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Under Pressure: Where will the Irish find their pass rush?

Apr 25, 2014, 1:57 PM EDT

US Presswire US Presswire

Brian VanGorder’s media access has been limited to a small handful of interview opportunities. But that didn’t stop the Irish’s new defensive coordinator from uttering what amounts to a mission statement for his defense.

“My mindset, especially in today’s game, is to take more and more control on defense by being more aggressive,” VanGorder said. “It starts out (at cornerback). That’s where you start your decisions as a coach. Can we hold up out there? If you’ve got a corner that can press and take a guy out of a game, that’s a huge advantage. That makes sense to all of us. But you can’t just do it to do it.”

In what amounts to the most radical coaching change in the Kelly era, VanGorder’s defense is almost the inverse of Bob Diaco’s. And it also fits the personnel the Irish have, with KeiVarae Russell, Cody Riggs, Cole Luke, Matthias Farley and Devin Butler headlining one of the strongest positions on the roster.

But covering receivers is one thing. Getting after the quarterback is another. And if VanGorder’s defense is built around aggression and pressure, finding the players to provide that spark is as essential as the back end of the defense.

Heading into offseason conditioning, consider these five players crucial in providing the pass rush.

ROMEO OKWARA
Career Sacks: 0.5

That Okwara was just thrown into a starting defensive end job tells you quite a bit about the depth chart after Stephon Tuitt decided to head to the NFL early. On paper, he looks the part of a 4-3 defensive end, and at 6-foot-4, 258-pounds he’s got the length and size to be dangerous.

But Okwara has spent more time backpedaling than rushing the passer in his career, and has been a utility replacement player for two seasons. There’s no more part time work for Okwara anymore. He’ll be counted on to beat offensive tackles and wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield.

A productive spring ended with a nice performance in the Blue-Gold game. But the work has only just begun for Okwara.

 

ISHAQ WILLIAMS
Career Sacks: 1

It’s beginning to feel a little bit like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown with Williams, but Brian Kelly was cautiously optimistic about Williams heading into spring practice, where the now veteran defensive end desperately needs to lead this defense.

At 6-foot-5.5 and 271-pounds, Williams has an NFL body and athleticism. He just hasn’t shown any of the production after arriving in South Bend with a five-star ranking and immense expectations. Being stuck behind Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo didn’t help. But Williams’ job has been simplified this spring by VanGorder. Go get the quarterback and make plays.

We’ll see if he’s able to do that in his final fall playing for Notre Dame.

JAYLON SMITH
Career Sacks: 0

You’d be foolish to think that VanGorder wouldn’t utilize his best defensive weapon in the pass rush, especially after watching Smith’s brief cameo in the spring game. The team’s best athlete, Smith is already set to be the team’s best playmaker, and a shift to Will linebacker could make him even more productive.

The Irish haven’t been a very good blitzing football team the past few years. But VanGorder was incredibly successful with zone blitzes with the Atlanta Falcons and just spent a year with Rex Ryan, one of the NFL’s true mad scientists.

Expect him to utilized his most skilled pupil.

SHELDON DAY
Career Sacks: 2.5

Let’s give Day a mulligan for 2013, when an early high ankle sprain ruined his efficiency early in the season. But Day will shift inside to defensive tackle in VanGorder’s new system, and should only come off the field when opponents call in the punt team.

Kelly has raved about Day’s ability and explosiveness since he early enrolled. Against Temple, Day was the team’s best defensive lineman. But after suffering the ankle injury against Purdue, it took almost until the season finale to get the Indianapolis native back to 100 percent.

The Irish’s best defensive lineman needs to get to the quarterback. Able to attack a gap and get up field, Day should be able to utilize a very elite skillset that makes him dangerous.

ANDREW TRUMBETTI (or FRESHMAN X)
Career Sacks: 0

You can forgive Trumbetti if this spring was a bit of culture shock. Instead of running track, throwing a shot put, and going to prom, the New Jersey native was tasked with learning an NFL defensive system in 15 practices.

