If you accept Maurice Crum's analogy about the Notre Dame defense being like a family, then the 6-foot, 235-pound fifth-year senior from Tampa is the big brother.
Crum is one of a handful of Notre Dame players whose time on the team stretches back to before Charlie Weis's arrival. Now in his final season, Crum has a different feeling heading into 2008.
"I think what's special about this year is that I've gotten a chance to see a lot of young guys grow up and develop before my eyes," he said. "They're really, really excited to show what they can do. For me personally, it's my last go around, it's all I've got so I really just want to play with everything I've got."
As a captain and a leader, Crum tries to take all of the young players under his wing, but sophomore linebacker Brian Smith and Crum have formed an even tighter bond since Smith moved to inside linebacker and roomed with Crum during camp.
"He's one of those guys that I've got a chance to just watch grow in a year and he's going to be something special. He does his homework; he does what he's supposed to and he plays with a lot of emotion. I can see him doing the same stuff that I do," Crum said of Smith. "It makes it fun to have someone out there that within a year you've watched him grow and at the same time they try to play on a new level. So everyday I try to set the bar for Brian so Brian will just know what to do even after I'm gone. I'm very excited to have the chance to play with him."
With the season-opener this weekend, it will be the first time for Crum and his defense to show their new attacking style of play.
"The biggest thing you'll see is our attitude, just the way that we hawk to the ball. We'll look like a family out there," he said. "We're going to play for one another, we're going to go hard, we're going to do what we do and we're going to do it well."
The increase in aggression will put a different kind of pressure on the secondary, which figures to be in more man-to-man situations this year.
"That's part of the job description, I feel like I can handle it," David Bruton said. "I feel like whatever the team needs to do to win, I'll gladly play my role. If that requires me to play middle field and cover from sideline to sideline, I'll do it everyday."
Members of Notre Dame's front seven have expressed confidence in the fact that Bruton will be running things from his free safety position.
"I share the same bit of confidence that they have in me," said Bruton. "I trust the front seven; I trust the corners out there on an island. I believe firmly that we as a defense trust one another and the camaraderie that we've shown throughout camp and throughout the spring is about to be showcased."
Senior Kyle McCarthy, who is in his first season as a full-time starter, will join Bruton at safety. McCarthy saw considerable playing time late in 2007, but Bruton said that their bond goes back further than that.
"We know that one another knows the calls. If I don't know a check he'll know it and if he doesn't know a check I'll know it. It's kind of like we've got each other's back. It's developed throughout the spring," Bruton said. "It wasn't really rough in the beginning, it was still kind of fluid because during the spring of my sophomore year me and Kyle took reps together. My freshman year me and Kyle took some reps together. Like I mentioned before jokingly we've kind of got that Ohio connection. We kind of know what's going on with each other."
Crum is an avid college football fan and many times when he watches games he uses it as motivation for himself and his teammates.
"I definitely try to see who set the bar so that I can try to get our guys to set the bar. I want our guys to be in the top five in every category," he said. "That's one of my goals for the season so I try to see who's playing with a certain mentality or playing on a certain level so that we can try to match that."
The Irish get their first chance to join the national rankings against San Diego State, who will start Ryan Lindley at quarterback. Lindley will be playing in just his second collegiate game and first on the road.
"For any young quarterback, it's different playing in games. You can't prepare yourself for every situation, some situations you just have to go through to learn from," Crum said. "So with young quarterbacks, they really have to grow in situations."
Bruton and the secondary have looked at Lindley's performance in last week's loss to Cal-Poly. Lindley finished the game 27 of 45 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
"You study film of him like you would of every quarterback," said Bruton. "Some younger quarterbacks have specific tendencies that you might be able to pick up on. That's what we look for as a DB and if we find that tendency of course we want to take advantage of it."
Bruton was asked if tendencies could be gleaned from just one game.
"You can especially if they throw a lot and if the coaches haven't addressed it you should be able to use it to your advantage."
After a long offseason, Bruton and the rest of the defense are just ready to get 2008 started.
"We've put in countless hours in the weight room, on the field and hanging out off the field. Just to build a bond and get to know each other a little better and I believe it's going to pay great dividends in the end," he said.
Crum also spoke about the bond that Notre Dame has formed this year.
"The first thing that comes to my mind is just a group of guys that are together. I feel like no matter what happens this year, this team is going to have each other's back," Crum said. "The offense, the defense and the special teams, everyone is just like in this together."
Bruton summed it up.
"I feel like this team has shown a lot of camaraderie, a lot of unity and there's not really a split between the offense and defense. It's one team; it's the Notre Dame Fighting Irish."