Entering his final season at Notre Dame, senior Brian Smith will be changing positions for the third time. This time, however, Smith is moving back to the position that he was originally recruited to play for the Irish – outside linebacker.
When Brian Smith was being recruited out of high school, Notre Dame initially passed on him even though his father played for the Irish in the 80’s because then defensive coordinator didn’t think he fit the Irish defensive system.
After Corwin Brown was hired and the Irish moved to a 3-4 defense, they pursued Smith as an outside linebacker and he was quick to follow in his father’s footsteps.
During his freshman season, Smith made an instant impact at outside linebacker and looked like a star in the making. He intercepted then Heisman candidate Matt Ryan of Boston College returning his first career pick for a touchdown against the second ranked Eagles. By the end of his freshman season, Smith looked like a late recruiting steal for the Irish.
Heading into the 2008 season, Notre Dame added Jon Tenuta as the linebackers coach and Smith was moved to the inside with plan being to have more plays funneled to him. The transition wasn’t quite as smooth as anyone had hoped for and Smith struggled as a sophomore.
Last season the plan was to have Smith play weak-side linebacker with Toryan Smith playing in the middle. Things didn’t go as planned with Toryan Smith struggling mightily in the middle and super freshman Manti Te’o being too talented to keep off the field. Brian Smith ended up playing middle linebacker again in 2009 and again failed to show the same promise he flashed as a freshman when he played outside linebacker.
New defensive Bob Diaco brought a 3-4 defense with him to South Bend when he followed Brian Kelly to Notre Dame in January. The change back a 3-4 defense has allowed Smith to move back to outside linebacker – his more natural position.
When Kelly met with the media on Friday he explained the move of Smith back to the outside saying, “Well, we felt like his ability to play in space and also provide some athleticism off the edge.”
On Friday, Smith was running with the first team defense along with Darius Fleming at the two outside backer positions, but there is going to be a lot of competition from Steve Filer, Kerry Neal, and Dan Fox for those two starting roles. Smith has the edge in experience over the rest of the candidates with 2+ years of starting experience, but is going to have to elevate his game from the level it’s been the past two seasons to hold them off.
Through three seasons Smith has totaled 140 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 interceptions. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but they are also not numbers that really stand out for someone who has started 24 games over the last three seasons.
Moving back to outside linebacker should allow Smith to improve on his sack total – especially if the Irish defense has the same success rushing the quarterback as Cincinnati’s defense did a season ago when ranked 10th in the NCAA with 37 sacks as a team. Notre Dame on the other hand ranked just 89th with a meager 19 sacks. The Bearcats also ranked 3rd in the country with 110 tackles for loss while the Irish managed just 72 to rank 48th.
With just one season of eligibility remaining, Smith will have one final chance to make his mark at Notre Dame. A starting outside linebacker position is really his to lose at this point as is the chance to be a captain for the 2010 Fighting Irish. Hopefully Smith will cease the opportunity and turn all of the talent and potential we saw early in his career into a standout senior campaign.
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