The transition won’t be much easier for the freshmen defenders coming to campus this summer. But thanks to some tweaks in NCAA rules, the Irish coaching staff will be able to study film and implement playbook changes with their new players, which could help get a young pass rusher up to speed.

Freshman Aaron Lynch made an impact as a pass rusher. So did Prince Shembo. Does Jonathan Bonner have the best chance of coming in and contributing off the edge? Is it more likely to be lanky and explosive Jhonny Williams? Or perhaps the added bulk that Grant Blankenship brings to campus will help him get on the field.

Either way, at a position with this little depth, expect a freshman to get a shot.

 

  1. padomer - Apr 25, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    I’m close to guranteeing that BVG was the best thing to happen to Ishaq. He strikes me as a kid who has all the tools but just doesn’t quite understand the sport. No disrespect to Diaco but I think Ishaq’s head was scrambled tryna worry bout responsibility in different scenarios etc. I thinik BVG will simplify the game for him and allow his natural gifts to shine (i.e. kill the man w the ball). I also think BVG is going to be far better than Diaco. Go Irish.

    • onward2victory - Apr 25, 2014 at 7:59 PM

      I hope you’re right about Ishaq.

      But Diaco brought the Irish defense from absolutely atrocious to the best in the country, so I’m not sure how BVG can be “far better” than that.

    • domerboyirish - Apr 26, 2014 at 12:00 PM

      Diaco’s defense accomplished what they set out to do which was to keep points of the board. His success was based on one statistic, the most important statistic of Points Allowed. However, that was the only thing we excelled in. Don’t get me wrong, he was charged with doing exactly what the team needed. Our weak offense often needed an entire game to score enough points to win. That was an entire ‘team’ philosophy that was needed with the personnel we had on the team/ running the offense. We were never very good at yards against, take away’s, sacks, etc. From that perspective we did not have an elite defense.

      All that changes moving forward. We should have an offense that wants to score, is capable of scoring frequently. We WANT the offense to have the ball as often as possible. We have continuous top 10 recruiting classes. We have athletes and talent that will allow us to play a much more aggressive defense. What this will do is create more changes for the offense. Even if we get burned twice a game, if turnovers ad three and outs caused by aggressive play and get the offense the ball 6 more times a game, I like those odds. That is where I agree that BVG can make this an elite defense which will be better than Diaco. However, we actually see this work effectively. Tenuta was aggressive but he had a bad combination of a lack of talent and a crappy design. If BVG can make his scheme work, and do it quickly, this defense will be better than Diaco’s If we have a steep learning curve, despite the talent, we could be in for a long year.

    • njnapa - Apr 26, 2014 at 4:41 PM

      I don’t see any reason to count on Ishaq for pass rush. And if he can’t do that, there is no reason to play him in this defense. I hope Van Gorder has a very short leash on him.

      Fortunately, the pressure will come from everywhere, and even when they aren’t coming-they will look like they are. College QBs will not be able to read this D and turnovers will once again be part of the defensive game plan.

      Under Diaco, they were missing-in-action.

    • nd1992 - Apr 26, 2014 at 8:39 PM

      Remember, when Ishaq was recruited, every one said that it would take him a minimum of 2-3 years to develop into a productive player. He was incredibly raw and from an area with a very poor level of football competition. So his lack of stats should not really come as a big surprise. It was pretty much expected.

      In an ideal world, he should have been “red-shirted.” Fortunately, the program has evolved to the point where freshmen are not forced into playing time. Barring an absolutely catastrophic run of injuries, if a freshman plays this year, it is because he earned it.

      • nudeman - Apr 26, 2014 at 10:56 PM

        Read somewhere the reason he wasn’t redshirted is that he had a very tough time adjusting to life at ND, wanted to leave, and in fact at one point did go back home for several days. Believe BK felt to keep him invested in ND he had to throw him a bone and play him.

