band plays too many times, someone is coming off the field."
There's a trio of juniors in the springtime that are pushing for the job. David Bruton and Ray Herring should be getting plenty of looks. The third is Kyle McCarthy, a 6-0, 200-pound native of Youngstown, OH. McCarthy can feel how big a premium Brown is putting on negating those big plays in the secondary.
"It's not only fundamentals but it's a mentality," McCarthy said. "From the day Coach Brown got here, he's been preaching no explosive or big plays allowed. I think our defense has changed the mentality this year and we're going to try to shut that down this year.
"You make one mistake and it's a touchdown for sure. As defensive backs, we embrace that and we take that very seriously. Being a defensive back, you know that and it makes you want to play that much better."
McCarthy did not see action his freshman year and the biggest achievement that season was being named the scout team's Player of the Week for emulating the Navy quarterbacks in the lead-up to Midshipmen contest. In 2006, McCarthy was a contributor on special teams. He racked up nine tackles last year, six solo and three assisted. Although McCarthy plans on another season with special teams, his aspirations in spring ball are a bit higher because of the open safety spot opposite Zbikowski.
"That's what gets you up in the morning for those workouts," McCarthy said about the chance to start. "There's no reason to come to Notre Dame if you don't expect to play. Everyone on this team, not only the defensive backs, are doing their best to get a spot on the field."
By listening to Brown last Wednesday, it appears as if nothing is set in stone. The new defensive coordinator showed a little passion and pounded his finger into the table when talking about the other safety spot.
"Things have to happen and change," Brown said. "You cannot afford to not play well. If you have to play smart, error-free and with passion and intensity. Across the board, everyone back there has to do better, with the exception of Zibby."
That being said, the 15 spring practices are a time for McCarthy to play his way into a starting spot. Brown referenced Zbikowski and it's a player McCarthy has learned a lot from since stepping foot onto the Notre Dame campus.
"He's really taught us a whole lot," McCarthy said of Zbikowski. "It's not just me but the whole defense. Right when I came in as a freshman, he took me under his wing and we became friends right away. We're good friends. He's shown me a lot in how to practice, how to handle yourself with the media, and in the off-season in public. It's been nice having him around."
McCarthy hails from Youngstown, OH and graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School after helping his team win a 2004 state prep title. McCarthy was named MVP of the contest after returning an interception 93-yards for a touchdown. The Notre Dame junior has a brother in high school who is drawing a lot of interest from colleges. Dan McCarthy, a 6-2, 190-pound safety, is a standout junior at Cardinal Mooney and schools interested in his services include the Irish, Florida, LSU, Michigan and Ohio State.
The spirit of Notre Dame runs in the McCarthy family. Kyle's grandfather went to school in South Bend as did his older brother, Brian, who graduated in 2006. Being raised in the Buckeye state, McCarthy has heard a lot from the friends back home about Ohio State football.
"A little too much, especially with their run the past few years," McCarthy joked. "I couldn't be at a better place, though. I really believe that. The next couple of years, I believe it's really going to pay off. We're going to show a few people we can do those things, too."