Plays behind the line of scrimmage critical for Irish D


There are plenty of good things you can say about Bob Diaco’s Fighting Irish defense from 2010. Playing in a new system with virtually the same guys that were part of a historically bad outfit, the unit grew to be one of the strengths of the team, playing sufficating football down the stretch as the Irish didn’t lose a game after Tulsa.

But if you’re looking for one important statistical category where the Irish didn’t match up, it was making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Irish defense finished a mediocre 76th in tackles for loss (TFLs), putting up 68 on the season, an average of just over five a game.

The 2009 Irish, while finishing a woeful 86th in total defense managed to finish 55th in TFLs, making 73 in the last year of Charlie Weis/Jon Tenuta, leading you to wonder if the fundamental differences in CW & BK’s systems might have contributed to the lack of plays made behind the line of scrimmage. But that theory’s all but proven bunk when you consider Brian Kelly’s Cincinnati defense that was directed by Diaco finished 4th in the country with 110 TFLs in 2009, all with an incredibly inexperienced unit.

You can argue about the philosophies of defensive coordinators until you’re blue in the face. But one thing is certain after looking at the top dozen teams in college football. Each had someone that made more plays behind the line of scrimmage than Notre Dame, who was led by Darius Fleming and his 11 TFLs.

Here’s a quick look at the top 12 teams from 2010, looking at their TFLs and leading defensive playmaker:

No. 1 Auburn: 99 Total TFLs (DT Nick Fairley — 24.0)
No. 2 TCU: 75 Total TFLs (DE Wayne Daniels — 14.0)
No. 3 Oregon: 97 Total TFLs (DE Kenny Rowe — 16.5)
No. 4 Stanford: 71 Total TFLs (LB Chase Thomas — 11.5)
No. 5 Ohio State: 75 Total TFLs  (DT Cameron Heyward — 13.0)
No. 6 Oklahoma: 106 Total TFLs (DE Jeremy Beal — 19.0)
No. 7 Wisconsin: 66 Total TFLs (DE J.J. Watt — 21.0)
No. 8 LSU: 88 Total TFLs (DT Drake Nevis — 13.0)
No. 9 Boise State: 109 Total TFLs (Two players tied at 13.5)
No. 10 Alabama: 75 Total TFLs (LB Courtney Upshaw — 14.5)
No. 11 Nevada: 87 Total TFLs (LB Dontay Moch — 22.0)
No. 12 Arkansas: 95 Total TFLs (LB Jerry Franklin — 13.0)

Only Wisconsin finished with less TFLs than the Irish, and they had J.J. Watt, one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic players and a total defense that finished in the country’s top 20.

As Darius Fleming finds himself more comfortable in the Irish defense, expect Diaco to make more plays behind the line of scrimmage. This is the same system that gave a converted tight end in Connor Barwin the chance to flourish at a similar position to the one Fleming plays. Barwin’s 12 sacks during his final season in Cincinnati rocketed him up draft boards, turning into a second round pick. Can that be Fleming’s fate?

Notre Dame’s done a very good job of adding size and speed to the edges of their defense. The Irish will have an opportunity to confuse and attack defenses offenses with freshman Aaron Lynch ready to make his presence known as a pass-rusher.

More importantly, Diaco will have at his disposal a variety of very good stand-up edge players, with guys like Steve Filer being joined by young players like Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams. Danny Spond also has a chance to make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage.

The Irish finished essentially middle-of-the-road in sacks, a category that all but tells the same story. With a secondary better versed for Chuck Martin’s system and a defensive line that’s older and wiser, Diaco should be able to take a defense struggling to get by in remedial classes last season and dial things up to an AP Level this year.

If the Irish can do that, expect everybody to graduate with honors.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.


C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)


Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 


Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.


ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.


Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.


WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president


On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.


Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)