      • onward2victory - Apr 27, 2014 at 3:46 AM

        @1992: If everyone expected Ishaq to take 2-3 years to develop into a productive player, then there’s no way he would have been a 5*. Truth is, his measurables got him those 5 stars, but he was very raw and he never should have been rated that highly.

        @nude: I’m sure your story is possible, but I think it’s more likely that Kelly played him because he was a 5 star recruit and everyone (fans, players, parents, etc) expects 5* players to play as true freshman. Case in point, Max Redfield should have been redshirted last year. But can you imagine the pressure from the fans and media that Kelly would have faced for not playing him, especially given how poor the safety play was last year. We would have all been screaming for Redfield.

      • nd1992 - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:49 PM

        The bottom line: never pay any attention to “star” rankings.

      • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        The front seven will absolutely need two or three freshman heavily involved.

  2. ndrocks2 - Apr 25, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    The entire front seven outside of Smith is up in the air and even Smith is changing positions. Lots of work to do between know and Rice. I’ll be happy to crown BVG but just for the hell of it I’ll wait and see how this shakes out.

    • ndgoldandblue - Apr 26, 2014 at 11:41 AM

      You wanna’ crown him? Then, crown his ass! But, he is who we thought he is! Ah, Denny Green. Oh, how I miss you.

    • ndfenian - Apr 26, 2014 at 10:29 PM

      I can’t remember ever seeing so many players transitioning to different positions.

  3. shaunodame - Apr 25, 2014 at 8:58 PM

    Jhonny Williams is going to be an absolute stud as a pass rusher. If not this year then definitely down the line. He’s got all the attributes of great pass rushers: speed, acceleration, intensity, length, and strength. Love this kids chances.

    • shaunodame - Apr 25, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      P.S. Let’s not forget about Kolin Hill either. He reminds me a lot of Romeo Okwara. Both were late bloomers and D-Ends in high school also.

    • onward2victory - Apr 25, 2014 at 9:23 PM

      I’m stoked to see Williams and Hill too. Hopefully they can redshirt tho unless they are good enough to see significant playing time.

  4. gtizzo - Apr 25, 2014 at 9:46 PM

    I think you making much ado about nothing Keith,

    Who are the most dangerous QBs on the schedule? Winston and Hogan. Throwing for a bunch of yards is something I don’t see happening by a Stanford QB. While Winston can light it up they also do run the ball a solid amount. Louisville has a new QB, USC doesn’t have a QB worth a second…third or even forth thought. Gardner still has a lot to prove…I could go on and on. Defense is about taking away one dimension away from a team. ND has the personal do that, what team they face will determine what dimension they need to take away.

    • ndgoldandblue - Apr 26, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      Gardner certainly proved himself against us last year. For what it’s worth, I agree. I think Gardner is a quarterback that can be easily contained by a solid defense. Just playing devil’s advocate.

      • shaunodame - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:33 PM

        Gardner was pretty average through the air against us last year. He killed u on the ground on the same play time and time again– the QB keep off of the Zone Read.

        With a few adjustments this year I don’t think he will have the same success.

  5. 25kgold - Apr 26, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    The best pass rush is 3rd and LONG! Just STOP the run…We’ll be just fine from there.

  6. yllibnosredna - Apr 26, 2014 at 5:03 AM

    Not on board with the unfounded optimism that ND will have a good pass rush. And I don’t agree with the sentiment that the opposing QBs aren’t capable of doing damage to us through the air. Granted our secondary appears very solid (sans Farley), but if we don’t generate a pass rush, opposing QBs will pick us apart. Guys can only cover for so long. And the question that Keith raises is a very legitimate one–Just where is the pass rush going to come from? Look at the stats above. Pretty alarmingly anemic if you ask me. There is reason to believe this will increase due to a more aggressive scheme, and the good news is it can’t get any worse than last year. But gone are the two most productive pass rushers in Tuitt and Nix. In addition, simply lining up our front 7 personnel no longer guarantees we’ll be stout against the run as Nix has departed and we lack ANY proven run-stuffing MLBs…I just think that BVG seriously has his hands full in trying to generate a pass rush from the front 7. He may have to implement some exotic secondary blitz packages to consistently get home. We’ll have to wait and see, but I would be pleasantly surprised if the ND defense even finishes in the top half of CFB in sack rankings.

