A Change Of Pace

Players like Terrail Lambert and Trevor Laws, who played under defensive coordinators Kent Baer and Rick Minter during their time at Notre Dame, knew this season that they were getting a guy with a much different style in Corwin Brown. And it wasn't just the 3-4 personnel defense that he was implementing.

They saw it quickly during spring ball, when an animated Brown was all over the place on the practice field, and animated during meetings. This young 37-year old man brought an energy to practice they weren't used to.

That same fire Brown consistently showed in practice, surprised them when they saw it carry over on game day.

Lambert and fifth-year senior cornerback Ambrose Wooden still clown Brown to this day about what happened all the way back in game two of the season against Penn State. When Darrin Walls returned a first quarter interception 73 yards for a touchdown, Brown was living in the moment, celebrating just as much as his players.

"He was jumping up and down, he was doing flying jumping jacks up and down the sideline," Lambert said with a laugh. "He was hopping up and down, he was excited. The only difference between him and us was we had pads on, we were on the field playing. Other than that, he was one of the players.

Lambert was caught off guard.

"It did surprise me a little bit. It wasn't something I was used to, being that you just don't see that that often. A lot of times, especially as a coordinator, you're trying to maintain a level head and he does that. It's good to see a coach get excited. It makes you feel like he's out there on the field with you."

Sometimes Brown is out on the field with them. You can always catch him running from the sideline to greet his players after making a key stop or forcing a turnover. He also brings the same intense attitude through the game's entire 60 minutes.

"It's always great having an emotional coach because you have to match his intensity all the time," Laws said. "Whenever you're a little bit down, a little bit tired, the game's not going well, you see him fired up over there on the sideline, you know that you have to play for him and try and match his level."

If anyone has matched Brown's level of intensity, it's been Laws, who is having an All-American season.

The Irish (2-9) hope to see even more of an excited Brown against Stanford (3-7) this Saturday in the season finale.

Another big change Brown has brought to Notre Dame during this tough season, is actually a better defense. The last three falls, the Irish defense has ranked 54th, 75th and 65th nationally. This year, while playing much more inexperienced players (11 players made their first-career start), the Irish defense ranks a respectable 44th. And they're getting better every week within this new 3-4 scheme.

"I say it like this, and this is how you know everybody is starting to get it," Brown said. "If I can start a sentence and then the other guys can finish it, I'll use (freshman linebacker) Brian Smith for an example. I can start a sentence and he can finish it. That means he can tell me exactly what I intend on saying, which means he knows how it should be done. Now, when you can take that and translate it to the field, that's good. I think we have some of that, but we need to get it a lot more and we also need to get it more consistently.

"That's as much on the coaches as it is on the players. Because you have to make it so it is easy on the kids. That falls on me more than anything else. Then you have to look at, individually, who you are dealing with. You have to look at how much you are telling them and what you are telling them and how you are saying it. Some guys you might have to yell it to them; some guys you have to put it in jokes and riddles; and some guys you've just got to beat it in their heads. When they get on the field and they do what you want them to do, they've got it. It doesn't matter how many times you told them; it doesn't matter how many times you tried to show them; when they can go on the field and do it, they've got it consistently. When everybody is doing it, it's a beautiful thing.

"I've seen it. I've done it myself," Brown continued. He played eight seasons in the NFL as a safety, retiring in 2000, then coached the last seven years. "I've seen it done with good players and I've seen it done with not-so-good players so it can definitely get done. Everybody says, well, boom ba boom ba boom. All that matters is you have 11 guys playing together and flying around. I've seen that at a couple different levels. I've done it myself. I've coached it. I've seen it. So it definitely can get done and it will get done. It's just a matter of when. That's like the thing I'm hanging onto every day; when is it going to happen consistently? Because when it gets done, I'm telling you, I know what that result is like. So we'll see; we'll get there, definitely."

Head coach Charlie Weis thinks so as well.

With Brown running the defense, Weis, who is very comfortable with Brown's scheme from his days working in the NFL, and being that they're from the same Bill Parcells-Bill Belichick coaching tree. So Weis never has to worry about what the other side of the ball is doing when he's working with the quarterbacks and offense in practice, and calling the plays on Saturdays.

"We'll get to the big picture questions, the question on Corwin, who I'm obviously openly biased towards," Weis said. He respectfully only wanted to answer questions about Stanford on Tuesday, and will reflect on Brown in his season-ending press conference next Monday. "I don't want to be too overly get into a Corwin love fest. Obviously I'm a big fan of Corwin."

So are recruits, as Brown has played a major role in securing a lot of commits in this potential top-ranked recruiting class.

When guys like Omar Hunter, Steve Filer and Anthony McDonald get on campus, and the current youngsters like Smith playing get more seasoned, expect to see the Irish's rush defense really improve upon the current 197.27 yards rushing per game the unit is giving up.

A defensive backs coach for three seasons with the New York Jets before taking the job in South Bend, and with his own background as a defensive back, Brown has certainly impacted the Irish's pass defense. Last year, the Irish surrendered 203.38 yards per game through the air (ranking 60th nationally), and this season with two new starters in the secondary, that number has dropped to 162.45 (ranking 3rd nationally).

"I'm learning something new everyday," Lambert said. "He brings a lot of insight to that position. It's definitely a luxury to have as a player and I'm glad I have it."

After nearly one year, Notre Dame is glad to have Brown.

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories