They are beginning to get the message.
"All my career, I can name on a 100 fingers how many explosives we've given up since I've been here, and I've definitely been a part of them," fifth-year senior cornerback Ambrose Wooden said. "That was never preached on like it is now. Spring ball we haven't given up that many deep balls, but they haven't thrown that many deep, but we just go out everyday and try and prevent the explosives.
"Yeah guys are going to catch the ball in front of me, but as long as I keep them in front of me and tackle them, he might get a first down, but it's not going to be a touchdown," Wooden continued. He has appeared in 30 games with 15 career starts. "It's going to take a lot of those eight-yard passes, 12-yard passes to get down there. One time, coach might tell me to jump it, and it might be six the other way. So there, he definitely brings confidence to the secondary."
That's part of the exciting, aggressive 3-4 defense Brown has brought with him from the professional ranks.
Through 14-of-15 practices with just Saturday's Blue-Gold game remaining in spring camp, it appears that Wooden and senior Terrail Lambert lead over all comers for the starting cornerback positions heading into fall camp.
Preventing the big play was supposed to be the message last season with the Irish defense and particularly the secondary, after ending the 2005 campaign by giving up 617 yards to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. The memo that the players didn't get last year, apparent by ranking 90th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense, can't be missed this spring, thanks to Brown.
"We realized it was an Achilles heal really for the last two years for our defense," said Lambert, a returning starter. "I think that now it's something that is a little more conscious in our minds, maybe more so than it has been in the past. So I think in the back of our minds, it's like certain situations, your third-and-short situations, your second-and-short situations, two-minute, things like that, we are more conscious of those situations and we're thinking about it and we're just able to capitalize, we're able to prevent those plays."
Brown knows a thing or two about not surrendering the big play. An all-Big Ten safety at Michigan and then an eight-year veteran in the NFL, Brown could get it done as a player. From the same coaching tree as Irish head coach Charlie Weis, Brown has worked under some of the best defensive minds in the NFL.
Before taking the job at Notre Dame, Brown coached the New York Jets secondary into one of the best units in the league. In his short time in South Bend, Brown has already influenced his new players.
"Because he actually played and coached the position at the highest level that you can get, so there is certain things, when you have a guy that has played your position, he just retired in 2000, six or seven years ago, so that man knows what he's talking about," Lambert explained. "When you have that much insight you can get at the position, it gives you a lot more incentive to want to learn, be a sponge."
That's where the Irish secondary needs to make improvements, because the problem hasn't been with athleticism. It has been more so with instincts and understanding what's going on within the defense. Between Brown and secondary coach Bill Lewis, things are sounding like they're starting to get straightened out.
Earlier in the spring, Weis mentioned how pleased he was with the quality depth in the secondary and how improved everybody is.
"I definitely attribute that to coaching between coach Lewis and coach Brown definitely," Wooden said. "I meet with them more, there is a lot more meeting, taking more of your time and giving it to them and they're giving it back to you. You're sitting there watching film with them on your own and you're seeing things you do daily, that you just take those 15 practices and that you can correct. Yeah you are going to come back and do the same thing, but they're going to be on you coaching and coaching."
Wooden said he has a better understanding of his position and that's why he has been playing better this spring. He also came into camp with a chip on his shoulder.
Wooden started every game two seasons ago, and the first three games of last year. A knee injury caused him to miss some time, and when he came back, Lambert had taken over his position opposite the graduated Mike Richardson. Wooden was relegated to limited reps the second half of the season, while still being hampered by the knee.
"It definitely drives me," Wooden said of mostly being a spectator at the end of the year. "You go through life learning how to handle adversity and that was a tough situation in my life and I overcame it. I'm healthy now and I'm just looking forward, I'm not looking back."
What's driving Lambert as well as Wooden is becoming the type of lockdown corners Notre Dame hasn't had in a long time.
"I feel as if, the goals that I setup, I made significant strides towards them," Lambert said. "My goals coming into the spring were to become more fundamentally sound on a consistent basis. Basically be able to put myself in a position where I could raise the level of play for those around me, because in this time I've been here, I've seen the best players that have come out of our program, they were able to do that."
Lambert can raise everybody else's level of play by teaming up with Wooden and the rest of the secondary in preventing those explosives.