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Diaco gives insight into recruiting defensive players

Aug 20, 2012, 2:31 PM EST

Bob Diaco hat

When Bob Diaco talks, I always try to listen. Whether he’s quoting Gandhi or talking werewolves, the Irish’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach is one of the more thoughtful and eclectic guys you’d ever ask to be around, and you’re always going to get an interesting interview session.

Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated had a chance to get a few minutes with Diaco at Notre Dame’s Media Day and the exchange was really interesting. As you’d expect with Diaco, there were candid moments where he gave a great deal of insight into how this coaching staff puts together its defense, and others where he tried to protect some of what he believes to be proprietary. Either way, I thought it’d be worth sharing, as it gives you a great look into how Notre Dame has so quickly turned its defense around.

After being perennially undersized in the front seven, the first thing the Irish have done is simply get bigger. Targeting and finding physically impressive players isn’t necessarily a game-changing thought, but it certainly is something that’s been taken seriously by this coaching staff, as we’ve routinely seeing bigger and stronger players being recruiting since Brian Kelly took over the program.

When asked about the physical characteristics Diaco is looking for — in both linebackers, and defenders in general — he was remarkably candid.

“We really don’t like small players, in general,” Diaco told Irish Illustrated. “We believe that if we have a big defense, we’re going to have a chance to have a good defense. How good? We don’t know. But when we come off the bus, if we’re as big or bigger than our opponent, we believe we’ll have a good chance to have a good defense.”

For those worried that Notre Dame is merely looking for bulk, Diaco did a nice job of acknowledging the subtleties, while making it clear that the Irish stay within their program while looking for positional fits in their defense. When asked if there’s a line to draw between size and speed, Diaco again gave a great look inside the system.

“It depends on the position and the position needs,” Diaco told Irish Illustrated. “When you go out to recruit, you have to look at your position to then, inside of that,  make some small choices to keep the position moving forward. You look at your position and you say, ‘Hey, will this player make the position better?’ Some years it’s size, some years maybe it’s intangible traits like toughness, aggressiveness. Some years it might be speed.

“So as you look at your position, you hope it’s all within a small little change. You’re still not going to come off the profile from a size standpoint to get a little guy who is really fast, which a lot of teams do. A lot of teams chase the production, chase players for players’ sake, chase the ratings, chase flashes of things. But then you plug them into your defense and it’s like, ‘He really can’t function. They can’t do the jobs we ask them to do.’ So it’s important that we stay disciplined in our approach that way.”

Just how big Notre Dame’s defense has gotten is pretty incredible. It’s not hard to think back on recent memories and recall undersized defensive linemen getting beaten off the ball, and little linebackers like Maurice Crum or Travis Thomas struggle to stand up to opposing offenses.

This year, that’s not going to be the case. With Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt surrounding Louis Nix (and Kona Schwenke) on the defensive line, and Manti Te’o and Dan Fox anchoring the inside linebacker positions with Prince Shembo (or Ishaq Williams) and Ben Councell likely holding down the outside linebacker spots, that’s a massive front seven by any measurement.

How big? Well, here’s a quick breakdown of the Irish’s starting front seven’s collective weight against some pretty elite company:

Notre Dame: 1920 pounds
Alabama: 1907 pounds
Michigan State: 1869 pounds
USC: 1800 pounds
Oklahoma: 1792 pounds

Looking good getting off the bus isn’t the same thing as playing like an elite defense. But as  Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick even acknowledged, getting your team into the same stratosphere as the elite programs in college football was a big first step in the right direction.

* Weight data compiled by FunkDoctorSpock

  1. nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    For all the things there are to like about Diaco, there are also some serious question marks too.
    The Navy game where they looked caught off guard that the Middies ran the option
    Then the last drive against Michigan.
    And the worst of all, the 2nd half against FSU.
    Hammering a team into submission in the 1st half and he changes the scheme in the 2nd half.

    WTF

    Is he a good coach? Probably. Good recruiter too, and the players seem to like him.
    Is he a “great” coach? I don’t see how anyone can conclude that.

    • don74 - Aug 20, 2012 at 3:58 PM

      Nude,

      In the words of Bill Parcells, “let’s not get out the annointing oil” but we have to look at him compared to what we had.

      After all too many years of average, poor and lousy defenses he is a breath of fresh air.

      Agreed, there are some things that don’t make sense but we don’t have all the information.

      Sometimes the players simply don’t execute or there are breakdowns about which we never learn.

      The jury is out, but it is pointing in the right direction.

      • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:06 PM

        Don
        Agree. On balance there are more positives; by far.

