John Tenuta earned a solid reputation as an aggressive defensive coordinator at Ohio State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Tenuta brought that rep with him to South Bend when he was hired as the linebackers coach at the end of January.
Tenuta will work closely with defensive coordinator Corwin Brown to help make the Irish a more aggressive defense in 2008. Tenuta has the image of an abrasive coach, at least in some people's minds, a trait that has not been attributed to Brown often. But if you ask the players, there is not much difference between the 2008 linebackers coach and Brown, who coached linebackers in 2007.
"I think they're pretty much the same," fifth-year senior linebacker Maurice Crum said. "They both see things the same way and as a result they do things the same way to try to get the same outcome."
Sophomore linebacker Brian Smith sees plenty of similarities between the two.
"They're really isn't a difference, they're kind of the same person," Smith said. "They're both energetic and they both want you to be the best you can be. The only difference is that now Coach Tenuta is coaching linebackers and Coach Brown is coaching defensive backs."
Harrison Smith said that there is not much difference in the language that they use either.
"They kind of have the same mentality," the sophomore linebacker/safety said. "They're both a lot of fun to play for. They use the same type of words to get us on the same page and things like that."
Crum talked about his new linebacker coach's gruff voice.
"Yeah, he talks sternly, but it's just to get a point across. We understand why he does it or why he says the things that he says," Crum said. "He has a strong voice, I'll just leave it at that."
While the personalities are the same, there will be some differences in the way the linebackers will attack opposing offenses.
"We're going to be play more downhill, that's for sure," Brian Smith said. "That's because we're going to be a pressure kind of a team. So we're going to be to the line of scrimmage on every play."
For Crum, Tenuta is his fourth linebackers coach in five years here.
"Different coaches have different things that they like their players to do. It's been rough sometimes trying to break habits," he said. "But I adjust pretty good and I'm pretty open and I keep my knees bent. It's not hard for me to change stuff around.
"(Tenuta) wants our footwork to be better and to make sure that we're stepping in the right direction, that's probably his philosophy. If we step in the right place, we'll get to where we need to get…I think the biggest thing is just buying in, just getting downhill and whatever coach says just do it and trust that in that it's going to help you."
According to Crum, pursuing the ball is the most important aspect of playing defense.
"Our whole objective as a defense is to go get the ball, whether it's in the air, whether it's on the ground, wherever it may be, our job as a defense is to get to it," Crum said.
With an even more aggressive style in 2008, the Irish are bound to give up some big plays, but the key is to keep those big hitters to a minimum.
"It comes down to everyone doing their job. You do your individual job and trust that your teammates will be where they're supposed to be," Crum said. "When you have that trust in one another, things tend to work out for the better."
HARRISON SMITH ENJOYING DUAL ROLE: Smith considers himself to be a "safety/linebacker", in that order he says. The most recent depth chart backs up that claim as linebacker is listed as Smith's secondary position even though it is his starting position.
"Safety/linebacker," Smith said. "Whatever. I haven't really thought about it. I just go to practice and do my assignments."
Smith spends most of the practice with the Sam linebackers, but also gets reps at safety, saying, "it's pretty fun switching back and forth."
Smith also tries to squeeze in defensive back meetings around linebacker meetings, but has yet to be hit with too much information.
"Mo Crum knows what everyone on the defense does, so if I only have to know what safeties and linebackers do then I should be able to do that," he said.
There are some differences though when you're playing just a few yards off the line of scrimmage as opposed to being back at safety.
"The other day I had a run-in with Sam Young, he got the better of me," said Smith, whose technique against linemen is just to stay out of the way. "If there's a 300-pounder, there's a 300-pounder, we try not to run in to them."
WEIS REPRESENTS TEAM AT FUNERAL: Charlie Weis changed Friday from a two-a-day to a one practice day so that he could attend the funeral of Knute Rockne's last surviving son Jack, who passed away earlier in the week.
"When you think about Knute Rockne, it's basically like the beginning of Notre Dame, it's the tradition and the respect there and around the country," senior Pat Kuntz said. "I'm sorry to hear about his son, they've done so much for this football program and all of the players know and respect Knute Rockne.
"(Weis) let us know that he was going to represent the team at the funeral. He just said that we all need to realize how much the Rockne family has done for our school."
Harrison Smith said that he is honored just to be associated with Rockne in any way.
"It's just great knowing that I go to the same university that he coached at," Smith said.
AP POLL COMES OUT TODAY: The Associated Press releases it preseason college football poll today. Notre Dame is expected to be included in the "Others receiving votes" category, but has an outside chance at cracking the top 25.
The Irish received five votes in the USA Today Coaches' Poll that was released at the beginning of the month. The AP poll is no longer a component of the BCS rankings, it was replaced by the Harris Interactive Poll, which will not come out until mid-Sept.