Brown saw the indicators.
The senior played in all 12 games his sophomore season including one start, but only saw action in four games last season. With the lack of playing time, Brown realized that he wasn't putting in the proper effort on every single rep, and went into the off-season with a new frame of mind to work harder. Everyone is seeing the results.
"I would like to take credit, but he probably is, of the entire team, the most pleasant surprise during this training camp," Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. "It hasn't been just his strength game, it's been his motor. That's what's really impressed me the most. He always showed flashes since I've been here, but I've never seen him play with the motor he is playing with now, and it is very encouraging."
And as Weis later said, Notre Dame needed it.
The thinnest position on the Irish defense is definitely the line by a landslide. With the exception of defensive end Trevor Laws, who played 313 minutes and 31 seconds last season and recorded 62 tackles, there is hardly any experience on the depth chart. Of the seven other players listed (not counting Derrell Hand who is currently suspended from the team) only nose tackle Pat Kuntz, Brown and Dwight Stephenson Jr. have seen the field. The three combined for 13 tackles last season, and just 119 minutes and 28 seconds of playing time. Brown chipped in 28 minutes and 55 seconds, recording six of those stops.
Weis and Oliver always thought they had something with Brown. They were just waiting for it to develop. His sophomore season, in 75 minutes and 38 seconds of playing time, most of it meaningful reps, Brown had 12 tackles including one for loss. He had a career high four tackles in the season finale against Stanford.
"I knew my team would really need me this year," Brown said. "I just wanted to step up and be the player that I think I'm capable of being."
To do that, Brown upped his intensity with Notre Dame's strength and conditioning staff during the summer. He added 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame (268 pounds), in preparation of being a two-gap player in Corwin Brown's new 3-4 scheme. But more importantly, Brown changed his mentality in make sure he goes hard on every single play and rep in practice.
"It's pretty much instinctive, it has to be if I'm going to be able to contribute and help my team win," Brown said. "It has to be like second nature to me when I'm out on the field to play as hard as I can every play.
"I think at the beginning of camp I had to remind myself of what my goals were this year and what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to contribute to help my team win."
Brown's top competition for the starting job opposite Laws is with Stephenson Jr., Paddy Mullen. Now he is seeing different indicators that have him optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I was actually kind of surprised," Brown said of Weis's comment. "I really didn't know what he thought about me up until that time. I was pleasantly surprised to hear what he had to say about me.
"Pretty much, (the defensive ends) have been getting even reps until the last few practices. I knew I was taking more reps as the camp went on then the twos were, so it was a good indication."