        BTW, I wrote what I thought was a balanced, overall positive comment about Diaco
        As of this writing, 5 thumbs down
        Not that I care, and in some ways getting massive thumbs down is more interesting
        But I guess people just want kool aid here

        Nudeman doesn’t deal in kool aid
        Just the facts, maam

      • dmac4real - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:46 PM

        Nude

        I am one who gave you a thumbs down. Heres why:

        Your point on Navy. Yes that was horribly disappointing and he admitted his failure there. However, since then his defenses have done nothing but dominant triple option opponents. Hes made the triple option woes a thing of the past (hopefully i dont eat my words in 11 days).

        You have harped on Gary Gray more than anybody I have ever seen. That last UofM drive was Gray’s fault and you have said so yourself, but now you blamed Diaco, and thats just kinda contradictory.

        FSU. That was bad, but over stated. Everyone claims that he stopped blitzing which just isn’t true. He only blitzed like 3or4 more times in the first half then second. The difference was the young, big FSU line adjusted and finally picked up some pressure. Besides, anytime we let of only 18 points, he cant be blamed for the loss, especially when his defense got 7 of them.

        Its probably to early to say hes a great coach, but hes beginning to flirt with that line. He took a horrid defense to what we have today, which isn’t too shabby.

      • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:54 PM

        dmac
        1) I stated, then clarified that overall he’s a good coach. WTF?
        2) He’s undeniably a great recruiter. Could someday be a great coach too

        3) You got me mixed up with someone else. Gary Gray? I defy you to find a single post where I’ve mentioned him on the UM game or anywhere else. This might be the first time I’ve typed “Gary Gray”. The truth is I’m not sure where the blame lies. I’ve heard people blame Diaco; I’ve heard others blame Gray. Without going back and looking at film – I’ll never watch a single play of that game ever again – I don’t know. I do know that they never should have been in that position in the first place.

      • dmac4real - Aug 20, 2012 at 6:50 PM

        Nude

        Good to see we actually are in agreement. Apologies for the GG thing, obviously have you mixed up with someone else. Go Irish.

    • obie1818 - Aug 21, 2012 at 8:00 AM

      Nude,

      Listen to people talk about Diaco around the country. We aren’t getting a better D coach in South Bend. Covering Denard Robinson is not easy especially when he somehow starts throwing. You flat out cant win when you have 5 turn overs I think we proved that last yr with every loss when we had 3-5 turn overs. …

      • nudeman - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        Again … I like Diaco
        Think he is a good coach and a great recruiter
        A few glaring mistakes keep me from saying he’s “great”

        Agree with you on the 5 turnovers
        More than anything Diaco did on that last drive, Tommy Rees lost that game

      • nudeman - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:09 AM

        Again … I like Diaco
        Think he is a good coach and a great recruiter
        A few glaring mistakes keep me from saying he’s “great” coach

        Agree with you on the 5 turnovers
        More than anything Diaco did on that last drive, Tommy Rees lost that game

  2. bearcatirishfan - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    How does a jury point? do they have to use the spokesman? Are they even allowed to point before they render their verdict?

    Sorry for the mindless post, but with less then two weeks to go I want enjoy the run up to the season how about some levity, and no team or coach bashing until aft the navy game.

    • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      I’d like a good barroom brawl here, myself
      Where’s Goat?
      Some old fashioned name calling then chair throwing
      Sort of miss those days …

      Alas

      • NotreDan - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:31 PM

        *taking one last swig of Bushmills and rolling up my sleeves*

        I’m in. we picking sides or just a free-for-all?

      • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:46 PM

        You say Bushmills
        I say Paddy’s

        No need for sides. Just whoever you see, break a bar stool over their teeth
        Get all the bad blood and bad vibes out; cleanse the soul; air it all out

        And may the last man standing make sure we beat Michigan

      • papadec - Aug 20, 2012 at 8:17 PM

        Hey nude – John Wayne played football for usc.

      • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 8:36 PM

        Yes papa,
        I realize that.
        But he was the Duke and that was last century. So we’re gonna’ let him slide.
        THIS time.

    • don74 - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:34 PM

      OK, since “Tommy Rees” will no longer incite a riot….I think we are left with the punting game.

      Ben Turk’s 2013 average….I have the over/under at 37 yards and I’m taking the under.

      I also am betting we continue to lose field position with every punt

      over/under for punt returns for the season 10. Again, I taking the under.

      3 kickoffs out of bounds all occurring at a critical point in the game.

      there’s been a lot of talk regarding process in offense with Martin, defense with Diaco, Kelly with QB’s but it’s been special teams by committee. WTF?

      1/3 of the game is special teams and we have no idea what’s going on.

      Special teams will make or break a big year.

