<span class="vcard">Keith Arnold</span>

Blue & Gold Illustrated

Even without Jones, expectations clear for Gilmore’s DL

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Keith Gilmore‘s move to Notre Dame reunites him with Brian VanGorder, two football lifers who have known each other since they shared a huddle as players. After a long coaching career, Gilmore also reunites with Brian Kelly, a coach he’s worked for at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now Notre Dame.

After spending time at Illinois with Ron Zook and the past two seasons at North Carolina, Gilmore is not just getting reacquainted with Kelly and VanGorder, but also reuniting with Mike Denbrock (who Gilmore worked with at Grand Valley), Mike Elston (who was at Central Michigan and Cincinnati as well), and strength coach Paul Longo (who was also a college teammate). So while finding his way around South Bend might have been a challenge, it’s certainly been easy once he’s made it to The Gug.

On Tuesday, Gilmore gave us a look into the work he’s been doing with a young and emerging defensive line, and talked about some of the things we should expect from the group. As everybody else has done, Gilmore joined the chorus praising Jerry Tillery. While he skirted around any declarations or predictions, it’s clear that Tillery is no ordinary freshman.

“I’ve had some good freshman, but the combination of the size and flexibility that Jerry has is a little bit different than some of the guys I’ve had,” Gilmore said. “I have not had a freshman with that sort of length and that sort of athleticism like Jerry.”

Gilmore praised not just the physical traits of Tillery, but also the mental side of the game. And he thinks that the time Tillery spent as an offensive lineman in high school has helped him adjust more quickly to the college game.

“He understands football. Being an ex-offensive lineman he knows some of the blocking schemes and the things that are happening to him and he’s able to anticipate where he should go and what he should do,” Gilmore explained. “So it’s been a blessing for him and for me that he’s had that offensive line experience.”

Anchoring the unit is senior Sheldon Day. While expectations for the senior are sky high, Gilmore talked about putting an emphasis on rushing the passer, and how Day’s final season in South Bend could benefit from the offseason work they’ve done as they adjust not just techniques but the thought process of being a pass rusher.

“Part of it was a mindset. Just having a mindset that we’re going to rush the passer and putting a lot of attention and focus on that,” Gilmore said. “I think that he’s had the skill-set all along, but just refining it and making sure [pass rushing] is a priority for us, more than anything.”

Gilmore has worked with his share of talented defensive linemen, most recently North Carolina’s Kareem Martin, who put together a monster senior season (21.5 TFLs, including 11.5 sacks), propelling him to a third round selection. If Day wants to make noise at the next level, it’s clear that he’s going to have to find an added dimension in the pass rush, as well as make more plays behind the line of scrimmage. Gilmore understands that aspect of the game, especially as it equates to the next level.

“Especially those with pro aspirations, that’s what you have to do. If you can’t rush the passer and you can’t get vertical and be a penetrator and create havoc, it’s really hard to play at the next level,” Gilmore said.

That’s been a teaching emphasis this spring and fall, with Notre Dame’s defensive linemen having to continue to learn a different philosophy while playing in VanGorder’s system. And that type of technique has been a mainstay in Gilmore’s teaching arsenal, a big reason why he’s in South Bend working with VanGorder.

When asked about the change between the Irish defensive front in the previous scheme compared to what it was now, Gilmore helped explain the transition his personnel was working through.

“They were head up on guys and converting their pass rushes as opposed to getting in gaps and teeing it off and letting it fly,” Gilmore said, talking specifics about the difference between the two-gap philosophy deployed and the one now being utilized. “Coach VanGorder, having that ex-pro experience, that’s what he’s used to and that’s what he wanted. And I think in year two, guys have a better understanding of what the expectation is for what the defense is and what is involved.”

 

 

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Mykelti Williams

Property of Indianapolis Star
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Notre Dame landed another Indianapolis product when safety Mykelti Williams joined the Irish this summer, the freshman lending some much needed depth to the secondary. Hailing from Warren Central, the same program that brought Notre Dame Sheldon Day, Williams’ might not contribute as quickly as Day did, but he’ll have a chance to compete for a spot in the two deep behind Max Redfield at free safety.

On campus since June, Williams needs to learn Brian VanGorder’s NFL defense, a scheme that puts a lot of pressure on safeties, making training camp likely a drink-from-the-firehose experience. But Williams is athletic, can run and showed a nice nose for the football in high school, adding a promising piece of developmental depth for the Irish.

Let’s take a closer look at the Indianapolis native.

 

MYKELTI WILLIAMS
5’11”, 200 lbs.
Freshman, No. 18, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A top 250 player according to Rivals, Williams had a nice offer list, picking the Irish over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. He was the Indianapolis Star’s Player of the Year, and a first-team All-State player.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Williams isn’t the biggest guy you’ll see at safety, so he’ll need to depend on his athleticism and a nose for the football. Getting a quick look at him at practice on Tuesday, you can tell he’s still processing everything he’s learning, but he looks like the type of smooth athlete Notre Dame’s done a good job of finding.

