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Irish running back Thomas moving to linebacker

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame is turning to its
record-setting offense to try to shore up its defense.

Travis Thomas, the second-leading rusher for the Fighting Irish
last season, is going to try playing linebacker to see if he can
crack the starting lineup.

"I was absolutely shocked. I felt I had a productive season last year and at the time I was having a productive spring. So it was a shock. It was something I really had to think about."
Travis Thomas, on Charlie Weis asking him to try playing linebacker

Coach Charlie Weis suggested the change because he believes
Thomas is one of the 22 best players on the Irish squad and figures
the running back can help plug the holes caused by the departures
of Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays -- the leading two tacklers last
season.

"We're going to get more athletic on this team because we're
not going to get beat due to a lack of team speed," Weis said
Sunday at the team's media day. "If you're not happy with the
speed you have at the position, you have to figure out where the
answers are."

Team speed appeared to be the problem the last time Notre Dame
was on the field, when the Irish gave up a school-record 617 yards
in a 34-20 loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, including four
touchdowns of 55 yards or more.

Weis said the problem wasn't that the Irish lacked speed. He
blames too much thinking and not enough reacting.

"Anyone who has to think about what to do and can't just go out
there and let it loose is going to be hesitant," he said.

Thomas, who rushed for 248 yards on 63 carries last season, was
surprised when Weis approached him with the idea of switching to
defense.

"I was absolutely shocked," he said. "I felt I had a
productive season last year and at the time I was having a
productive spring. So it was a shock. It was something I really had
to think about."

Thomas said after talking to Weis and the defensive coaches he
got more excited about the idea.

Quarterback Brady Quinn said the move should help the Irish, who
open the season Sept. 2 at Georgia Tech.

"You have to find a way to get someone like that on the
field," he said.

Weis said he came up with the possible solution by stealing a
page from the New England Patriots, where he formerly was the
offensive coordinator. Because of injuries and other reasons the
Patriots have played wide receiver Troy Brown at cornerback,
linebacker Mike Vrabel at tight end, defensive lineman Richard
Seymour in the backfield and linebacker Don Davis at safety.

"He was a great defensive player in high school and he's also
one of our best tacklers on special teams," Weis said of Thomas.

Thomas, though, hasn't given up the idea of running the ball. He
wants to start as a linebacker and still carry the ball as a
tailback.

"That's absolutely the vision," he said. "It's something I've
been working toward all this summer. Playing offense is the love of
my life. I love running the ball."

Weis said he will evaluate the move after about a week.

"I'm interested just like you to see what this project looks
like," Weis said.

While the position change was the biggest news to come out of
Sunday, much of the talk centered around the expectations following
last season's 9-3 finish and the hype surrounding the team and
Quinn, who finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Weis said the Irish won't get caught up in all that.

"If I find guys telling you, 'We're trying to win a national
championship," then I'll know I have a lot of work to do," he
said.

Apparently, Weis does have a lot of work to do. Both Quinn and running
back Darius Walker told the media the team's goal is to win the
national championship.

"National championship. That's the only thing worth thinking
about right now other than Georgia Tech," Quinn said.

Informed about Weis' remark, Quinn said he didn't know what Weis
would think about his statement.

"I always try to be truthful with everything and I'd be lying
if I said it wasn't in the back of our minds. Because overall, I
think that is our motivation," he said. "But hopefully he knows
that the only thing we care about right now is Georgia Tech,
because that's the first piece of the puzzle."