It's clear when you look at the Notre Dame defense that Maurice Crum is a leader. Defensive coordinator Corwin Brown sees it.
"If you just watch Mo, even without him saying things, his actions speak volumes," Brown said. "You can just watch Mo the way he carries himself, the way he plays, how hard he plays. You learn a lot."
Linebackers coach John Tenuta has only been with Notre Dame for a couple of months, but Crum has already made a strong impression.
"Mo whether we're in a meeting or we're on the field, he leads by example, but he's a very intelligent young man," Tenuta said. "He just takes that aspect of it and he's a very positive guy and no matter what's going on, he is going to make sure everybody knows where they're supposed to be, an unusual formation he's going to get us adjusted because he understands the game. His passion for the game, he makes things happen. Obviously he's a great leader, but he's also an outstanding football player."
Heck, sophomore linebacker Brian Smith could see it when he was still in high school.
"Before I even knew Mo and I was in the stands watching Notre Dame play, it's easy to tell who the leaders were on the field, number 40 was a leader on the field," Smith recalled. "I can just look on the field and see the way he was conducting the defense and conducting himself and you could just tell."
When Smith did arrive at Notre Dame, Crum's leadership skills were even more obvious.
"Of course the UCLA game where he had all those crazy sacks. But even behind closed doors, one practice it's a down day, guys are feeling sorry for themselves, they don't want to be here, they're tired, they just want to lay down," Smith said. "He finds a way to motivate people where they feel like they can be out there getting better. That's almost like an everyday basis."
For Crum, the idea of guys like Smith watching him keeps him sharp.
"I've always prided myself on setting a good example because you never know who's around you or who's looking at you. Things that you do can help them or hurt them because you don't want them to say, ‘Oh, I've seen Mo do this, so maybe I can get away with it,'" Crum said. "You always want them to go hard, to play hard, so I try to play that way to set an example. I think (Smith's) kind of seen that, kind of following that and as a result he's kind of playing harder."
Since sitting out his freshman year in 2004, Crum has started every game for the Fighting Irish and began looking at himself as a potential leader right away.
"The first time I started playing, that's just the mentality that I played with," Crum said. "At some point in time, I knew that I'd be a leader around here. I didn't know that I'd be captain, but I knew I'd be a leader and as a leader that's one of the things that you should do, at least lead by example."
Crum especially keeps an eye out for the younger guys.
"I try to take everybody in and pass on some information," he said. "Help them get comfortable, help them make sure they're adjusted and make sure that they feel like they fit in. And football-wise, make sure they're responsibility for knowing what they're supposed to do."
Now with Smith moving from outside to inside linebacker he's getting closer Crum both on and off the field.
"By Brian playing next to him, kind of sticking with him, hanging with him, it's helping him develop as a player," Brown said. "How to make adjustments, how to get in position, a lot of times the things that we ask them to do are mirrored, so when you see Mo do it, that's how I should do it. Then you've got Mo sitting there giving you advice, so they've kind of developed a bond. Who wouldn't want to have Mo Crum as a guy you can lean on?"
Smith and Crum have been paired up as roommates during camp and Smith is clearly taking advantage of the chance to be close with someone like Crum.
"He definitely wants to perfect what it is that he does," Crum said. "He knows that I've been around and I've seen some things so if he's not really sure what he can do to make the play or to play that a little bit better, that's the stuff he asks me and I give him what I know."
Crum showed his roommate film of himself from 2005 when he made 57 tackles as a sophomore and then popped in tape of his junior year in 2006 when he led the team with 100 stops.
"This summer I chose some old tape of myself from the first year I started playing to the next year. Just to show him the jump in the plays that I made just simply because I took film more seriously, I got in the weight room," Crum said. "All of the things that he's done. I just showed him my results from one year to the next because I was outside and I moved to the Mike. In a way, I just wanted to show him that it doesn't really matter, if you're sharp you're going to play and your athleticism and your ability and when you go here you'll make plays."
Crum says that his job as teacher is easy because his new pupil is so eager to learn.
"If I say I'm watching tape, ‘What time?' I'm opening my playbook, ‘What are you looking at?' He's just one of those guys that just wants to get better and you've got to appreciate that," Crum said. "He's a great athlete and a smart player. With those tools it makes it easy. He's in his playbook, he's always asking questions, whatever it is he needs to do to get better he's going to do it.
"That makes it like ten times easier because now I don't worry about him not knowing his assignment, I don't worry about him not being strong enough, I don't worry about none of the small things, those are out of the way because he's the kind of person that's going to take care of those. As a result now all we've got to do is just play."
While the rooming of the two inside linebackers could not have been coincidental, Brown says that Smith did not need any encouragement to seek out Crum's guidance.
"He had to do it on his own," Brown said. "But Brian is a smart kid, he's not a prima donna, he doesn't think that he's better than he is, he just wants to be good. He's the type of kid that without telling him, he'll try to figure it out on his own."
