"When you get into pads, you can play football because you have no limitations," Brown said on Friday. "You can hit on blocks. You can hit on tackles. Linebackers and defensive linemen can be physical, more physical than we are now. You can play."
The defense is in transition this fall camp. Brown, hired back in early 2007, brought with him a 3-4 personnel defense, different from former coordinator Rick Minter's base 4-3 scheme. Brown had the spring to lay the foundation with his players on the new defense and he's trying to quickly increase the learning process.
"We're trying to set a tempo," Brown said. "We're trying to get to where we were in the spring time as fast as possible and move beyond that. That's what our goal was to do that."
Last year, the defense didn't make any noticeable improvement from 2005. Notre Dame was 65th in total defense, 67th in scoring defense, 61st against the run and 60th against the pass. It was a middle of the pack result for the Irish. With Brown, the players seemed genuinely enthused about the new style and the new attitude the defense hopes to take on in 2007. Through four days in fall camp, so far, so good.
"We've gotten off to a good start," Brown said. "The guys are playing hard. They are communicating well and picking things up relatively well. There's always room for improvement but progress is being made."
***Brown gave several assessments on players trying to break through for playing time. On fifth-year senior Dwight Stephenson, Jr.'s progress at right defensive end, Brown said, "You always want your older guys to play well and lead by example. I think he's doing a good job of trying to do what we ask him to do and showing the younger guys what we want. He's really competing."
On senior Justin Brown, who is in competition with Stephenson, Jr. for playing time at the right defensive end spot: "Since I've been here, I've seen him play hard. His attitude has been real good. I think he's got a good attitude. You like guys with good attitudes because when you play hard and understand things, that allows you to be in the mix. Like a lot of players, he's in that competition mode."
On junior Scott Smith, who is battling senior Anthony Vernaglia for the chance to start at one of the outside linebacker positions: "Smitty is reliable. Probably for the same reasons on what he did in the spring, he's doing that now. He plays with good fundamentals and techniques. He's smart. He's not afraid. He's got good size. He gives you flexibility."
On sophomore John Ryan, who is in line to start at the other outside linebacker spot and whose frame at 6-5, 244-pounds seems to fit perfect with the new 3-4 personnel defense: "He's playing well. He's showing some progress. He gives you versatility and flexibility. He's doing things that we would like him to do."
On sophomore Darrin Walls, who is listed behind Terrail Lambert at one of the corner backer positions and is in contention for the nickel back spot: "He looked good to me. One of our calling cards is that we're going to play tough and physical. You're not going to play on our defense is you're not tough. He's playing that way now."
On the freshmen on defensive side of the football: "We try to get freshmen seen and not heard. We shown them how to do things and go from there. It's tough to say what you're going to do with a freshman because he's only been here for a few days. They are too busy trying to carry the playbook and not leave it at home. They make sure they do the little things and crawl before they walk."