    • onward2victory - Apr 26, 2014 at 5:16 AM

      You make some good points. Truth is, we really have no idea how good this defense will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if the secondary is stellar and we’re able to get to the QB early and often. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we can’t stop the run and teams just jam the ball down our throat until we fall for play action for a big gain. It really could go either way, and injuries always play a factor.

      • ndfenian - Apr 26, 2014 at 10:38 PM

        Jones and Day are gonna have to be very good, we have no choice. We can’t afford any injuries. I mean Jones was on the scout team at one point last year and Day barely has a year of game experience under his belt. We will also need a safety to emerge as a great run stopper. Maybe it’s Collinsworth but he doesn’t look like a Motta or Harrison smith.

  7. yllibnosredna - Apr 26, 2014 at 5:10 AM

    Correction: Two most productive pass rushers–Meant to put Tuitt and Shembo.

  8. yaketyyacc - Apr 26, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    AFTER KASSARINE PASS, ONE OF THE WORSE DEFEATS FOR THE AMEIRICAN ARMY, THE SAME QUESTION WAS ASKED. WHAT ONE MAN CAN DO. NOTRE DAME HAS THE MEN, AND NOW THE MAN, BRIAN VAN GORDER. HOW MANY DEFEATS DID THE ARMY SUFFER AFTER KASSRINE. NONE.

    • bernhtp - Apr 26, 2014 at 8:18 AM

      Seriously?

    • notredameirish1980 - Apr 26, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      You forgot the initial phases of the Battle of the Bulge, which is what we fought last year with Tuitt and Nix.

      • dbldmr - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        Bada bing.

    • alsatiannd - Apr 26, 2014 at 8:14 PM

      Rapido, Reipertswiller, Herrelsheim. Hurtgen Forest…Plenty of battles that turned into something horrible like the 2012 NCS game against Alabama.

    • 1historian - Apr 27, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      To compare football with real war is about as idiotic as it gets.

  9. yllibnosredna - Apr 26, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    @onward2victory, Agreed. Really don’t know. At this point, ND fans have every reason to be ecstatic about the offense’s overall potential and to be optimistic about the secondary, but it seems a healthy dose of skepticism should be applied when looking at the front seven’s ability to rush the passer and stop the run. If Ishaq Williams (the team’s biggest under-achiever at this point) is being counted upon–and I understand why considering his sheer athleticism and potential and lack of proven commodities–to bring the heat consistently off the edge, I am not so sure we should expect too much. But we’ll see–Time for that Williams’ NY driveway 4AM 2011 winter visit from B. Diaco to pay some dividends. On a side note, I’ve saved my cynicism for the kick/punt return/coverage units. I like BK and think he’s a very good coach, but whatever words come out of his mouth in relation to ND’s special teams’ units, should just be censored with a loud bleep until a new topic is broached–Worst excuses I have ever heard for poor special teams play the past few years. Nothing but a load of hot horse sh..t. Outside of place kicking (the one area that requires the least coaching and the one position where ND possesses a legit All-American candidate), I fully expect special teams tobe a disastrous cluster f..k yet again.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 26, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      Agree completely

    • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:28 PM

      The kick coverage team was a disaster last season. The kick return results were respectable. You just don’t see very many kick return TDs in college anymore which is unfortunate. There were 80 teams last year that had a better punt return avg than ND however.

  10. simmel65 - Apr 26, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Another thing to consider is that if the offense can score, we can get teams into a more predictable situation. If we can run the ball and chew the clock and score TD’s in the red zone, teams will be forced to throw more.

