The Perfect Piece

For the second straight season, Maurice Crum Jr. heads into the fall not completely sure where he'll be lining up. The dynamic linebacker will likely play inside, but also said he sees a lot of practice reps on the outside. Everyday, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown are mixing and matching linebackers to find the best combinations for the new 3-4 package.

The senior Crum can fit into any part of the puzzle. It's up to Weis and Brown to determine where they want to put the piece.

"I consider myself to be somewhat of a versatile linebacker," Crum said. He led the team with 100 tackles last season, and ranked third on the team with 10 tackles for loss. "So for me to be able to switch back and forth and do different things it's fun to me.

As a sophomore, Crum started at weak-side linebacker, finishing sixth on the team with 57 tackles. A back injury held Crum out of the following spring practice, and he spent time taking mental reps and studying all the linebacker positions. As the only returning starting linebacker last season, Weis made it clear to Crum that he would be playing the position based on what the other linebackers trusted to play could do. Running back Travis Thomas was eventually moved to defense and Crum's old position, and proved he could play. Crum in turn was moved inside to middle linebacker.

Apparently it's the same thing this season. Crum will fit in somewhere after the coaches determine what the other backers can do.

"For me it's not much difference. Football is football. You've still got to take on blocks and get off blocks. It's just the way you line up so it's not much of a difference."

Crum's flexibility against the run and against the pass, and his knowledge of the both positions, allows the Irish to get the four best linebackers on the field.

With the rise of sophomore Toryan Smith at inside linebacker, and the addition of four freshmen to the overall position, things haven't completely settled. Crum expects to have a better idea of what's going on in a week or so as fall camp continues.

This off-season, the 6-foot Crum added five pounds of muscle in getting up to 230 pounds. As a two-year starter, he also wanted to become a team leader this summer during workouts. He succeeded, being voted a team captain along with Tom Zbikowski, John Carlson and Thomas.

"For the most part, my biggest step was making sure during workouts that I was more of a vocal guy, and my face was around and I was a better leader."

One linebacker spot Crum hasn't been asked to play is the hybrid position that can change the 3-4 look into a 4-3 formation on any play. No three-point stances yet anyways for Crum.

"Hopefully," Crum said of learning yet another position.

***Unlike Crum, Joe Brockington knows for sure that he will be lining up at inside linebacker this season. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound fifth-year senior is up five pounds from last season, and Weis singled him out as one of the guys playing the most physical during fall camp.

"I think it's been there pretty much all the time," Brockington said. He started the final nine games of the season last year, finishing sixth on the team with 59 tackles. "I didn't really get a chance to prove that until last year. I've always been a physical-type player. I've never been known for being a finesse player or wanting to shy away from contact."

Before moving into the starting lineup a quarter of the way through last year, the Palmyra, Pa. product didn't see much action throughout his career, and only had 12 tackles through two seasons of playing.

Knowing that he has stiff competition this fall for playing time, Brockington stayed in South Bend after graduation, and was in the weight room the following Monday.

"It was just something I thought I had to do in order for this year," Brockington said. "It wasn't about gaining too much weight because I still wanted to run and I still wanted to feel comfortable. I wasn't really looking to bulk up too much and become slower. It was just more to gain some weight and actually take the beating.

"My bench went up, my squat went up. I definitely met the goals the strength coaches laid out for me."

Brockington's going to need it as he will be going heads up with a lot more offensive guards this season. Top Stories