When they get back to the room, the football talk stops almost completely.
"Very little. We do our communicating in the meeting room, if we've got questions walking out of the meetings we'll talk about them on the way back," said Crum. "But in the room it's just hanging out, life talk. Maybe occasionally, very, very little. Not a lot, just because we've been together all day, we've been doing what we do all day. A little bit of me time."
But Smith and Crum have become so close so quick that at times words are unnecessary.
"I enjoy playing with Brian. A lot of times we're on the same page, we're getting pretty close to where eye contact is enough where we don't have to always be vocal and that's pretty good," Crum said. "That way we can just play fast and not really worry about it."
Crum is proud to see Smith becoming a better player everyday and to be able to have an influence on him.
"Watching him grow up and play with more intensity everyday and just modeling himself after a lot of things that I do," Crum said. "As a young player, I was just trying to get everything down so that I could play fast and be a really, really good player and I see a lot of that in him."
TENUTA LIKES QUINNY: Senior inside linebacker Steve Quinn has primarily been a special teams performer in his time at Notre Dame thus far, but it's clear that Tenuta sees Quinn as more than that.
"Quinny is the next best stack linebacker, so he's the next guy in," Tenuta said plainly. "Steve Quinn is a guy that's a very instinctive football player. Again right, wrong or indifferent, I don't care what happened in the past. Since I've been here, I'm coaching Steve Quinn and Steve Quinn has made tremendous leaps and bounds in my eyes and Coach Weis' eyes and in Corwin's eyes. So that guy is going to get some PT."
While Quinn is listed as Crum's backup at the Jack position, junior Toryan Smith is down as the backup to Brian Smith at Mike, but is a different type of player than Quinn.
"Toryan is a little bit different in the aspect of he's more of an inside Billy Goat Gruff guy. If there's going to be two backs coming at you right now, that is his forte," Tenuta said. "Based on people spreading the field and doing more things in a one-back aspect, Quinny is more the guy that you have to in there just based on our sub package and things we do. Again we play to our players' strengths, you never put a guy in a position where he's going to fail."
"Obviously McDonald got dinged up early, but all three of them to me when they came in here some of them have different strengths and different weaknesses, but they all have instincts, so you can build with that aspect of it," Tenuta said. "As time goes and you get them more reps and more reps and more reps, we'll see what happens. To me it's still early in the fray, but we'll see once we get going in here, get prepared for San Diego State where exactly the chips fall."
McNEIL AND GRAY AND BLANTON?: As junior Raeshon McNeil and sophomore Gary Gray continue to compete for the corner spot opposite of Terrail Lambert that has been vacated by Darrin Walls, they are getting pushed by freshman Robert Blanton.
"The competition is alive. Me and Raeshon compete everyday," Gray said. "Even R.J. Blanton, he comes in and competes with us. He knows the game very well. He adjusts to the receivers very well and he plays man-to-man very well too."
For McNeil, the competition has been healthy.
"It's been good. Gary's a real good corner, he's real aggressive which is definitely something that you need at the corner position," McNeil said. "I feel like we're both kind of similar personality-wise and playing style. It's been real good. It was good all spring and it's just been the same, we've both been pushing each other trying to get better."
The wait to becoming a contributor hasn't been all that difficult for McNeil, who was selected for the Army All-American Game as a high school senior.
"It hasn't really been tough. I've never been a guy to complain or anything like that. I've been willing to work my way up and wait my opportunity. I was a high school All-American, but all of the guys that are playing around me were pretty much All-Americans too," he said. "Terrail (Lambert) played in the same game, Darrin played in the same game, Gary played in the same game. It's just basically a real talented group of guys that we've got back there."
Lambert isn't particularly worried about who wins the job because he knows that whoever it is will help the team.
"It's good to know that the guy on the other side of you, that's on that other island with you is going to go out there and produce and everybody has been producing," said Lambert. "I believe in all of my teammates. They're here for a reason. If (they weren't talented), they wouldn't have been recruited."
Gray says that there is no timetable for when the battle will be decided and that it could extend throughout the season.
"I don't think there's a deadline, but we're just going to compete everyday and whoever gets the job, gets the job," he said. "I kind of look at it like that, but we try to get better everyday."
McNEIL STAYS IN TOUCH WITH DARRIN: The loss of Walls was doubly tough for McNeil who lost his best bud, but did not feel it fully until recently.
"It kind of hurt. I guess it just didn't effect me until the time came and it really just effects me more now that I'm here and he's not here," McNeil said. "In the dog days of camp when things get hard, we're usually roommates and usually goof off, pick each other up and make each other feel better. He's not there now so that's when you really realize."
McNeil said that he spoke with Walls on Tuesday morning and that even though Walls' absence has created an opportunity for himself he would much prefer to have him back.
"He's doing good, he's doing good," McNeil said. "Darrin was pretty much my best friend here, so at any cost I'd much rather have him here."