After having been a key special teams contributor for the majority of his career, Steve Quinn is finally getting some serious playing time as a backup linebacker. This past Saturday against Pittsburgh, the senior linebacker notched his first start, culminating in a sack against the Panthers.
In an important third and five in the first quarter, the Panthers were looking to convert and keep the drive afloat. As Kevan Smith dropped back to pass, Quinn came on a delayed blitz from his inside linebacker spot and shed a LeSean McCoy block to take down the quarterback and force the punt.
In the eyes of his coaches, Quinn's added participation is a testament to his work ethic and a greater understanding of the system.
"I think Quinny has worked his way into this position," defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said. "The light bulb, I think has come on, but it's because of things he's done. He's put himself in that position. We haven't given him anything. He's earned it. He kind of deserves it and that's what happens when you're an older guy and it matters to you."
A large factor in the St. Joseph's Preparatory product's development was the implementation of the 3-4 defense for the Irish unit. For the senior linebacker, it simply made more sense.
"I think it really has kind of clicked for me," Quinn said. "Dating back not too long ago with the defense that was installed really kind of made sense to me and I was able to pick it up and I wasn't thinking as much and just reacting because I knew what I was doing out there more. It was just working, coming early in the summers, working hard in the spring and it's kind of paid off this year for me."
Part of the reason as to why Quinn has gained the coaches' confidence, in addition to his experience, is because of his technique on the football field.
"He's got good instincts and he closes to the ball," Brown said. "He does a really good job of closing. I think he might have had a sack last week or something like that, but it was just a matter of him doing what he was supposed to do, following his rules and he was in place to make a play and when you do that, that's what happens."
Quinn recognizes that he has always had a solid understanding of the game, but it was a number of bad habits that ended up slowing him down early in his career. Bad habits that still stick with him when he fails to accomplish his tasks.
"I think I've always had good instincts," he said. "Bad habits but some good instincts. I did have that one missed tackle in the Pitt game, which kind of got to me, but I think I've got instincts to get to the ball and get to the quarterback … sometimes you find yourself stepping back when you should be stepping up, just a bad habit."
With the addition of coach Tenuta to the Notre Dame staff, Quinn has received a great deal in addition to the array of verbal lashings he receives in practice. Now he has undertaken a number of steps to correct these bad habits and his play on the field is beginning to display this.
"Coach Tenuta is a great coach," he said. "He's taught me a lot about being a linebacker, and going through reads and keys. You'll always hear him yelling at me, teaching me and coaching me and stuff. I think he's helped tremendously, to where I've come to now."
Of all the lessons Quinn has learned from Tenuta, one stands out above all — preparation.
"I guess it's just really preparing," Quinn said. "Watching game tape and really focusing on who your opponent is, and what they do and practicing harder at getting better."
With all the time Quinn has spent working and toiling in the halls of the Gugliemo football facility, the Cherry Hill, N.J. native learned another skill essential in his progression — patience. In fact, Quinn sees some parallels in his path to the field with that of former teammate, Joe Brockington.
"Yeah, you've got to learn to be patient," he said. "With guys like Joe Brockington, who didn't really start for a while. Guys like him would tell just to be patient. And I got to do the special teams thing, so I didn't get too upset because I was getting my opportunity in some way."
Whereas some collegiate players come in with expectations to contribute immediately, Quinn has had to wait his turn. Now, he's enjoying every second of it.
"Yeah, I mean, I've only got a couple of more games left," Quinn said of the waning moments of his career at Notre Dame. "I've really got to give everything I've got because I want to take advantage of the couple of games I have in me, so I won't have any regrets."
Although Quinn's playing time has increased within the past couple of contests, he realizes that he has a role to fill on this Irish squad.
"I'm still just the main special teams guy," he said. "The guy that coaches can trust to put in when Brian [Smith] or Harrison [Smith] need a breather. I can be the guy who goes in and takes a couple of reps."
As the clock ticks on the number of reps, practices, snaps and tackles Steve Quinn will make at Notre Dame, he is only concerned about one thing — he wants to leave no doubt that there was nothing else he could do.
"Basically, I just want to be able to look back and just say that I've done everything I could in my career in college and in football," Quinn said. "This year, I've had a lot of fun this year. It's probably been one of my best years here, so I just don't want to have any regrets once I've left here."