Harrison Smith proved to be too good of a player for Notre Dame to keep off the field as a sophomore so the Irish moved him from safety to linebacker in 2008.
Playing out of position as the team's Sam linebacker, Smith finished fourth on the team with 57 tackles and was tops on the squad with 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including 3.5 sacks. Smith showed his ability in coverage by knocking down seven passes, second on the team behind cornerback Raeshon McNeil.
Smith was tied for third on the defense with five stops in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl victory and broke up a pair of passes.
But the graduation of free safety David Bruton has allowed Smith to move back to his natural position this spring in preparation for the 2009 season.
Smith was eager about his return to the Irish secondary.
"I feel more comfortable back at safety," he said.
Smith tried to bulk up to prepare himself for the rigors of playing closer to the line of scrimmage last year, but had no problem getting back to his safety size.
"Last year I tried to be a little bit heavier and it was kind of hard to always keep weight," said Smith, who is listed at 212 pounds. "At the end of the year I was down to where I should be for safety and now I've just stayed at that weight."
And he has had no trouble readjusting to his duties as a defensive back.
"Really it's been pretty easy," he said. "Some of the assignments from last year are the same as this year anyway. In man-to-man you play off some more and then you play the deep middle a lot, play the deep half. It's been a pretty easy transition."
Head coach Charlie Weis and defensive backs coach Corwin Brown have been impressed with Smith's play through the first week of spring ball.
"He looks pretty good right now," said Brown. "There's some things that we've got to get him straightened out on and we'll work on some of those things, but I think it's been a relatively good, smooth transition up until this point."
Brown said that coming in as a defensive back in 2007, even though he did not see any game action as a freshman, was to Smith's benefit.
"He was back there with us for a whole year and then he took some time off so it's not like he was starting off cold or blind," said Brown. "It's been very, very good. Very positive."
Smith is using his lessons as a linebacker to help him at safety now.
"I can look up there and know what they're doing so I know where I need to insert myself, where the ball is going to pop out," he said. "I already know based on what the linebackers are doing or the front's doing where the ball should hit and things like that. It's really made my job a lot easier this year at safety."
And the coaches are using his experience in the front seven to move him into the box and send him after the quarterback.
"We're happy to have him back, he's a playmaker now," said Brown. "Especially when you bring him down and bring him. That's a good thing."