Apr 18, 2014, 12:36 PM EDT
Brian VanGorder hit a hard reset on Notre Dame’s defensive scheme, turning Bob Diaco’s scheme inside out.
Diaco unit was powered through his front line, VanGorder’s relies on a rock-solid secondary. After finding and employing jumbo-sized, downhill linebackers, VanGorder will rely on athleticism and quickness. And after building and maintaining one of the stoutest three-man defensive fronts in Irish memory, Sheldon Day will be asked to lead a group with talent, but a ton of question marks.
Key pieces will be added to the depth chart this summer, namely Florida transfer Cody Riggs and linebacker Nyles Morgan. But with 15 spring practices behind us, let’s take a look at the post-spring depth chart for the defense.
DE — Romeo Okwara, Jr.
DT — Sheldon Day, Jr.
DT — Jarron Jones, Jr.
DE — Ishaq Williams
DE — Anthony Rabasa, Sr.
DT — Chase Hounshell, Sr.
DT — Tony Springmann, Sr.
DE — Isaac Rochell, Soph.
DT — Justin Utupo, Grad Student
DE — Andrew Trumbetti, Fr.
Trending: If there’s a position group that still remains a very large question mark, this is it. On paper, there is plenty of talent. But we’ve seen none of it. Okwara and Williams are locked in as the team’s starting defensive ends exiting spring. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready for the jobs, with both transitioning positions.
The interior of the defensive line looks strong with Day and Jones anchoring it, though what the Irish can expect from Chase Hounshell and a still-recovering-from-serious-knee-surgery Tony Springmann, remains to be seen. Springmann was close to healthy throughout spring, but was held out as a precaution. Isaac Rochell contributed as a freshman, but will need to do more in his second year of eligibility, a reasonable request for a guy that looks the part.
Both Rabasa and Trumbetti showed flashes during the spring and we’ve heard some nice things about them. But we’re four years into Rabasa’s time in South Bend and he’s yet to produce. Trumbetti should be attending prom not football practice, and he doesn’t appear to be the type of freakish athlete that walks onto the field and dominates.
1. Jaylon Smith, Soph.
2. Joe Schmidt, Sr.
3. John Turner, Jr.
4. Kendall Moore, Grad Student
5. Ben Councell, Sr.
6. Michael Deeb, Soph.
7. James Onwualu, Soph.
8. Doug Randolph, Soph.
?. Jarrett Grace, Sr.
Trending: This position is a bit of a mess. No doubt, Jaylon Smith is a star. And shifted into the Will linebacker spot, he’ll be immensely productive. Joe Schmidt is too reliable to take off the field. But who hits the field as the third linebacker is anybody’s guess. Getting Jarrett Grace back from injury would be key. But it’s hard to imagine that’ll happen early in the season, if at all. When Ben Councell returns from his knee injury, he’ll be a bit of a misfit in this system. He could transition into a defensive end, or continue playing on the edge of the defense.
Consider this less of a depth chart and more of a body count. John Turner seems to have locked in his role as a nickel linebacker. James Onwualu looks like he’ll play as well. Expect Kendall Moore and Michael Deeb to play when the time comes for a downhill battle in the box against a running team. Doug Randolph is an impressive looking linebacker as well, though he sat out last season with a shoulder injury.
CB — KeiVarae Russell, Jr.
S — Max Redfield, Soph.
S — Austin Collinsworth, Grad Student
CB — Cole Luke, Soph.
CB — Devin Butler, Soph.
S — Elijah Shumate, Jr.
S — Eilar Hardy, Sr.
CB — Matthias Farley, Sr.
CB — Josh Atkinson, Sr.
S — Nicky Baratti, Jr.
CB — Jalen Brown, Sr.
Trending: This is the strength of the defense. KeiVarae Russell is on the trajectory to be an elite cornerback. (So was Bennett Jackson last year, so it’s a little early to make that declaration.) Both Cole Luke and Devin Butler have the ability to be starting cornerbacks as well, made stronger with the addition of Cody Riggs. The Irish have better cornerback depth — at least at the top — than they’ve had in years.
Safety is still up for grabs. That Max Redfield didn’t play a lot in the Blue-Gold game says good things about him — he’s too important to lose. Austin Collinsworth needs to show the type of instincts that make up for just okay athleticism. Elijah Shumate had a nice spring game and Eilar Hardy was productive last season.
Realistically, we could be seeing five members of the secondary starting next season, with the best 11 likely featuring Riggs among this starting group, or Farley covering receivers or tight ends in the slot. Depth is still an issue, but talent doesn’t seem to be.
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