Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Brian Smith’s father Chris had a very solid career for Notre Dame in the early 80’s, but when it comes time to define his own legacy under the Golden Dome, the rising sophomore linebacker wants to make a name for himself.
“I don’t want to live in my father’s footsteps,” Smith told the media on Sunday before practice. “I don’t want to me Chris’s son, I want to be Brian Smith – middle linebacker for Notre Dame.”
Before spring practice it would have been difficult for Smith to make his mark as the middle linebacker for Notre Dame because he spent all of last season an outside linebacker. As a freshman in 2007, Smith cracked the depth chart in no time at all and started to make an impact early on highlighted by an interception return of Matt Ryan against Boston College in October.
Heading into the spring it was assumed that Smith would easily cement himself as a starter on the outside, but Charlie Weis and new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta had other plans for him after watching him throughout the spring. “I said the first day the guy who is in position to make the most plays is that position (inside),” Weis told the media Sunday. “When we went through the spring, the guy who was making the majority of the plays on a daily basis was him.”
Switching back and forth between positions is nothing new for Smith though, and in fact, it almost kept him from being recruited by Notre Dame in the first place. “He was bouncing back between an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker. You really couldn’t get a grasp for which he’d be best at,” Weis said Sunday when asked about why the Irish staff didn’t target Smith until late in the recruiting process.
The Irish had a different defensive coordinator with a difference defensive philosophy when they first began evaluating Smith. Rick Minter’s 4-3 defense was not as flexible as the “3-4 personnel” defensive current defensive coordinator Corwin Brown brought in last January. “When you say you are going to play more of that type on the field then his versatility became a huge asset rather than a initially a tough one to figure, ‘What are you going to do with him’” Weis explained Sunday.
Weis also joked on Sunday that Smith wasn’t nearly as big as he currently is when they began evaluating him. “He wasn’t 6-3, 245. He was significantly smaller.”
His current size, combined with the versatility that the Irish staff once thought could be a drawback, however, has allowed Tenuta and Brown to move him inside to the MIKE position in an effort to get the best set of linebackers on the field in an area where they can each make the most impact.
Smith’s experience playing inside linebacker in high school gave the staff confidence he could handle the switch. “Because, going back to the recruiting process, we had viewed him as both an inside and an outside player, we knew we would not be putting him in an unnatural position,” said Weis. “We had already seen him playing there and playing at a high level.”
The move seems to have pleased both the coaches and Smith already. Weis told the media on Sunday that the MIKE position is pretty much Smith’s to lose. “Unlike some years previous, there are some guys slotted in a spot and they’re going to have to get beat out. I would have to say he’s one of them,” he said.
The move, combined with the new defensive philosophies brought in by Tenuta seem to have the sophomore sensation excited as well. “It’ll be a lot more aggressive this year. It’s going to be fun this year,” Smith said of the Irish defense this fall.
That aggressive style suits Smith’s game rather well. “It suits my game a lot,” Smith said of his position in the new Notre Dame defense. “ In high school, they ended up moving me to defensive end because I was an attacking kind of guy and that’s why the early stages of me playing linebacker, I didn’t quite have the drops and the reads so I was just going after whoever had the ball or whoever was around the ball,” Smith explained. “ They put me at defensive end because I was an attacking kind of guy so this attacking style of defense suits me very well,” he would add.
That aggressive style of play was on full display whenever Smith got on the field as a true freshman in 2007. Whether it was getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from his outside linebacker position or dropping back in coverage and picking off a Heisman hopeful like Matt Ryan, Smith just seemed to make plays whenever he had the chance.
It seems rather obvious that the staff has very high hopes for Smith. Anytime a coach places a true sophomore in a position where he wants his best playmaker it’s a clear cut sign that he expects big things from him. Considering just over a year and a half ago Smith didn’t even have a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, he has went through quite a journey in a short time.
Despite the rather roundabout way in which he ended up at Notre Dame. It seems like he was destined to play for the Irish. “ I’m coming here because I grew up a Notre Dame fan and I wanted to play for Notre Dame,” Smith told the media Sunday. “Of course my dad played here, but at the end of the day I want to make a name for myself. “
The love of Notre Dame which Smith discussed with the media is not lost on the Irish coaches either. Weis made mention of it when he spoke with the media as well. “I think he already had a spirit and pride for the place which I think only makes him want to be successful that much more, “ Weis said. He would add, ““He’s been bread and knows the whole mentality of the place and he has a lot of pride walking in the door. “
Smith even talked about some of the Notre Dame players he followed growing up. “I used to love Kory Minor and watching Kory Minor play – especially because he wore the single digit, the number four. I wanted number on my back one day and to play for Notre Dame.”
While he won’t be wearing number four on his back – sophomore cornerback currently sports number 4 – he will continue the job of making a name for himself which he started last fall albeit if it is with number 58 on the back of his jersey and from a different position from where he started. Based on Smith’s path to Notre Dame, though, that seems like a fitting continuation of his journey.