    Also, Notre Dame defensive linemen need to finish off plays. How many times did we see missed tackles or loss of containment last year? That was my biggest frustration. We had a lot of near miss sacks, that we just didn’t finish off.

    This season is going to be all on BK this year. He has done a great job recruiting and now he has the players he needs. The schedule is daunting, so that may have to be taken into consideration when we look back, but I’m really looking forward to this year! Very interesting!

    GO IRISH!

    • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:38 PM

      Yes, agree totally. We MUST have the running game in full gear, shortening games. Kelly should be planning on this now.

  11. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 26, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    There’s gonna be a blizzard:

  12. irishdog80 - Apr 26, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    My prediction is that Romeo puts on some pounds this summer and plays in the 270 lb range and will be a force on one side of the ball with a variety of blitzes coming off the opposite side. I want our opponents to have to react to our defense and worry plenty about how to plan for it. Most college QBs will have a tough time against an unpredictable and athletic defense. Put all the speed we can on the field on defense.

    This year’s schedule is a bear. That said, the 2015 schedule and, at this time, 20 likely returning starters in 2015 sure does bode well for the future. Now we just need to add a few dynamic playmakers on offense and defense in the 2015 recruiting class.

    Go Irish! Beat Rice!

  13. nudeman - Apr 26, 2014 at 11:06 PM

    Too much weight is being given to the “scheme” that BVG will play.
    Exotic schemes and blitzes are “exotic” for one game then they’re on tape for everyone to see, then become just another wrinkle.

    A DC can only do so much with average talent and at this point, aside from a few pieces (Jaylon, Day, Russell, maybe Luke and maybe Jarron Jones), at this point in time this looks like a very average unit.

    Can he take guys who’ve shown flashes (Jones, Okwara, Redfield) and develop them?
    THAT will determine the success of ND’s 2014 D, not schemes, 4-3, 3-4, 4-2-5, blitzes, etc.

    Going forward, he needs to be a great recruiter.

    • viktory2013 - Apr 27, 2014 at 12:10 AM

      Agree, don’t think BVG or the schematics will make that much of a difference. But in all honesty, Nix, Tuitt and Shembo were very mediocre last season and won’t be that difficult to replace. So were Fox, Calabrese and Jackson. In fact, an infusion of new blood might actually reawaken a defense that slept through 2013.
      Williams might have abilty we haven’t seen, but after 3 seasons you get the feeling he might be all talk. And just leave Farley at home.
      Smith, Morgan, Redfield, Okwara and Riggs are a strong nucleus, and if they jell we’ll be fine. If Jones and Day man up then the defense will be rock solid. Keep in mind the offense will actually be an asset this season.

      • 1historian - Apr 27, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        Good point – if the O is putting up (LOTS OF) points for the good guys (us) that means that the bad guys (them) will have to make adjustments on offense, i.e. make it a bit more predictable as in pass being more probable than run, therefore making it a bit easier for our D and hopefully building confidence in the D. I think there is plenty of talent there, but it is young and needs some confidence.

        I also think that having a NFL experienced DC will help get some big league defensive talent here.

      • ndgoldandblue - Apr 30, 2014 at 8:50 AM

        An asset if they can solve those redzone woes. There’s optimism that that problem will be remedied by a mobile quarterback, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • whiskeystraight - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:07 AM

      I think a big problem has been Diaco taking guys who were DEs and trying to make them OLBs. ND should have never gotten away from the 4-3. Who knows where Ishaq is now if he had been a 4-3 end for 3 years. Okwara, Councell, and Rabasa come to mind as well. Just because a guy is “rangy” doesn’t mean he should be dropping into coverage. I think there was a gross misuse of resources under the previous defensive administration.

      As far as scheme goes, hopefully BVG can DISGUISE a blitz. I could see every blitz coming the last four years, and so could the opposing team.

