Diaco

The force of Diaco’s defense

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There were plenty of interesting tidbits to come out of Media Day, but one article I found particularly interesting was written by Al Lesar of the South Bend Tribune.

In a question that was presumably asked to get defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to talk about the strength of the Irish defense — defensive tackles Sean Cwynar and Louis Nix, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and safety Harrison Smith — Diaco revealed one of the fundamental beliefs in his defensive system: Force.

Before you think this is an homage to Star Wars, Diaco — a man prone to giving complex thoughts and answers to seemingly straight forward questions (just check out his fake Twitter account), really gave us a great look inside the defense he runs, all thanks to a question Lesar posed during media sessions.

Here’s the exact exchange (which you can watch here, thanks to Blue&Gold’s video feed.)

Lesar: In baseball they talk about defense up the middle. Catcher, second base, shortstop, centerfield, How about football? How important is that, and how are you guys? You’ve got some experience there.

Diaco: You know Al, that’s a great question. I really enjoy talking about things like that. I have an older, retired defensive coordinator who I’m very close with who is a world champion that was talking to me and it started out as force.

Whatever you do, whatever you put together, whatever ideas you’re entertaining, start with ‘force’ – that is, the edge of each defense.

“I don’t want to minimize up the middle, because that’s next, but it begins with ‘force.’ Who has ‘force?’ What’s the position like physically? Where are his eyes? Where is he aligned? Are we giving him an opportunity to win that individual matchup to create ‘force?’”

If you have force on each side, and up the middle defense related to nose, mike and in the middle of the field safety, you’re probably going to have a good defense.

Lesar: And where is your force coming from?

Diaco: It changes every call. We’ll rotate the players that are responsible for force. they understand they’re responsible for force. That’s where all the installation and lecture happens at the beginning of the meeting. It begins with force and changes with each call.

One of the first things I noticed when spending time with the Irish coaching staff last summer was the philosophic importance of force in the Irish defense. Everything starts with setting the edge of the defense. This is the bedrock for their unit.

Because of that, you can understand why it’s been so important for Brian Kelly and company to reload players on the edge of the defense, and do it with physically stout guys. The Irish are looking for people that fit a specific mold, and we’ve seen the fruits of this staff’s recruiting labor with mammoth prospects like Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas, Ben Councell and Tony Springmann. Guys that profiled as defensive ends by recruiting analysts like Justin Utupo or Anthony Rabasa have been shifted to inside linebacker, a position where these guys fit in the schematic build of the Irish defense.

As I’ve noted before and Pete Thamel of the New York Times mentioned today, Kelly and his defensive staff have brought in seven players over 6-foot-5, an obvious reflection of the need to bring in big bodies and remedy a squad that was recruiting undersized players from the start.

While Irish fans have gotten themselves bent out of shape with a lack of recruiting at positions like defensive tackle, Diaco and Kelly’s strategy toward building the edges of the defense shows just how important force is in a defense like Notre Dame’s.

 

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.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”