Diaco offers hope for the defense

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In many ways, the Irish season will hinge completely on the efficiency of the defense. The failure of Jon Tenuta’s unit to play merely average football was the downfall of the 2009 season, and while the Irish offense struggled with its consistency (especially in the red zone), the football team lost six games largely because they were unable to stop teams.

One of the more puzzling parts of last year’s effort was the lack of deception and creativity that was used when Tenuta called plays. The amount of blitzing the Irish did, and the way they actually went about doing it was shocking. In the days before Notre Dame played USC, Pete Carroll actually mentioned how risky the Irish defensive strategy was, and how easy it was to exploit it.

“They’re the most aggressive they’ve been,” Carroll said. “Last year they started really
coming after people, and this year they’ve picked up on that. They’re
pressuring well over half of the time which is a tremendous percentage
of pressure from the defense. In certain games they’ll get it up higher
than that.

“So what that causes is they’re taking chances to come after you. It’s
very aggressive, and they cause bad plays. You can protect really well,
then there are some are opportunities, because the coverage is more
limited.

“There’s risk and reward here. When you’re
committing people to the line of scrimmage, there is more space in the
secondary… The whole point of pressuring is to disrupt the offense. If you can
minimize that there are opportunities to make plays.”

It was pretty clear to Carroll, and just about every coaching staff that Notre Dame played last season, that Tenuta was sending blitzers on just about every down, and the offensive staffs made adjustments to counter the pressure, and merely exploited the space in the secondary to make big offensive plays.

If you’re looking for one reason why the Notre Dame defense will get better, Bob Diaco offered it Tuesday when he spoke to the media after practice. While Diaco never mentioned any of the problems that plagued the Irish defense last season, he diagnosed perfectly what went wrong. 

“The one thing that has to happen for sure, you’ve got to ask the players to do the things that they can do well… But with that said, if you get too one-sided in particular, then you’re just too easy to attack.

“On the one hand, you understand that through self-scout that you need some more multiplicity and do some different things and activate some different things, and at the same time, you know in doing that, you may be asking some players to do some things that aren’t their greatest assets. I think that there’s a point in time that you just have to do it, so you don’t become too particularly one sided.

“I would say that from one year to the next, I’d like to think we can move that way. It seems like there are players that can do a lot of different jobs.”

One of the things that baffled me the most was that Charlie Weis never seemed to be able to self-diagnose the problems that plagued the defense, when even the most average football minds (i.e. all of us) could see it plain as day.

Sure, Weis never coached defense, but his two mentors, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, were great defensive tacticians, and it hardly takes someone with a Hall of Fame pedigree to see that Notre Dame was dying a slow death by the blitz.

While Diaco did his best to answer the question from a far different perspective, it’s clear that this Irish coaching staff self-scouted the personnel they have, and understood the problems that sunk last year’s defensive unit.

I supposed we’ll find out soon enough if they solved the problem. 

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.