      • nudeman - Apr 27, 2014 at 10:43 AM

        I have to disagree here.
        First, of all the D snaps last year, do you know that they played 4-3 almost 50% of the time? So again, the scheme is getting WAY too much attention.

        Secondly, on Ishaq he’s only 265 or so and if you’re playing DE in a 4-3, you’re taking on 320 lb. tackles, some of whom will be playing in the NFL.
        Lynch was 270 and had flashes of brilliance as a pass rusher but was below average against the run. And Ishaq isn’t what Lynch was. Not even close.

        If Ishaq had game we’d have seen it by now. 3 years is a pretty good body of evidence.

      • irishdog80 - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:10 AM

        Interesting point. Even if we were playing a de facto 4-3 much of the time with Shembo with his hand on the ground, they (Ishaq, Shembo and others) had to prepare for the 3-4 responsibilities and took away from their focus.

        On another point, I get that you want to recruit to a “physical” profile. My issue was that you want to recruit “football players” first and then to the physical profile. Players like Luke Kuechly get passed over since they do not fit the “profile”. Give me a defense with a bunch of players with high football IQ that love contact and are football “fast” over a collection of combine warriors.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 27, 2014 at 1:54 PM

        Re ND played 4-3 50% of the time last year:
        The fact that the Cat linebacker puts his hand on the ground doesn’t mean they are playing a 4-3. Not 50% of the time; not 5% of the time. The very nature of the 3-4 allows for a tremendous amount of flexibility. Similarly, the fact that Harrison Smith used to come down an play in run support didn’t mean they had moved to a 3-5. So no. We didn’t realize we were playing a 4-3 50% of snaps. ‘Cause we weren’t.

        Re Ishaq playing on the line against 320 OTs:
        Strong side LBs playing in a 3-4, whether they set up on the LOS or 5 yards off, have to play against 320 OTs on the vast majority of run plays. Same for Mike LBs.

      • whiskeystraight - Apr 27, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        Nude I am aware they played just as much even front defense. However, the guys I mentioned split their practice time between 3-4 OLB and 4-3 DE. That is difficult for an NFL player with 60+ hours of practice and film each week, and next to impossible for a college kid with 20 hours to deal with. Why not let a DE be a DE? If Ishaq had spent the last 3 years as a 4-3 DE he wouldn’t be 265 now, more likely 280-290. And sure, he just may not be the guy he was projected to be. But in my opinion we may never know because he was moved out of position. Okwara is the same way. He would be 275 now with 2 solid years at the correct position. Rabasa may never be good enough to play, but we won’t know because he was put in the wrong position from day one.

    • mtflsmitty - Apr 27, 2014 at 2:19 PM

      I highly doubt BVG has ever spoken to his players about exotic anything. I’ve never been part of his schematic training sessions. But I suspect strongly he talks about employing a system that brings pressure of varying levels from varying places in varying combinations. Showing something one week doesn’t inherently make it less useful in subsequent weeks. I suspect his system is about creating confusion for the oppositions QB, OL and RBs. That should make them hard to game plan against…and that’s extremely valuable.

      “…at this point in time looks like a very average unit”. Really? Going to go way out on a limb there huh? It’s April and most of the players (sans those you excluded from your comment) have few starts among them. Oh, its how the players are developed that will matter most? Thanks.

      • nudeman - Apr 27, 2014 at 3:25 PM

        I wasn’t referring to what BVG has said.

        The “exotic” comment was in reply to the many posts I’ve read here from the last several weeks where guys like you are mentioning “exotic schemes” and getting all wrapped around the axle about crap like disguising their blitzing, 4/3 vs 3/4, blah blah.

        You know what matters most? (yes, I know you know, because you seem to think you know everything): Getting good players and ND doesn’t have enough of them on the D side of the ball.

        Apologies to the rest of the readers that I had to take this down to the 6th grade level for you.

        Turd.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 27, 2014 at 7:16 PM

        Nah. You’ve never read anything under my name suggesting anything like exuberance for BVG’s scheme (though I did remark a couple weeks ago it will be interesting to watch on DVR).

