Flex-Time

Defensive Coordinator Corwin Brown and Assistant Head Coach John Tenuta have spent months talking about creating a defense that will pressure opponents' offenses, and Harrison Smith is a beneficiary of their scheming. Brown coaches the defensive backs. Tenuta coaches the linebackers. Both of them coach Harrison Smith these days.

"All I want to do is dictate to the offense," Tenuta said after practice on Monday. "I never want the offense to dictate to me."

According to Brown, that translates to, "Gang up on the run. Constantly pressure the other side. Constantly. Sometimes even when you aren't pressuring, there's a feeling that you're being pressured."

That's where Harrison Smith comes in.

Smith has been splitting time between strong safety and outside linebacker. "We're tinkering, moving guys around just to get certain looks," Tenuta said. "His multi-talents allow him to do a lot. We've used him because of his ability.

"A lot of times your safeties play up in the box where we just walk the guy up to be like an outside linebacker and bring ‘em. So we just line him up there to start with. It gets more speed on the field. He allows you to do a lot more field side pressure and different types of things because he's got the speed and ability."

Smith has been a willing participant. "Anything for the team to get better," he said. "I know that at those two spots I can help out."

It isn't all self-sacrifice, though. "It's a lot of fun moving around," Smith said. "I learn the whole defense. By the time I'm done, I'll know everyone's assignment."

It isn't all fun, either. Smith learned the physical toll playing linebacker takes at last weekend's scrimmage. "After the scrimmage on Saturday, I felt it," he said. "I felt what Mo Crum goes through all season just in that one practice."

The physical challenge of his new role makes Smith glad that he worked so hard in the winter conditioning program. The upperclassmen pushed the younger players. Smith said, "It was guys like Terrail (Lambert), (David) Bruton, and Kyle (McCarthy) saying, ‘Get through this last station. Get through this last rep. Suck it up.'"

On the field, the linebackers have helped Smith with the new techniques he's had to learn; but David Bruton has been his role model for over a year. "He's been unbelievable. I watched him last year, not just playing… in the meeting room, how he takes notes. Obviously he's athletically gifted, and he's a great safety; so I watch his technique and how he plays the ball. The way he approaches the game is the biggest thing I saw."

Smith sees how learning to play linebacker can make him a better safety. "There's a lot of carryover," he said. "That's what the coaches knew that I didn't. You take what you learn down low (at linebacker) and take it back. You take what you learn playing safety and bring it down. It really helps me in every aspect of my game."

Tenuta is pleased with the results so far. "It just adds to the package," he said. "It's easier for him to cover backs out of the backfield than doing it from the second or third level. He makes plays."

After a difficult 2007 season, more playmakers with speed are exactly what the Notre Dame defense needs. "Obviously it wasn't what we wanted, but we're going to learn from that and move on," Smith said. They're going to move on much faster when Smith is on the field.


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