Indianapolis Star

Freshman Focus: Jaylon Smith


The crown jewel of the Irish recruiting class, Jaylon Smith begins his Notre Dame career as the school’s highest ranked defensive prospect in the modern recruiting era. The top high school linebacker in the country, Smith is an all-everything recruit, a headliner on every All-American team, and a prospect coveted by schools coast to coast.

After guiding his Bishop Luers high school team to four straight state titles, Smith exits his Indiana high school football career one of the most decorated players the state has ever seen. Starring as both a running back and linebacker, Smith will now focus on playing defense for the Irish, where his elite athletic ability and explosiveness give Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco a defender unlike any they’ve previously had. While it’s a big jump from small-school Indiana football, Smith walks onto campus expected to be one of the future stars of college football, a hype that often times is tough to match.

Let’s take a closer look at Jaylon Smith.


A consensus top-five player in the country, Smith was universally viewed as the top outside linebacker in the country. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, Smith picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, where his brother plays for Urban Meyer.

The Butkus Award winner at the high school level, Smith was a Parade All-American, first team USA Today All-American, and Indiana’s Mr. Football. He was team captain for the West squad at the US Army All-American Bowl. Put simply, there’s no better prospect on paper than Smith.


Expect to see Smith on the field early and often. Where might be the only real question, with Danny Spond firmly entrenched at the Dog linebacker position and Prince Shembo one of the top Cat linebackers in the country. That said, Smith brings something to the outside linebacker depth chart that nobody else can – an elite athletic profile that isn’t often seen.

On the summer camp circuit, Smith hopped from position to position, dominating drills as a wide receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker or cover corner. While he’ll need to add bulk and get used to the physicality demanded in Diaco’s defense, he’s the type of athlete that the coaching staff will find a way to get on the field.

With the Irish finally having the personnel to utilize nickel and dime packages, expect Smith to be featured in specialty groupings, either using his speed in coverage or coming off the edge as a pass rusher.


The sky is the limit for Smith. Athletically, he has few equals. And as the Irish’s standout ’13 recruiting class was coming together, Smith showed himself to be the type of leader that gets Kelly and his staff more than excited.

“The thing that’s most impressive is the character of this young man and his energy,” Kelly said of Smith on Signing Day. “He just has it. When he walks into a room, the room kind of lightens up, and that’s the kind of personality that he is, and he is one tough football player, as well.”

Smith will grow into that leadership role, with the Irish filled with quality upperclassmen ready to handle those responsibilities. The same can be said for his role on the field. With Spond entering his senior season, there’s no need to force Smith to be the type of every down player you’d expect out of a recruit in a similar stratosphere. But finding where to play Smith will be the biggest challenge for this staff, and will likely be dictated by Smith’s development in the weight room.

Right now, you could make an argument for Smith playing a handful of different positions on both sides of the ball. But after watching Anthony Barr turn into one of the most dangerous edge players in the game, you can expect to see Smith develop in the same way. And that should have Irish fans very excited.


Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”