        And other than a low point in the summer of 2012 when I called FNC a coward, I’ve never made anything in here personal, nor called names. Not going to start now.

        I’m glad you’re posting again. You’re good at stimulating debate etc. it’s makes this board better.

      • nudeman - Apr 28, 2014 at 8:21 AM

        Really?

        You posted about 3 months ago when I took a swipe at GAIII’s father for his idiot/drunken remarks that the board would be better off without me. I can’t recall if you were in the Clarence Thomas Memorial electronic lynch mob calling me a racist.

        Whatever. It’s all good. No prob. Let’s move on.

  14. bernhtp - Apr 27, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    I’m frankly skeptical of the defense. We have the weakest combination of talent and experience in years, especially in the front 7. The talk seems to be all around scheme and how being more aggressive, mixing up blitzes, moving Jaylon Smith to the middle so he can do everything, etc. is going to make up for not having the likes of Manti, KLM, Nix, Tuitt, and Motta. I don’t think so. If there are significant injuries and there is no return of the current wounded like Springman and Grace, it could even get ugly.

    I’m not predicting a return to the dismal embarrassment of the Brown/Tenuta era, but believe this year’s bunch will probably need another year to bake. I don’t expect magic just because the DC has a good stache.

    However, I do see early evidence that BVG and LaFleur will be outstanding recruiters. Both have a lot of energy, charisma and and an NFL resume. LaFleur is hitting CA really hard and BVG the deep south, especially Georgia, given his SEC experience. Cooks continues to increase the production from ultra-fertile Texas. I’m optimistic about the future.

    If we have good luck on the health side (no injuries to Day, Smith, Russell, etc,), see big development from prodigious talents like Redfield, and have breakout performance from a couple of the frosh, the D will be pretty good. I hope so.

    • irishdog80 - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:21 AM

      Scheme is never enough…it has to fit the talent and the situation. Brown/Tenuta did not have enough talent and did not have an offense that could back up the chances they were taking on defense. They took too many chances in the wrong situation in the “hope” it would work out. It became predictable. Add in a lack of speed on the back end and the 5-10 yard play becomes a touchdown and the pressure is now on our offense.

      This year we seem to have a better blend of an offense that is built to score points in bunches and a defense that puts pressure on our opponents to keep up. It should be a lot of fun to watch develop. Our speed in the back end has become SEC level and is getting their at linebacker. We wil see.

      • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:29 PM

        I remember the 08 and 09 offenses scoring a lot of points but the team still losing shootouts to awful Syracuse type teams.

      • irishdog80 - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:06 PM

        Unfortunately, I remember a 7-6 and 6-6 record in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Scheme was not enough on both sides of the ball.

      • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:37 PM

        I certainly agree regarding Tenuta. The “pressure is the scheme” didn’t work lol. The ’09 offense was pretty good though, averaging 30 pts per game. Didn’t mean much though!

      • irishdog80 - Apr 28, 2014 at 10:07 AM

        Agreed.

    • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      I agree 100%. People are being WAY too optimistic about this defense given the lack of experience and talented depth in the front seven. That said, I will not accept a 2014 defense looking like a Weis era defense. If it does, we have major problems in year 5 of Kelly era.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 28, 2014 at 9:27 AM

        take it easy on the optimists! for many of us ND fans (similar to Cubs fans) the off-season/pre-season optimism is the best part of our year. but I get your point that predicting or hoping for a top 10 defense with this unit probably isn’t based in logic and it isn’t a wager i’d make with my 401(K).

        all the same, there is a reasonable chance that the personnel and the strategy (i’m too tired of hearing about “the scheme” by now) produces some surprises and shuts some teams down. just because this squad is relatively inexperienced doesn’t mean that they should get stuck with the “weis era defense” label. the problem with those defenses wasn’t experience, but sheer talent as I seem to recall. the lack of experience may be worrisome, but as far as talent goes I think this squad has the tools and chance to develop much more so than those weis defenses that still haunt us.

