Defensive Captains Notebook

The weekend of the shutout loss to USC, head coach Charlie Weis met with the potential fifth-year seniors for next season. The group includes linebacker Maurice Crum, who is tied for fourth in tackles with 51, even though the senior sat out all but the first series against Boston College. Weis didn't elaborate on the discussions but did say the talks went well.

The Irish head coach explained that there's a process of re-applying to the school and being approved for a fifth-year. Weis said it would be better if he let the players speak for themselves and that he would like for the media to ask Crum about his intentions next year. Despite an assertion by his father that said the senior linebacker would be back in 2008, Crum has made no firm decision.

"That's just his opinion," Crum said on Thursday. "But I'm not certain yet."

In last year's 4-3 scheme under former defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Crum was a force. As a junior, Crum finished the year with a team-high 100 tackles, including four sacks and 10 TFL. This year, in new coordinator Corwin Brown's 3-4 personnel defense, Crum has had his moments. In the 20-6 victory at UCLA, the defensive captain became the first Notre Dame player ever to record a pair of forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions in the same contest. It was a single-game school record of four turnovers forced by Crum.

Next year, Crum would likely keep one of the inside linebacker spots. The other contenders for the other inside position would fall to Toryan Smith, possible fifth-year senior Anthony Vernaglia and a few of the talented freshmen who are set to join the team next fall. But Crum will wait until making a final choice, despite the comments of his father.

"My main goal is to finish the season out just like before," Crum said. "I mean, that's (my father's) opinion, what he thinks I should do. But for me personally I'm really just focused on finishing the season out and getting these guys ready, and then I'll figure out what I'm going to do at the end of the season."

***The funeral service for Earl Hughes, the brother of Notre Dame freshman running back Robert Hughes, will take place on Friday in Chicago. After Thursday's practice, Weis will drive Hughes back to Chicago and spend some one-on-one time with his family before returning to South Bend later that night.

Earl Hughes was shot to death on early Tuesday morning and Robert missed Tuesday's practice after an uncle came and picked up the freshman from campus. Weis said on Tuesday that he would let Hughes have as much time as needed away from school and the team to cope with the tragedy. But the freshman was back at practice on Wednesday. There's at least one bus of players and coaches heading to Chicago on Friday for the funeral service. One of those players going to defensive captain Tom Zbikowski.

"Getting a chance to know him, he's one of the better guys," Zbikowski said. "We've all got good guys on the team, but he's definitely one of the good guys. I saw him come in the rocker room yesterday. I mean, it's tough, you can't really say much. You can't really say much to him except for give him support, but I'm definitely going tomorrow."

Crum won't be able to attend but had some comforting words for Hughes.

"I do plan on spending some time with Robert and sending some cards and stuff to his family," Crum said. "But it's tough, especially for us, because we're kind of his family away from his family. We're kind of like his brothers here, so it's tough because we feel like he is a part of our family because we're family here. So it's tough to deal with any time you have hurt in your family."

***A lot of the talk on the Navy side of things heading into this weekend's contest is about breaking the streak. The Midshipmen have lost an NCAA-record 43 times in a row to Notre Dame. It hasn't been since Roger Staubach was the quarterback in 1963 that Navy has beat the Irish. But with Notre Dame 1-7 and struggling to score points matched up against a Midshipmen attack that averages 35 points a game, the writing could be on the wall. The two Irish defensive captains didn't think it would be embarrassing to be the Notre Dame team to finally let the streak slip.

"I wouldn't say so," Crum said. "They're a good team, and they've shown that week in and week out. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. Losing is what's embarrassing, regardless of who it's to or when it occurs."

"I think they've been scoring points on everyone," Zbikowski said. "It would be tough to lose to them, but I think it would be a big deal outside of the locker room of how many times we beat them in the past with the streak and everything, but they play hard every single year. They always give us our money's worth every single year. There's been a couple times that I've been here that they almost did beat us. We were on teams that were pretty solid." Top Stories