The Dynamic Duo of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt might just become a power trio. That’s because of the emergence of sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day, who has opened more than a few eyes with his work over the summer and in fall camp. After playing limited snaps as a true freshman, Day has stepped in for Kapron Lewis-Moore and is quickly looking like a start in the making.
Don’t believe the hype? Well, it sounds like head coach Brian Kelly does.
“I mean, I know all the talk is about Nix and Tuitt, but I can tell you, Sheldon Day is… just watch the film,” Kelly said. “His first step quickness, he’s an impressive football player. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody on our football team right now. He’s as impressive of a football player that we have on our defense.”
Considering Notre Dame has two guys up front that might be top 15 picks in the NFL Draft, Day’s trade value, even if it is in a strict hypothetical, is really impressive.
One of the things that’s probably most interesting about Day is the fact that he’s not cut from the traditional mold you’d expect in Kelly and Bob Diaco’s defense. While Day had the type of elite offers that made him a recruit that was targeted on the national level (LSU and Florida don’t come after too many kids from Indianapolis), at 6-foot-2, 280-pounds, he was a bit of a tweener on the Irish defense, especially when he was being pursued as a defensive end.
Perhaps it was because he lacked the star-power of other big names like Tuitt, Aaron Lynch or Ishaq Williams, but Day flew under the radar heading into South Bend, even though he was doing things early in his career that clearly showed a capacity for excellence. Consider how quickly Day has moved into the role of an every snap player.
“Right now if there’s an eight-play drive, he does not come out of the game,” Kelly said Monday. “He’s the one that does not come out of the game. His work volume, his ability to go. His pass rush ability. He’s an outstanding football player.”
Just about every coach has raved about Day. Defensive line coach Mike Elston speaks highly of Day, reportedly raving about his skills at the coaches clinic. Kelly has called Day one of the most difficult blocking assignments along the defensive line, and a year in the weight room will only enhance that skillset.
If anything, Day is a nice reminder that while this staff recruits to a profile, it’s more art than science when they look at film and project a player. Last year, Prince Shembo was one of the team’s most productive players, all while looking like a player that Notre Dame wouldn’t have even recruited on paper because of his physical profile alone.
With offensive line coaches committing plenty of bodies to blocking preseason All-Americans Nix and Tuitt, Day could find himself in quite a few spots to take advantage of one-on-one match-ups. That could mean Day receives star billing sooner than later.