      • ndfenian - Apr 28, 2014 at 11:05 AM

        As a Kansas City Royals fan, I can certainly sympathize with the “hope Springs eternal” time of year. As an ND football fan, I guess I need to remember just to enjoy the ride right now. I certainly don’t want to think about that terrible feeling I had when we lost our first game last year at Michigan. Always ruins my weekend lol.

        I’m certainly not saddling this team with the Weis era stigma. Hell no. That’s doomsday talk and I don’t think we are in that ballpark… if we have some significant injuries though… no let’s not go there. We are in year 5 of Kelly regime, best coach we’ve had since Holtz. Three top ten recruiting classes, right? They can do it, it’s just gonna take guys like Day and Jones playing the best football of the careers. Ishaq needs to have that breakout, “I really want to play in the NFL” kind of year. Jaylon needs to keep playing like an All-American. Another LB will need to emerge. They are really high on Schmidt, maybe it’s him.

        We know one or both of the safeties will need to play a major part in run defense. Who is most likely to play that part? Collinsworth?

  15. jmfinsd - Apr 27, 2014 at 9:57 PM

    Geesh. All this talk about lack of experience, depth, talent, etc. It’s college football. Rosters go through major changes every year. No school fields the same team or close to the same team every year. It’s an anomaly when you hear “… 9 returning starters” on one side of the ball. ND has experienced players at every level of the defense. Starting experience? Maybe not. But how many freshmen or even sophmores start? But they stand up when it is their time, some better than others? Depth? ND has depth, although not as much as it might want at DL. Talent? Another top 10 class coming in, with apparently some real studs at LB (if you believe rating systems – which I think are liked cracked crystal balls). Name one team with a more experienced or deeper secondary? There are about 5 set positions on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s at least wait until fall camp and let these guys add pounds, work on skills, or do whatever before we set expectations. Go on and predict – it’s the armchair expert’s right. But to say it with the certainty that some here do just makes me ask, “Why aren’t you setting book odds in Vegas or AC?

    • ndfenian - Apr 27, 2014 at 11:51 PM

      I just wonder how many pounds per man the 2014 front-seven will be giving up compared to the ’13 and ’12 units. The problem is ND didn’t sign enough linebackers in the 2013 and 2012 classes. They struck out on that Anzalone kid immediately after Kelly visited the Eagles, for instance. And the injuries from that Old Testament-like 2013 season still loom large and hurt our depth. Things would look quite better if we knew Grace and Councell were ready to go (and Hounshell and Springman for that matter) but Grace will be out for sure and who knows about Councell.

      I think they are moving Turner and Onwualu to linebacker more out of necessity. They need the bodies!

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:50 PM

        I agree that turner and onwualu were moved partially out of necessity, but it also seems like the moves were made to match up these kids’ strengths with the new positions and to allow them to play more instinctively.

  16. ndfenian - Apr 28, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    BTW, it looks like Cody Riggs finished fourth on the 2013 Florida defense in tackles at safety. Maybe he is the answer for that run-stopping safety we need??

  17. shaunodame - Apr 28, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Guys, this is COLLEGE Football. At the very most a team can have a guy start 4 years–that’s it. Every single year your best/favorite players leave and they have to be replaced by inexperienced, unheralded, and unaccomplished (yet) players.

    Every single team has to do this. No one team is immune. Get over it guys.

    • ndfenian - Apr 28, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      Can you remember this many players transitioning to new positions?

  18. vanpearcysvaportrail - Apr 29, 2014 at 11:58 AM

    Not even a mention of the big redhead, Springmann. Before the guy got hurt, he was pretty good at creating havoc as an interior DL. If he comes back 100% healed, I think he’s going to be a far bigger contributor than any of the freshman.

    People forget he was ahead of Jaron Jones (now penciled in as a starter) before he got hurt.

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