Pittsburgh's Dom DeCicco was an All-Big East safety last year. Last week, he was moved down to linebacker to help out that unit and shore up the defense overall. I spoke with the Panthers senior this week as he and his teammates prepared for Notre Dame:
What has the move to linebacker been like for you so far?
Dom DeCicco: It's different to go from a position you know so well at safety to something that's kind of new to you. But I think it's a way for our team to get our best 11 guys on the field. Jason Hendricks stepped up [at safety] and lot of teams play the spread now so you need an extra DB. And me with my size, it's an obvious fit. It's been going pretty well so far.
How different is it, really, since you've been in pass coverage a lot at that linebacker spot anyway?
DD: It's just taking on more blocks from linemen. It's different from safety because at safety you see everything in front of you. At linebacker, that nickel spot, you play with your back to receivers a lot, which is different. But the more you practice it, the more it becomes natural. I've liked it so far and all the linebackers and all the coaches have been helping me out.
Ever play linebacker before?
DD: No, I just played corner and safety in high school. Never linebacker until now.
You're known as a good tackler. How much does that help you with the move?
DD: Starting out in college, I struggled at first a little bit in tackling. But as the years went on, that became one of the strongest parts of my game. That helps going down there because you have to do so much of it, so that helps with the transition.
There have been a lot of moves at linebacker recently, plus the injury to Dan Mason. What's the state of that unit in your mind?
DD: I definitely think it's getting better. Max [Gruder] in the middle is real smart and can make all the calls, and Greg [Williams] is getting better every game. So the linebacker corps is going to come on stronger every game. If we can get to where the secondary and the D-line is, our defense is going to be pretty good.
You're facing former Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly this week at Notre Dame. Are you seeing a lot of the same things that Cincinnati used to run now with the Irish?
DD: Yeah, definitely. You see a lot of similarities. They're pretty much the exact same as [Cincinnati] last year but with different players plugged in. They just have a lot of talent at Notre Dame at the tight end spot, wide receiver and running backs. You can play against a spread, but this is a more talented team than we've seen running the spread.
DD: The guy I didn't know as much about was Theo Riddick. I knew about Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph because we played against them, but Riddick adds a whole different element to their offense as a great slot receiver. And Armando Allen looks better than he ever has running the ball. So they're dangerous everywhere, and I think Riddick is really the guy you have to watch out for.
Does it help you guys that you've seen this scheme the last couple of years?
DD: I've seen it so many times playing against Cincinnati, and they do similar stuff. So the third or fourth time you're playing against it becomes, not second nature, but it's familiar to me and the guys. So I think that helps a bit.
Do you see this as a revenge game against Kelly at all for the losses to Cincinnati the last couple of years?
DD: Yeah, you know he's really had our number since I've been here. He's beaten us two times and we've really struggled playing against him and he ended our BCS hopes the last two years. That's not easy to forget and it's always in the back of your mind when you see him across the sideline. But we just have to go out and worry about playing against Notre Dame and getting a win against them.
Most of you guys have played in Notre Dame Stadium before, so does that help with not being intimidated by the atmosphere?
DD: We've played there before, but to be honest I don't think any place for us is going to be worse than playing at West Virginia. But Notre Dame, with all the prestige, the Touchdown Jesus, Rudy and all that, it is pretty neat and you could get caught up in it. But coach gets us focused and makes sure we have our eyes on what we need to do on Saturday.