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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Football: Crum Jr. leads revamped linebacking corps

Whether the Irish play a 3-4 or the 4-3, it doesn't matter to rising senior Maurice Crum Jr. - as long as he gets to play football.

"I could care less what system we're running," Crum said. "I really don't care. I just like lining up and going."

Crum played both middle and outside linebacker during his time under former defensive coordinator Rick Minter's 4-3 scheme. Last year, playing middle linebacker, Crum led the team with 100 tackles.

Now, under the 3-4 personnel system of new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown, Crum will occupy one of the inside linebacker spots. He said his experience playing the different linebacker positions will ease the transition to the new defensive system next year.

"For the most part I think it's just a comfort level with myself knowing that I can do this, and I can do that," Crum said. "So, I think being able to switch and do multiple things has helped build my confidence."

But Crum will be asked to do more than just put up solid numbers again this season. He will now lead the linebackers as they try to adjust to the new defensive scheme and develop a new identity.

"I think this year I'm definitely not afraid to say 'Let's go,' or when we're lagging to pull everybody in the group and say, 'We gotta pick it up as a unit,'" Crum said. "I think I've started to step into my role."

This new role means leading a linebacking corps that has to adjust to playing new positions. It means making sure everybody is on the same page in the huddle, and it means motivating his teammates to go that extra mile in workouts and practice - especially when things are not going so well.

"He's a student of the game. He knows everything you're doing. He helps with the calls," rising sophomore linebacker John Ryan said. "Obviously he's making all the calls, but you know he'll yell out reminders to me. You know little pick-me-ups when you don't make a great play, 'Don't worry, you'll get the next one.' I mean he's just a real good leader."

Ryan could see time this season flanking Crum as an outside linebacker. Ryan, rising senior Dwight Stephenson and rising sophomore Morrice Richardson are examples of "tweeners" - which means the coaching staff thinks they are too slow to play linebacker in a 4-3 set, but not big enough to occupy a spot on the front line.

As a result, Weis and Brown are moving to a 3-4 personnel system that places these "tweeners" in a linebacking position, but starts them closer to the opponents' offensive line than they would otherwise be in a 4-3. This way, they can maximize their combination of strength and speed outside the offensive line.

"You know, this gives you a lot more flexibility because now, both those guys, both the guys on the outside are capable of being either a defensive end or a linebacker on every play," Weis said March 21. "And this way the defense and the offense really never knows which one is which: Is this guy a linebacker in this play? Or is he a defensive end on this play? By natural view of that, it causes confusion."

Throughout the spring, Crum likes what he sees at that position.

"Everyone adds their own special thing to that particular position," he said. "So, I mean, it's tough to point out one particular guy because everyone's been doing a great job since day one."

Brown said his defense has shown improvement since the beginning of spring. But overall, there is still work that needs to be done. Crum feels that with time, the defense will adjust to the new defense.

"I think for us it's just a matter of us playing and spending more time together," Crum said. "It's just little things. We still gotta gel and get the personalities together. I mean it's a new system for us, so I think once everyone's comfortable in the system, the sky's the limit."

The team's acclimation with the 3-4 personnel set will extend from the summer up until the first snap September 1 against Georgia Tech. But one constant this spring has been the implementation of a new demeanor in the way the defense plays each day - and Crum has played a big part developing this attitude.

"It's going to be hit or be hit," Crum said. "We want to set the tone day in or day out. That's going to be our mentality."

Saturday's Blue and Gold game marks the end of Notre Dame's spring practice - a spring practice filled with competition for starting spots on both sides of the ball. But for Crum, it just means more waiting until he can lace up and get back on the field.

"It's kind of bittersweet. I'm a football guy. I'm going to miss waking up every morning coming to do this," Crum said. "A couple days off, the first few days it'll be like, 'Yes I don't got anything to do,' but after a while you get that edge, and you want to come out again.

"Basically, that's what I was put on this earth to do. I'm a football player, and that's what I plan to do."