SOUTH BEND - It’s no longer all about the hair. Well, sort of. Harrison Smith’s Marilyn Manson-length locks have given way to a buzz cut that so changed his appearance that some friends back in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., didn’t recognize him when he was home for break. It wasn’t a symbol of a “new” Harrison Smith. It wasn’t even something Notre Dame first-year head football coach Brian Kelly suggested. “We were between coaches when I did it,” Smith said. Well, actually Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese did the honors. But the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Irish senior-to-be is reborn. Reborn at the position he was originally recruited to play - safety. Reborn with a new confidence that was shattered midway through last season and helped hasten a position change to outside linebacker. Reborn in that his work ethic was one of the first things Kelly noticed when the former University of Cincinnati coach was assessing what he had inherited from the Charlie Weis regime. “Honestly, when you’re doing it, you don’t even realize you’re doing it,” Smith said of evolving into a leader. “You just kind of go as hard as you can.” The recent evolution of Smith, though, is more cerebral. It’s not just about being the team ruffian anymore. It’s playing with an edge, but playing smart, too. “That’s not what I want to be,” Smith said, recalling his old scofflaw ways, which included drawing a 15-yard penalty against Pitt in 2008 that opened the door for a Panther comeback. “That was dumb. That doesn’t help the team.” Nor did not having a training table at ND last year, something Weis did campaign for unsuccessfully before his purge last November. Smith started the season as a safety playing at a prototypical 212 pounds. He finished it as a 200-pound linebacker, often physically overmatched. “It’s definitely made a difference for everybody,” Smith said of the new nutrition program. He is also feasting on a steady diet of first-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s new scheme. “We’re pleased with Harrison,” Diaco said. “Harrison is faster than I thought he was. He’s got good speed. He’s a big-bodied guy. He’s got a good feel.” It’s the second season in a row Diaco has had to teach his defense to a new team. Last year, he was the new defensive coordinator at Cincinnati - and was also saddled with pushing those revised X’s and O’s to 10 new defensive starters. Included in that mix were a transfer from Minnesota, Alex Daniels, who was converted from a running back into a defensive linemen and two quarterbacks, including Notre Dame transfer Demetrius Jones, who were molded into defensive players for the first time in their college careers. “These guys are further along,” Diaco said of the Irish. “At least they know the language.” Smith’s language gravitates toward learning to be successful through failure. And there were more failures in 2009 than he’d care to count. He had plenty of company, though. ND’s 397.8 yards-per-game yield last season on defense is the worst season average in school history. “Everybody kind of feels like there’s a fresh start and a chance at a new beginning,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to win every game. When I was looking at schools and I picked Notre Dame, I thought Notre Dame was going to be top of the heap every year. That’s what I still envision for Notre Dame, and there’s no reason we can’t do it.”
Clausen clipsFormer Notre Dame quarterback and likely future first-round NFL Draft pick Jimmy Clausen visited with the Rams in St. Louis Tuesday. St. Louis is the team which holds the first pick of next week’s three-day (April 22-24), seven-round player dispersal. Thursday, Clausen will conduct a private workout at ND’s Loftus Center for the Washington Redskins, No. 4 currently in the draft pecking order. The thought is that, given the team’s recent trade for veteran QB Donovan McNabb, the Redskins will either trade the pick or use it for offensive line help.
- Clausen’s turn on the ESPN SportsCenter Special: “Gruden’s QB Camp” comes Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. It’s part of a series in which the South Bend Clay grad and current NFL Monday Night Football analyst meets one-on-one with top QB prospects Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas, Tim Tebow of Florida and Clausen. “What I really liked about Jimmy is he is a tough guy, and a lot of guys would have sat out with that toe injury,” Gruden said of an injury that Clausen played with over the last 9½ games of the 2009 season. “It wasn’t just a turf toe. There was ligament damage in there. It was a painful injury. I really liked the way he played through it, and more importantly, I like the way this guy brings his football team back every Saturday. “He’s just a junior. He’s got a great football pedigree. He’s tough as heck and he plays his best football in the fourth quarter when the games are tight or (his team is) behind. “A lot of the films of these other quarterbacks, I could go in and finish the game, they’re so lopsided. That’s what I really liked about Clausen the most.”