"3-9 is never good enough," Lambert said. "Between me, Mo, and Justin, we decided we wanted to, at the very least, leave this place with a good taste in our mouths."
Terrail Lambert, Maurice Crum, Jr., and Justin Brown are the three fifth-year players returning for the Irish defense. At the end of last season, the three sat down to discuss whether or not they wanted to return for their final year of eligibility. According to Lambert, it was an easy choice for them.
"We heeded advice from one another," Lambert said. "Collectively, we just wanted to come back and see if we can get a winning season."
While each also had personal reasons for returning to Notre Dame, and may have struggled with the decision on varying levels, it was a painless decision for Lambert.
"It wasn't that hard," he said of his choice. "It wasn't hard at all. I genuinely have fun playing with the guys that I'm with on the field. If I could get another chance to do that, why not?"
For the Oxnard, Calif. native, the decision ultimately came down the camaraderie he felt among his teammates.
"The number one reason for me coming back was just the guys on the team that I like being around," he said. "They're a class bunch of guys. I just want to really, genuinely have fun playing with them."
In order to make this last season one to remember, Lambert has been hard at work in the offseason, focusing on his technique and fundamentals in order to lead the Irish cornerbacks in 2008.
The unit Lambert will be leading is a young one, as only he and junior Darrin Walls have received significant starting experience so far in their Notre Dame careers. Lambert looks to act as a teacher to the younger players, specifically sophomore Gary Gray, a prized recruit who redshirted last year due to injury, but looks to make a big impact in '08.
"I feel that I could be somewhat of a consultant amongst the guys at corner," Lambert said. "Being able to relate to the young guys when something happens on the field, I can give feedback."
Gray says that Lambert has been invaluable in his development from scout team player to competitor for a starting corner job.
"He's helping me a lot," Gray said. "Whenever I have questions about the coverage or how to line up or how to get aligned, he's helped me every time."
Lambert also hopes for improvement based on the fact that this is his second year in defensive coordinator Corwin Brown's system. He pointed to his marked improvement in his second season under former defensive coordinator Rick Minter as evidence that this year could be a big one. His first year under Minter, in 2005, Lambert had only eight tackles and no interceptions. In '06, though, he notched 40 tackles and picked off three passes, including one that he returned 27 yards for a game-winning touchdown against Michigan State.
"I think especially any time you look at coaching change, it's just being comfortable within their defensive system," Lambert said. "The good news is I've always been better my second year in the system."
Lambert, like the rest of the Irish defense, will also be in the first year of new assistant head coach Jon Tenuta's blitz-happy scheme. Both Tenuta and Brown have emphasized in the spring that the defense would be much more aggressive and "fly around a lot more" next year, an approach Lambert is in favor of.
"I like it," he said. "That's my type of style. I've always been the aggressive type, never shied away from contact. I think that'll be in our favor. I mean, you've got guys with that type of temperament on our team, so I think it'll work out for the best."
With the arrival of Tenuta, who will coach the linebackers, Brown moved back to become the secondary coach, replacing the retired Bill Lewis. Lambert thinks that Brown, who played in the NFL from 1993-2000, will bring a professional mentality to the defensive backfield.
"What he's teaching us is something that's relatively current," he said. "It's what they do, so it's very applicable on the field."
Lambert, of course, hopes to apply those skills on an NFL field someday. He said that he keeps in contact with former Irish defensive backs Mike Richardson and Chinedum Ndukwe, who currently play in the NFL and have told Lambert what to expect when he eventually tries to play professionally.
"It's a little more cutthroat," Lambert said of the NFL. "But I mean we have guys on our coaching staff that are from the league so we get a small taste of that already, and I think that's good."
Right now, though, he's just focusing on this season and making sure the Irish get back on the winning track.
"Realistically, I'm trying to focus on this upcoming season and just do what I can to help this team get ready to win games," Lambert said.
"The sky's the limit for us. I think as a team, it's just a matter of us coming out, playing smart, fundamental football and we'll see what happens. It should be competitive."
Lambert's personal goal this season is simple, however, as always with him, it's team success first.
"I want to dominate every time I step on the field," he said. "But in the grand scheme of things, I just want to win games."
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