Williams was a versatile high school player, a do-everything player on both offense and defense. The Irish have already had success converting Nick Coleman, a high-profile running back in high school, to a competitive freshman cornerback. On Signing Day, Kelly talked about Williams as a versatile safety, the type of player who can work in both man and zone schemes. Without a blue chip pedigree or uber-elite offer, it’s tough to know how quickly he can become that, but again—it’s hard not to trust this staff’s evaluation process.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

While grad student Matthias Farley has been getting No. 2 reps at free safety, you’ve got to think that Williams will battle Nicky Baratti to back up Redfield with Shaun Crawford going down and Farley likely locking in to that nickel corner role.

There’s a chance that Williams could win the backup job, though it’s not the easiest system in the world to grasp, especially after watching last year’s secondary struggle to fully figure out the system. Add to the mental hurdles that Williams isn’t the biggest guy in the world and maybe there’s an argument for spending the year watching and learning.

 

If I’m eyeballing the safety position, I see Elijah Shumate, Avery Sebastian and Drue Tranquill capable of playing strong safety and Redfield out front at free. I just haven’t seen enough from Baratti (who played as a freshman before spending the better part of two seasons lost to shoulder injuries) or Williams to know if they’re good enough to get on the field.

All things being equal, I think Williams saves a year of eligibility, especially with Devin Butler being a better fit for safety than cover cornerback. But Williams showing a nose for the football could change all of that in a hurry.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL
CJ Sanders, WR
Joe Schmidt, LB
Avery Sebastian, S
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, LB
Durham Smythe, TE
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
Ronnie Stanley, LT
Elijah Taylor, DL
Brandon Tiassum, DL
Jerry Tillery, DL
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
John Turner, S
Nick Watkins, CB
Nic Weishar, TE
Ashton White, CB
Dexter Williams, RB

Irish A-to-Z: Dexter Williams

Orlando Sentinel
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With Notre Dame’s running back depth chart down Greg Bryant, freshman Dexter Williams has a clear line to the football field this fall. While wide receiver Justin Brent has converted to the backfield and Tarean Folston returns as a starter, Williams and fellow freshman Josh Adams couldn’t ask for a more advantageous situation, especially with C.J. Prosise taking time to heal an ailing hip flexor.

Of course, playing a freshman in the backfield is another story. With Brian Kelly requiring his running backs to understand pass blocking schemes and an offense filled with checks and line changes, Williams may have all the physical gifts in the world, but he’ll need to master the mental side of the game before he sees action.

With the Irish just over two weeks away from their opening game, let’s take a closer look at the Florida native and see what’s in store for Williams this season.

 

DEXTER WILLIAMS
5’11”, 200 lbs.
Freshman, No. 34, RB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A top-100 prospect in 247’s composite rankings, Notre Dame won a late-cycle recruiting battle when Williams sent his fax to the (574) instead of Miami. He visited South Bend in mid-January, the final recruiting win for Tony Alford in a battle for a heralded running back.

Williams played for West Orange High School in Orlando, helping to lead the team to an 11-1 record and their first 8A playoff victory in school history. He had offers from Florida, Ohio State and USC as well.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Williams has all the sizzle and shake you want from a running back, and pairs it with a physicality that had Paul Longo talking on Media Day.

“Dexter Williams [has] a frame that I’m really excited to work with. He’s fast and explosive already, so I can see where more upper body strength and adding stamina, and getting some body fat down, he’s going to really make some good jumps,” Longo told Blue & Gold’s Jordan Wells.

Also adding to Williams’ potential is a depth chart that’s really advantageous. The lack of depth at the position could help him get his feet wet in 2015. But more realistically, it’ll also let him take his shot at a starting job after Tarean Folston departs.

Of course, judging a running back based on star-rankings and YouTube clips is a foolhardy exercise. We’ve seen elite guys struggle to get on the field while three-star prospects turn into great players. But Kelly talked positively about Williams’ ability to be a breakaway back at the second level on Signing Day, and there’s no reason to think that the Irish didn’t land a potential home run hitter when he arrived in South Bend this June.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

One freshman running back looks like he’s going to play this season. And while a single day of practice reps hardly tells a story, Williams is running behind Josh Adams so far in training camp. And while Josh Anderson earning a scholarship doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to get onto the field, Anderson was also taking major practice reps, a veteran who could show young guys (Brent included) how things are supposed to look.

At this point, you can make a valuable argument for saving a year of eligibility or getting some part-time experience. Notre Dame’s redshirt running backs haven’t utilized that fifth year, with neither George Atkinson or Cierre Wood sticking around for it. (Of course, Atkinson and Wood made moves that weren’t necessarily based on what was best for their future from an on-field perspective.)

Life has to be quite a whirlwind for Williams right now. New places, classes starting soon and a playbook that looks quite different than high school. But working with new position coach Autry Denson, he’ll be able to make what he wants from his freshman season. Right now, I’d be surprised if that’s a role that’s on field, though Williams will dictate that by his work on the practice field.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL
CJ Sanders, WR
Joe Schmidt, LB
Avery Sebastian, S
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, LB
Durham Smythe, TE
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR
Ronnie Stanley, LT
Elijah Taylor, DL
Brandon Tiassum, DL
Jerry Tillery, DL
Drue Tranquill, S
Andrew Trumbetti, DE
John Turner, S
Nick Watkins, CB
Nic Weishar, TE
Ashton White, CB

Suspension behind him, Russell ready to dominate

KeiVarae Russell
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Don’t talk to KeiVarae Russell anymore about his suspension. He’s not all that interested. He discussed it with Sports Illustrated, he discussed it at the opening of training camp and he continued to answer questions about it on Media Day.

