SOUTH BEND -- Entering his first year as a full-time starter at safety, Zeke Motta has reached out to Harrison Smith, now a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, and the guy with the big shoes Motta is charged with filling.
Yes, Smith has been a resource for Motta, but it hasn't always been easy.
"He's got an iPhone now. I've still got a flip," Motta lamented, "so it's kind of difficult for me to text and all that."
Challenges reaching Smith notwithstanding, Motta has so far answered the call in replacing the departed leader of the Irish secondary.
Granted, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Motta made eight starts each of the last two seasons, but the role Smith vacated -- essentially he was the air traffic controller in the Irish secondary -- isn't an easy one. Making plays is only part of the deal. Making sure the other players are in position to make plays is also a big part of it.
"I think what we're most pleased with is his vocal leadership on the back end," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "Our safeties have to get us in the right coverages, and so we've had a number of opportunities for him to be vocal out there, and he's definitely done a nice job."
If there's such a thing as momentum carrying over from year to year in college football, Motta has a nice dose of it entering 2012. He played perhaps the best game of his career in the Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State, the highlight a forced fumble that he picked up and returned 29 yards for a touchdown.
Motta, who terms himself his own worst critic, evaluated his play on film closely -- good and bad. At times he saw that he was a bit too aggressive, and at other times he saw that he might be a little high when making tackles. Not a patient guy by nature, Motta worked on his weaknesses and saw results when he pored over the FSU tape.
"I think the Florida State game was probably a culmination of all that last season," he said.
A starter in 16 games through his first three years, and a guy who has played in every game of his career, Motta is now looking at the culmination of his time at Notre Dame. And when he looks around the practice field, he sees a lot of fresh faces.
"All those young guys, they're full of competition and they're very athletic," Motta said. "It's just a matter of learning the defense. We've got quite a few of them like you saw."
And what Motta sees in the youngsters is a little bit of himself. In fact, when he isn't directing traffic on the field, he's directing youngsters on the sidelines and in the meeting room.
"I think that trying to relate to them as how I felt when I was a freshman certainly helps," he said. "It's good, I think, from my perspective to really try and say, 'This is understandable. This is going to happen.'
"It's obviously frustrating to you right now because you're not getting it as quickly as you expect, but if you're just patient with it and don't overthink it, which is what I did, it helps I think."
Staff writer Bob Wieneke:
Notre Dame football: Motta inherits leadership role
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