      • nudeman - Aug 20, 2012 at 5:22 PM

        Turk got a lot better last year as time went on.
        Even went to a rugby style thing that seemed to work 100% of the time

        Punt returns were a joke.
        After Riddick spit the bit in the opener, they told Goodman to fair catch everything. Wow. I think their avg return was something like .6/yard.

        I think a typical career path has a lot of coaches coaching special teams, then going on from there. I’d guess most teams see high turnover there.

      • bernhtp - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:41 PM

        Nude’s right on this one. Turk started out miserably, but got much better as the year progressed. I’ll take the over at 37.

        Speaking of kicking, what is going on with Brindza? His HS highlight video was among the most impressive I’ve ever seen. I expected him to win not only the kickoff job, but the punting and placekicking by now. He started off strong – huge leg – on kickoffs but then seemed to go into a funk.

      • georgegipp - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:57 PM

        I have to agree with Don. Punting been a tremendous under performer during the last 2 seasons. I don’t know if Kelly thinks he has other, more pressing problems (e.g. offense) that he must address first or if he just doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on special teams as a coach.

        Kickoff returns were quite good last year, but unclear to me if that was just the talent of GAIII or reflective of a more holistic coaching emphasis. Either way, Kelly does deserve credit for that (either for recruiting GAIII or for the coaching emphasis or both).

        I’ll take over on the returns. The punting yardage is a tough one, but I’ll go over (only slightly) on just optimism alone.

        Given that kickoff rules are changing this year, I reckon that the teams that figure it out correctly will have a nice advantage – at least in the beginning of the season. I hope the Irish are one of those teams.

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 20, 2012 at 10:11 PM

        I’d say the answer is simple….stop punting…just like that high school coach that doesn’t punt EVER.

        He’s something like 120-6 over the past 15 years. I don’t think USC is on their schedule, but they might play a few SEC teams early in the season. I think SEC teams schedule high school cupcake games early, right?

        Who’s with me…NO PUNTING! (idratherbeinsouthbend ducks under a chair swung at him by nudeman)

      • nudeman - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM

        Don’t know if I can go along with “no punting”
        It would deprive us of great moments in ND football
        Like Tommy Rees 3 yard quick kick last year

  3. gtizzo - Aug 20, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Nice Keith,

    Kind of the T-bone steak approach to defense…interesting.

  4. jomilly - Aug 20, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    One thing about Diaco that I think can be agreed upon. Is that he is getting better as a coach. Year 1 was tough, but he got them playing well at the end. Last year had some hiccups, but overall improvement. I expect more progress this year. I like that he improves, it may be the players getting better, but Ill attribute that to him also. I look forward to the next step this year.

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 20, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    Alright Keith, we know our front 7 are big, but the question is can they be nasty? Can that collective 1920 lbs wreak some havoc, force some TO’s, get some pressure and rack up some sacks and TFL’s? I am hoping to be pleasantly floored by the production of this D. We have to nail this thing down at the point of attack because our secondary is a big question so far. While getting bigger bodies is certainly a step in the right direction, I’d kill to see a little more nasty out there. Hopefully, with Teo back in playing form, he’ll light up some middies and inspire the nasty in this team.

    • bernhtp - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:47 PM

      I expect them to be nasty, but I hope they stick to their technique and plan in dealing with little fast Navy guys that cut block under them. Tuitt needs to reach down, pick up a Navy OT, and throw him at the ball carrier. Maybe Irish Chocolate needs to just lie down and squish someone. Now that would be nasty.

  6. glowplugv - Aug 20, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    I know off topic, but I was hoping to hear who got the most reps at QB today.
    In the meantime, a good article in the SB Tribune by Eric Hansen about how Golson has matured: http://www.southbendtribune.com/sports/collegesports/notredame/sbt-notre-dame-football-the-ascendance-of-everett-golson-20120818,0,6484161.story

  7. irishdodger - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:45 PM

    In other defensive news….Lo Wood out for he season w/ a torn Achilles. Who needs probation when the players are dropping like flies?

    • bernhtp - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:48 PM

      Really? Ouch!! He was just getting great scouting reports.

      Next man in.

    • bernhtp - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:50 PM

      Here’s that article:

      http://www.irishsportsdaily.com/football/football-articles/7500-lo-wood-out-for-the-season

  8. don74 - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    Lo Wood out with achilles injury. Looks like his season is over.

    • don74 - Aug 20, 2012 at 9:52 PM

      looks like we all saw it at the same time,

  9. joeschu - Aug 21, 2012 at 8:24 AM

    Keith – Big up’s for quoting “FunkDoctorSpock”

    That HAS to go on your journalistic highlight reel!

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