"I think we're playing the run much better than we've played it," Brown said. "We know who the guys that are our leaders so to speak. It's easier for us, as a defense, to kind of focus in on what we are and what we need to do in order to be a good team this year."
Those leaders that Brown spoke of will not surprise anyone that follows the program, but the staff is pleased to see that those are the guys that have stepped up.
"Maurice Crum of course, David Bruton of course, (Pat) Kuntz of course. Those are things that coming into the season, as coaches you say, ‘I hope these guys are our leaders because I've seen them do things in the past.' But really until you get on the field, you don't really know," Brown said. "But they've been as good as advertised as far as leading the group, making calls, making adjustments, making sure guys are going at the tempo that we want them to go at. They've been doing a good job in that aspect."
The pace of practice has picked up this year and everyone seems to love it, including the defensive coordinator.
"The tempo is like unbelievable and they feed off each other. Even at the secondary, (Terrail) Lambert will make a play, he'll hit a guy and then Raeshon (McNeil) he'll come and he'll hit him even harder. So now they've got that competition going," Brown said. "Then you've got the younger guys like, little Jamoris (Slaughter) made a big hit the other day. Guys feed off of that. Whenever you're a defense that you fly around and you're making plays and you're intimidating runners, intimidating receivers, knocking the quarterback on his backside then that's when you kind of got what you want."
Still, Brown is not content.
"There's always more. So if they're playing at a high level, OK play at a higher level," Brown said. "We've done some things (as a secondary) well and then there are other things where we would like to be much better at and we're going to continue to work at that."
At first, Brown was hesitant to elaborate, but did offer one example of what he wants to see the defensive backs improve on.
"They're definitely progressing. We want to play at (a high) level. We don't want to just be OK, we don't want to be good, we want to be at this level. We expect everybody, no matter who we put out there, to kind of take the lead and make plays," Brown said. "We get a lot of pass breakups, but we want interceptions. Sometimes we're in a position where we can make tackles, well we can make those tackles but we're asking those guys to strip. Those are the things that we're trying to go extra, it's not OK just to be in a position and break it up when you're in position and you can intercept the ball. It's not OK when we've got the guy wrapped up and you're the second man in and you finish him off. We want him to strip it out.
"Those are things that as a secondary that we want our guys to do. It's not about just breaking up balls. We break up plenty of balls and we've done a good job of that, but we want to go that extra mile, we want to get the interception when we've got it."
Now in his second year at Notre Dame, Brown has more familiarity with his players, but everyone is still evaluated by what they do on the field everyday.
"Ultimately, what you really gauge things on is how your guys perform when they're in certain situations," Brown said. "Do they execute? When you ask them to do something do they do it? When they get a chance to make a play, do they make that play? Do they have mental errors? All of those things kind of factor in."
Sophomore Brian Smith was moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in an attempt to keep him around the ball and prevent defenses from trying to avoid him.
"(Smith) has a skill set where if you can get him close to the ball, whereas say he's in one position and all they've got to do is go this way and he's almost out of the play," Brown said. "Well, if you can get him in a central location where he can go either way no matter where you go with it that's what you want. You want to have the ability to get some of your better players to the football."
Smith also has pass rush skills that will make him a force on the inside.
"That he does and that helps us," Brown said. "So now when you've got two good pass rushers on the edge, now all of a sudden there's another guy inside that you have to deal with and that adds another dimension to your defense."
Smith has been taking his lead from fifth-year senior inside linebacker Maurice Crum and Brown said that the duo is on the same page.
"It's critical because guys force and they fit, you scrape and sometimes you pass things off, so you have to be on the same page," Brown said. "Those two guys for sure."
"(Gray's) had a pretty good camp. That little battle that they're having, and there's a few of them over there, it's been interesting because one guy will have a good day and then another guy he'll come out and press the issue and then all of a sudden you'll get another guy trying to press the issue," Brown said. "Because nobody wants to just say, ‘OK, you're the starter.' Nobody wants to just concede anything, but I think the competition aspect of it and us as coaches saying, ‘Hey, the best guy is going to play. I don't care who you are.' I think that's helped us"
That third guy appears to be freshman Robert Blanton, at least at times.
"He has done a lot of things. He's a guy that you have to pay attention to. I mean, he's done some things well, I will say that," Brown said. "But like everybody else, you just evaluate him at the end of the day. But he has done some things well. He's impressed me."
All three guys, McNeil and Gray for sure, figure to see plenty of time and Brown said that the competition could probably continue throughout the season.
"Absolutely, just as long as whoever is playing as long as they are making plays because that's the constant that you want. I would much rather have constant plays as opposed to just knowing what that other guy is about and how he plays," Brown said. "The bottom line is production, so if you're always getting production that's what really matters and that's how you gauge things."
While Lambert is listed as the starter at right corner and the other three seem to be competing for the left corner position, Brown said that does not necessarily mean that is where they'll line up.
"We actually allow our guys to play both sides. They might be listed as left corner, right corner, but there will be times when we can go field or boundary, there will be times when we'll match up against guys," he said. "We train them in such a manner that if we ask them to play or flip on the other side it's nothing new for them. We say as a corner, you just learn the corner skill set and everything that you have to do and then you go from there."