Senior defensive end Justin Brown started the preseason as Morrice Richardson's backup, but as the first post-camp depth chart was released this week it indicated that Brown had pulled even with Richardson.
Brown admitted that his preseason camp was a bit of ride and involved some soul-searching.
"A roller coaster. I played up, down, up, down, now I'm on a more consistent level of playing," Brown said of his performance during the preseason.
So what changed?
"My focus. Pointing my own individual focus in a more positive way or focusing on things that I need to focus on every play," Brown said. "Just doing my job and working on winning some of those one-on-one battles so I can help the team win."
Brown could have chosen to get down on himself or blame other people for his troubles, but he decided to do the opposite.
"It was more of a self-reflection, just looking at myself in the mirror and asking myself, ‘OK, why am I not playing to the highest level that I'm capable of?' and evaluating the things that I've been doing. Just going through an evaluation of myself to see what I need to focus on," he said. "I started with myself first, I know what I'm capable of. It wasn't easy to figure out why I wasn't playing to the best of my abilities. That's what training camp is for, to try to get back in the swing of things and try to get better."
Richardson has been slowed recently by a foot injury, although Charlie Weis said that he expects him to be ready to go for San Diego State. Brown's resurgence may have come at a great time in relation to Richardson's injury.
"Probably about a week and a half into training camp going into the scrimmage Saturday. After that I kind of knew where I was headed, which was up. I'm always trying to go up and I just took from that prospective, trying to keep it consistent," Brown said. "I saw myself going at a steady level and then I just started going up. From that point I just took that same focus, the same focus points that I was telling myself and taking those everyday to keep pushing myself."
Weis made emotion a hot topic during the preseason, which is something that Brown has fed off.
"Emotion is a key thing. Football is more fun when you play it with emotion even in practice," he said. "People love the games, it's easy to play emotional in games, but when you play with it in practice that's what makes your team better."
TIMMERMANS ON THE ALLEY, BRUTON ON THE OOP: So is it true that David Bruton dunked on Brown during a pickup game this summer off an alley-oop from former Notre Dame basketball player and current coordinator of compliance Tom Timmermans?
"It happened," Brown admitted with a laugh before giving his defense. As Brown remembered it, he was defending two guys on a fast break when Bruton came out of nowhere.
"I'm trying to do the two-on-one defense thing, I'm playing (Timmermans) trying to stop the ball, he throws the oop, I didn't know who he was throwing it to because I didn't see Bruton," Brown said. "I went for the ball and Bruton just came and he's an athletic guy so he dunked it. I wouldn't say he just dunked on me like just nasty."
Brown did offer one request for the media.
"Bruton, you should ask him does he want to play me one-on-one and he'll say no and that's the end of it."
ONE OF THEM GOOD PROBLEMS: Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Corwin Brown made an interesting statement on Wednesday when he said that it can be harder to coach experienced defensive backs.
"It's definitely not easier because…if you say a lot of nice things about guys all of the time then they start to get complacent and once complacency sets in that's not good," he said. "So you have to stay on them, making sure guys align at the right spot, making sure they're communicating. So it doesn't get easier, in some cases it gets harder. It's like coaching guys in the league. At that level you have to stay on guys almost like you're cracking the whip and some people don't like it, but that's what you have to do if you want to be good."
Fifth-year cornerback Terrail Lambert heard what his coach said and agreed to a point.
"From the older players he definitely expects more," said Lambert. "Like he said, you can get at times complacent if you hear too many good things. I just tell myself to be my own worst critic that way if I reach my own expectations then everybody will be happy."
Senior starting safety Kyle McCarthy said that he understood where his coach was coming from but that apathy would not be a problem with this year's group.
"I think he might think that but knowing our secondary and our guys back there, we're always trying to get better," McCarthy said. "Who better to learn from than Coach Brown or Coach Tenuta? They've been at it for a long time, Coach Brown did it in the league. We pay pretty close attention."
NO MAJOR CHANGES WITH TENUTA?: Not according to fifth-year linebacker Maurice Crum, who is the clear leader of the defense.
"I don't think so, I think we'll be sharper just from a standpoint of Coach Tenuta knowing what he knows and Coach Brown knowing what he knows, I think they work really, really hard together to try to put their ideas together and make sure we're on the same page," he said. "No, I wouldn't say too much difference. I don't see much of a difference. To me it's just guys trying to get more tuned in and refine what it is that we do so that we're sharp and can play fast. It's just about executing. I don't see a big difference in anything."
OFFSEASON OVERSEAS: Crum also talked about his trip to West Africa during the offseason with former teammate Abdel Banda's group Students Bridging the Information Gap (SBIG) to help an orphanage in Ghana.
Crum said that he could not explain it and, in fact, could hardly think about it now.
"It was unimaginable. I could try to paint it in my mind but it's different," he said.
The one thing that he can still see is the faces of the children that he helped.
"It touched me in a real special way and that's what I think back on the most, just seeing those smiles," he said. "I'll never forget it, I can see it playing in my mind now."
NATION KICKS OFF: As most of the college football world starts the season this week, the Irish still have to wait, leaving the players as bystanders for now.
"It's a little bit different with teams around the country teams getting ready to kickoff for the first time and we're kind of just sitting here," McCarthy said. "We'll all watch the games this Saturday. It'll be good because we'll be able to see what some of the teams have and we'll be able to keep doing our thing to get ready for San Diego State."
Crum has already started putting everything in perspective.
"All of the offseason workouts, everything that you do is for Saturday's," Crum said. "Football season is here. College football is very special and I'm just happy to have a part in it."