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Notre Dame’s post-spring depth chart: Defense

Apr 18, 2014, 12:36 PM EDT

Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder

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.


  1. irish4006 - Apr 18, 2014 at 1:09 PM

    If the Line can hold its own (we do have the bodies to do it), the LBs will be fine; which will likely mean a great year defensively. WRT the linebackers, Jaylon Smith will be phenomenal with both his skills and leadership (more of a hunch at this point, but what we have seen so far, it is not a wild speculation) to bring the other guys along. There are some good people (although inexperienced) in that group. The secondary has the *potential* to play lights out.

    I will be keeping an eye on Rochell (with the other on Ishaq while holding my breath), this is a big kid with great potential. Day and Jones will have to step up, be stable and lead this group.

  2. irishdog80 - Apr 18, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    Only two players in the projected starting defense that will have exhausted their eligibility after this year and neither one is a key cog…Ishaq and Collinsworth. This defense will be very interesting as it matures. Lots of solid athletes throughout the lineup.

    • irishdog80 - Apr 18, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      And only two with exhausted eligibility after this year on offense. Look out. Here Comes the Irish!

  3. 25kgold - Apr 18, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    Reggie Ho. #Random

  4. 25kgold - Apr 18, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    “Reggie, Ho!!”

    -Rick James (Dave Chappelle voice)

  5. mtflsmitty - Apr 18, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    1. Top schools with consistently strong recruiting turn over position groups every couple years without a hiccup. Despite it having become fashionable for Ishaq to be the local whipping boy, he’s plenty solid, though usually a half step away from being a star. Day is going to be stout. JJ and RO will be studs. Watch.

    2. I have to assume the coaching staff is in close contact with Nyles Morgan. If he’s working out hard and is a sharp kid, he’ll be starting come 8-30-14. Much smaller than we are used to seeing. This group should look a lot like an SEC linebacking crew. We may miss Fox’s and Calabrese’s stopping power. But to be elite, we simply need more speed from this group than ND traditionally puts on the field.

    3. When it comes to covering slot receivers and TEs, I hope to God we have a better option MF (snicker). Too small to cover TEs, and not technically efficient to cover slot receivers.

    Happy Easter to you all.

    • upthera44 - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:15 PM

      MF, JJ, RO… who the hell are these people?

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        Mathias Farley
        Jarron Jones
        Romeo Okwara

    • nudeman - Apr 18, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      Ishaq: “plenty solid”?
      In 3 years I’ve yet to say “wow, did you see that play by Ishaq”?
      I don’t break down tape; maybe you do. Maybe you see all sorts of wonderful nuance that no one else has picked up on.
      But the final kiss of death for me re: Ishaq came this Spring when Kelly, for the 3rd straight year talked of how “Ishaq is coming around”.

      He is not coming around/He will never come around
      If the word “bust” is too strong, fine.
      But whatever next word in line is … that’s what he is.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Apr 18, 2014 at 6:32 PM

        oh jesus here we go

        just copy/past all your posts from last year and find/replace Rees with Ishaq

      • onward2victory - Apr 18, 2014 at 6:51 PM

        Nude <3's Ishaq.

    • 1historian - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:03 AM

      LBs – “To be elite, we simply need more speed from this group than ND traditionally puts on the field.”

      Agreed – if you weigh in at 230 – 240 lbs and you get up a full head of steam and smash into a 265 lb tight end your chances of bringing him down – especially if you have FAST friends in the area – are pretty good.

  6. onward2victory - Apr 18, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    D-line: One of the biggest coaching mistakes of the Brian Kelly tenure was not red-shirting Romeo Okwara. The kid is so young and will be out of eligibility after 2015. Maybe he’ll be NFL ready by then, but I can’t help but think that he would benefit from one more season. The depth really worries me in this unit. Injuries are inevitable, and Sheldon Day certainly hadn’t been immune. Like Keith said, a lot of uncertainty here. I like Rochelle a lot though.

    Backers: surprised to see Ben councel ranked so low. He split a lot of playing time at Dog with Jaylon last year before getting injured. He’s big, athletic, can run and hit. I expect the coaching staff to get him on the field if he’s healthy. Really hope Grace recovers quickly, we could use him. Excited to see Nyles Morgan too.

    DBs: Good point by Keith on how we were high on Bennett Jackson last year at this time. KR looks awesome but still needs to play that way in games, against some excellent receivers. Safety is definitely worrisome, but corners look great.

    • mtflsmitty - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:52 PM

      Disagree in KR. The kid has had two excellent years proving himself on the field. KA’s comments (in parens re Bennett) is his effort to cover himself with the cynical faction on this board. If one wants to cast doubts on CBs, fine. But try Luke and Butler. Those guys have not been tested. But suggesting Russell is untested/unknown is silly.

      • onward2victory - Apr 18, 2014 at 6:48 PM

        Yah he has definitely exceed expectations in his first 2 years. I love Keivarae, he’s one of my favorite players. But he was not perfect last year, although he did finish strong. I think the point that I’m making (and KA I assume), is that we have set his expectations to be no less than a 1st team All-American. And I certainly think that’s possible with his ability, but let’s proceed with caution that he might not be THAT good just yet. And if he is, then we won’t get him for a senior year.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 18, 2014 at 8:36 PM

        OK. I can see where you’re coming from. You’ve set a lofty goal as 1st team all American. As such, I agree. He has a lot to prove. But I like your optimism.