And for as much as Russell enjoys talking—and the free-flowing senior enjoys it quite a bit—he’s glad that he can finally let his play on the field do the talking, instead of being defined for the academic predicament he found himself in for the past 12 months.

“It got annoying when people would come up to you and ask how you were doing. It got kind of redundant,” Russell explained. “Just talk to me like I’m normal.”

That’s not to say things were always easy. Or that the easygoing lockdown cornerback was always at ease with things. But once he got home to Washington, he established a routine and found some clarity in a very uncertain process.  

“The tough time for us was last year. When we didn’t know what was going on. When I didn’t know if I was coming back for sure. When I was back home, I didn’t think it was that tough of a time.”

When Brian Kelly dropped into the middle of his press conference that Russell was formally cleared by the NCAA to continue his football career, it allowed Russell to finally put the last 12 months behind him.

I know for a fact that I’m going to play in 2015,” Russell said with a smile. “With that, it just really excites you. When you have that fire inside, you go so hard.”

That fire has never been an issue for Russell. And the senior cornerback is now intent on making sure his name is synonymous for the brand of football he plays, not for a poor academic decision that he made.

Want to get Russell talking? Just ask about football. That megawatt smile turns on and the words just let loose.

Ask him about this defensive scheme, and how excited he is to play in it. Ask him about matching up with the opponents’ top receiver, and he’ll run you through the slate of receivers on his upcoming schedule.

Put him on an island or move him inside to the slot? Russell will do whatever is asked of him, feeling like the luckiest man in the world that he gets to play in Brian VanGorder’s aggressive scheme.

I definitely want to be on an island. I’d love that. But I’m going to do whatever coach wants me to do. If he wants me to play one side, I’ll play one side,” Russell said.

But Russell made it clear that he wants the responsibility of taking on opponents’ top targets. That could be Pitt’s Tyler Boyd, or USC’s JuJu Smith or Adoree Jackson.

“Being a senior corner and also having an understanding of the game beyond our other defensive backs, I feel like I would rather have that pressure rather than put that on Cole Luke or a younger guy or on our safeties. I think I’d like to have that pressure.”

Russell returns to a secondary that doesn’t look like the last one he played in. He’s played exactly one game next to Max Redfield. Cornerback Cole Luke was a freshman learning behind Russell and Bennett Jackson that year while Elijah Shumate struggled with injuries for much of 2013. But Russell found his way back onto this roster with little difficulty, and he’s quickly added some much-needed leadership to a secondary that struggled in 2014 as it learned a brand new system.

Now he’s infusing confidence. And demanding his teammates give the same effort that he does.

I demand that however I play, I demand the same from them. I demand a dominance. I demand a confidence, I demand that you work on your technique and your craft every day,” Russell said. “I want them to be like that with me, too. The more they’re on me, the better I’m going to be. This defense won’t be as good unless I’m going to be the best I can possibly be and unless they’re the best they can possibly be.”

That mindset was evident at practice on Tuesday and Kelly has talked about the level of competition he’s seen when his heralded receiving corps goes up against the defensive backs in practice.

With expectations sky high in 2015, Russell knows this is his best chance to return to the national stage that he experienced as a freshman. And while some worry about rust, Russell’s spent fall camp refining his technique, adding a final piece to an elite physical skill-set that Russell spent the last calendar year building.

So it’s finally time. Suspension over, escape from purgatory complete. Now Russell can get back to telling his story in the way he’s always wanted, reminding the college football world that he’s a fearless cornerback whose game matches his words.

“I don’t really care who you are. Tall, big, fast, anything. I know that when I play with good technique I can run with you, I can jump with you and I’m just as strong as anybody.”

And come September 5th, he can finally prove it.

 

Freshman CB Shaun Crawford lost for season with ACL tear

Shaun Crawford, Tyree Kinnel, Andre Douglas
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Talented freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford tore his ACL at practice on Wednesday and is lost for the season. Brian Kelly made the announcement Wednesday night via the sports information department.

Crawford was one of the young standouts in fall camp, impressing with his aggressive coverage skills and nose for the football. Both he and fellow cornerback Nick Coleman had been singled out by Kelly for their fine work during fall camp.

The injury will preserve Crawford’s freshman year of eligibility, meaning he’ll essentially redshirt. The Irish have now suffered two significant injuries on the defensive side of the football with Crawford joining veteran defensive tackle Jarron Jones with serious knee injuries.

While the injury robs the Irish of a potential playmaker, the secondary is well equipped from a depth perspective. Grad student Matthias Farley is also a slot cornerback, the place where Crawford projected to help immediately. Starters Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell will man the outside spots with sophomore Nick Watkins providing immediate depth as well.