Coming Into His Own

David Bruton looks over and shouts something at fellow safety Tom Zbikowski. He screams a message to the cornerbacks. He's talking to the linebackers and defensive linemen. The ball is snapped, and more hollering. The intense, 6-foot-2, 207-pound junior lets his presence be known on the field, even energizing defensive coordinator Corwin Brown.

"Actually he motivates me," Brown said following Wednesday's practice. "Because when you see a guy that, he's inquisitive, he works, he practices hard, doesn't matter if it's special teams, defense. There's a saying I have, if you're a good football player, you're a good football player all the time. Like that's David."

Not right away.

It took Bruton a couple years to come out of his shell. When he first arrived as a skinny freshman on campus, the Miamisburg, Ohio product was trying to get a feel for the college game, and also didn't think it was his place to be vocal. He needed to get stronger and everything was happening so fast.

After two years of making his niche on special teams, learning what his responsibilities are at safety, understanding defensive concepts and what his teammates' roles are, Bruton is starting to show his true colors.

"I'm loud," Bruton stated. "I talk a lot, I yell across, I communicate, I'm talking to everybody."

Bruton's also making plays. In his first career start last Saturday in the 33-3 loss to Georgia Tech, Bruton was a big reason why the Irish defense kept the team in the game for as long as it did.

With Georgia Tech smelling the end zone on its first drive following an Irish fumble, Bruton's impressive sack up the gut forced the Yellow Jackets into a field goal. Bruton finished the day with team-high nine tackles, a team-high two tackles for loss, and that sack.

"It's like everyday the guy gets better," Brown said. "I don't know what his motivational factor is, I don't know what drives him, but he's got something that's driving him because he always gets better."

"What motivates me is the lord and my son," Bruton said. "My son is a big part of it. I'm doing everything for him right now."

On Saturday against No. 14 Penn State, Bruton will be playing for his 21-month old son Jaden, who lives back in Ohio.

That's what drove Bruton to put on size in the weight room. That's what has the political science and sociology major working hard in the classroom. To provide a great life.

Bruton takes over for the graduated Chinedum Ndukwe this year. He played in all 12 games last season, and 11 games, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman. Coming into the season, he had just 32 career tackles, but you could see the excitement coming from Weis and Brown when they talked about Bruton's progress.

"He's got like a ceiling where, when he starts really getting confident and really learning, he'll be able to turn on the lights," Brown said.

***Notre Dame, and it's new 3-4 defense had problems setting the edge against the Yellow Jackets. Tashard Choice got most of his 196 yards rushing by getting to the corner for long gains.

"It's been a big emphasis in practice," senior outside linebacker Anthony Vernaglia said. "It's been up on the whiteboards in meeting rooms.

"(Brown) said it, wrote it, said it again."

Brown took the blame on Wednesday, saying he didn't have the Irish players lined up in the right position to make plays. But expecting Penn State and running back Austin Scott to try and exploit that weakness, the defense has really worked on setting the edge the past two practices.

"We'll be okay," Brown said.

"Emphasize the little things," Vernaglia began. He had three tackles against Georgia Tech. "Technique, like hands to the side, keep your feet moving, good eyes. If you emphasize the little things, big things start falling into place.

The whole Irish defense can play a part in not letting the opposing running back get to the corner. Vernaglia said it's more of fundamental thing than a speed thing.

***Georgia Tech ran for an impressive 265 yards against the Irish. On the flip side, the Notre Dame defense held quarterback Taylor Bennett to 11-of-23 passing for 121 yards and zero touchdowns. Yet defensive backs coach Bill Lewis still wasn't pleased.

"We weren't tested," Lewis stated. "They were having too much success running the ball. I came out of the game like everyone else, very disappointed in the way we played as a team and a defensive unit."

The Irish secondary will definitely be tested Saturday. The previous week, Brown used Bennett's name in the same sentence with Tom Brady and Chad Pennington. Wednesday, he said that Penn State's senior quarterback Anthony Morelli is "probably better." The Nittany Lions have five receivers that they play, led by the big three, returning starters Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood, and the always dangerous Derrick Williams.

In the 59-0 season-opening victory over Florida International last weekend, Morelli was 23-of-38 passing for 295 yards and three touchdowns. He hit eight different receivers and did not throw an interception. Norwood's five catches for 92 yards led the way.

"Penn State's receivers are very fast," sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls said. He had two tackles in his first career start against the Yellow Jackets. "They have a lot of athleticism. They throw the ball around so all of our corners are going to get tested. It's just another challenge we have to go out there and defeat."

The Nittany Lions like to line up with three receivers, so expect to see a lot of nickel from the Irish on Saturday.

***Also expect to see senior defensive end Justin Brown. In a questionable decision by the officials, Brown was ejected from last Saturday's game in the first half for activity after a play they thought was extreme. Weis wasn't sure what the rule was, so after the game he went right to the NCAA rulebook, and found out that an ejected player has to miss the next half of football. Since Brown was ejected in the first half, he paid his penalty during the second half against Georgia Tech. If the incident would've happened in the second half, he would've had to sit out the first half against Penn State.

"The only thing I really have to say about that is, it happened, I've learned from it, really I'm just moving on," Brown explained. He had one tackle before the incident. "It's the past, I'm not worried about that anymore."

***Vernaglia and junior nose tackle Pat Kuntz talked about how the first two practices have gone this week for the defense.

"I feel like we've turned it around completely," Vernaglia said. "There is a lot more energy on the field. People getting after it, people showed some urgency, people were hitting, showing that we don't want to be known as the team that played Georgia Tech. We want to turn it around, we want to be the team that we can be, not the team that we showed everyone on Saturday."

"We've been getting a lot better," added Kuntz, who had two tackles and tipped two passes in his first career start. "We obviously had to from that performance we put in on Saturday.

"Just a lot more intensity on the defensive side of the ball. Being more focused than we were before because we have to play a lot better."


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