Steady Eddy

Just as Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis hired defensive coordinator Corwin Brown to replace Rick Minter this past off-season, sophomore defensive end John Ryan was about to start his binge eating in order to gain the proper weight necessary to become an every-down player. Brown had a different idea for the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Westlake, Ohio product.

He planned for Ryan to be that every-down player, Brown just envisioned him as that perfect hybrid type in the new 3-4 alignment he was bringing to South Bend. So, Ryan was to line up at outside linebacker for the first time in his career, occasionally moving down to the line and putting his hand in that familiar dirt to change the look the Notre Dame defense gives.

As the Irish (1-6) get ready for Saturday's game against No. 9 USC (5-1), with a little over half the season completed, it looks like Brown had the right idea.

While defensive end Trevor Laws and freshmen linebackers Brian Smith and Kerry Neal have been stealing all the defensive headlines, Ryan has been the unit's Steady Eddie at his new position. In seven games, all starts, Ryan's 26 tackles rank him seventh on the team, his 5 tackles for loss trail just Laws, and his 2.5 sacks leads the Irish.

"When I first started I was a little skeptical, I didn't know," Ryan said. He played as an undersized-situational defensive end as a freshman, making just four tackles in 10 games. "The thought of playing linebacker was kind of foreign to me. But obviously a lot of coaches rest assured it's just like playing defensive end, you just have to stand up.

"Obviously if you ask me (where) I feel more natural, putting your hand on the ground or standing up, at the beginning of the year I would've said putting my hand on the ground. As time has evolved it's become more comfortable standing up. I think it's been a good transition so far.

Ryan had four tackles last week in the 27-14 loss to now No. 2 Boston College, and had a sack and a forced fumble that Maurice Crum Jr. returned for a touchdown the previous week, in the 20-6 victory over UCLA.

"You can definitely feel things starting to click a little more," Ryan said. "Running around out there just having a good time."

Initially, the coaches thought Ryan would be the player they were looking for against the run, but in pass situations, the newness of the position would call for a substitution.

"I anticipated John to be a nice solid outside linebacker for us, but what he's also been able to do is stay on the field in nickel and not force us to take him off the field," Weis said. "He's shown enough athleticism to be able to go between that outside linebacker/defensive end we described in the beginning. That's truly what he's shown he's capable of doing, which keeps him on the field more."

Brown agreed.

"He's been good," Brown stated. "I would say dependable. Has some versatility. Pretty sharp. Like he'll remind you he's like the sack leader out there. He's done well.

"He holds the point well, he does some things well. Decent in coverage so that's good."

Weis and Brown will need Ryan and the Irish defense to be good if they have a chance of upsetting the Trojans and their stable of versatile running backs. USC's leading rusher Stafon Johnson (46 carries, 378 yards, 4 TDs) may return from injury and play this weekend. Chauncey Washington (84 carries, 362 yards, 6 TDs) and freshman Joe McKnight (29 carries, 154 yards) have been getting the bulk of the work, but there is a list of other guys USC can throw at the Irish.

"They have great running backs," Ryan said. "Someone might say they're hurt but it doesn't matter. They just reload. Washington is a great back and runs with a lot of power, down-hill kind of runner. They mix it up with Joe McKnight, he's outstanding. You watch some of his clips from high school, he definitely knows how to find the end zone. They're definitely a powerful one-two punch that you have to be ready for. They like to do different things with each running back so you have to try and adjust to that."

Ryan has also had to adjust to playing a full 60 minutes. It had been two years since he last played a full four quarters as an all-state player at St. Ignatius.

As far as next season goes, Ryan's not sure what his role will be.

"I've enjoyed the switch so far and hopefully things will continue to work out at outside linebacker." Top Stories