        Has ND ever has a 1st team all American at cornerback?

      • irish4life87 - Apr 19, 2014 at 2:21 AM

        Todd Lyght in 1989 and ’90, Bobby Taylor in ’94, and Shane Walton in ’02 come to mind as 1st Team All-Americans at corner in somewhat recent years.

      • bearcatirishfan - Apr 19, 2014 at 10:22 AM

        Don’t forget that in the pinstripe bowl Jackson got beat a couple time by Rutgers best reciever. They switched and out kavariee on him and no more out of that guy. Now I can’t say that this was not defensive scheme as opposed to a concious decision but it worked.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 19, 2014 at 7:34 PM

        There are about 100 different All American votes each year. Everything from ESPN’s vote which seems to be limited to SEC players, and Athlon Sports which seems to have a decided mid-Western bent. Not sure what’s official or not. Here’s a list of ND’s unanimous All Americans:

        Notre Dame’s All-Time Unanimous All-Americans
        1929 Frank Carideo, QB
        1930 Frank Carideo, QB
        1931 Marchy Schwartz, HB
        1932 Joe Kurth, T
        1938 Joe Beinor, T
        1946 John Lujack, QB
        1947 John Lujack, QB
        1949 Emil Sitko, FB. Leon Hart, E
        1952 John Lattner, HB
        1953 John Lattner, HB
        1954 Ralph Guglielmi, QB
        1966 Nick Eddy, HB. Jim Lynch, LB
        1969 Mike McCoy, DT
        1971 Walt Patulski, DE
        1972 Greg Marx, DT
        1975 Steve Niehaus, T
        1976 Ross Browner, DE
        1977 Ross Browner, DE, Ken MacAfee, TE
        1978 Bob Golic, LB
        1980 John Scully, C
        1987 Tim Brown, FL
        1989 Todd Lyght, CB
        1990 Raghib Ismail, FL, Chris Zorich, DT, Michael Stonebreaker, LB
        1993 Aaron Taylor, OT
        2002 Shane Walton, CB
        2005 Jeff Samardzija, WR
        2009 Golden Tate, WR
        2012 Manti Te’o, LB

      • mcirish27 - Apr 21, 2014 at 3:50 PM

        Have a read of Keith’s interview with Shane Walton way back in ’09 – i especially enjoy the comments. Can’t figure out why none of the posters are still commenting today…weird.

  7. jommy995 - Apr 18, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    A tempo offense needs a defense that takes risks. Giving up big plays isn’t devastating if you get a couple three-n-outs on either side of em and can put some points on the board yourself. Love that this seems to be the direction we’re headed. Love that the D is moving big fellas to the line of scrimmage so that there’s more speed on the field. But hafta wonder whether this plays to the QB’s strengths, which appear to be playing cautious and avoiding interceptions. Or perhaps that’s merely a reflection of the 2012 play calling. Fingers crossed.

  8. gtizzo - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    Regardless of the question marks this unit should be solid. I think this defense will be better than last years defense and Jaylon Smith is going to make a lot people take notice. Day will also be a big player who will end up on a lot of watch lists. So much depth and talent to choice from…ND is on the right path.

  9. lambda02750 - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    To be honest, I was never high on Bennet Jackson and never quite understood why he was viewed as elite (by some) or even close to that. I never even saw him as having the potential to be anything more than slightly above average at best. He did make some great plays throughout the years, but the times that I screamed and cussed at the tv during games usually had something to do with him or Tommy. I certainly think that the year of our magical run was a year in which the D-line and linebackers protected the secondary with their stellar play. I seem to remember Jackson getting beat deep season after season…A LOT! I do think that we should proceed with caution when talking about K. Russell, but I am way more confident in what I have seen from him compared to my confidence in Jackson. ND has not had tons of “elite” cornerbacks (in my viewing years anyway), so to refer to them that way gets me excited for no reason :) If we want to go back to Bobby Taylor or maybe even Shane Walton, then I don’t mind throwing the elite tag out there because they were in their respective day and time. Hopefully we will get some elite performances from both sides of the ball this year. I do think that ND will improve greatly as a team and I am currently preparing my heart for the up and down that ND will put it through…GO IRISH!

    • irish4006 - Apr 18, 2014 at 4:45 PM

      That Shane Walton dude was something. Talk about someone with an attitude! Last year’s defense certainly lacked that in your face attitude. When it comes to defense, playing as one and showing some heart goes a long way; regardless of size/speed and other tangibles.

    • ndnapa - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      Bennett was playing out of position. He would have been an excellent safety, as we’ll see in the NFL.

  10. onward2victory - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    I think the most important thing for this defense to be successful will be a high powered offense that scores early and often. If we can get up 2 to 3 scores on a team then they will have to scrap their game plan and air it out, which will allow Van Gorder to really bring the heat.

    Of course this presumes that the Irish will come out of the gates with energy and passion, which is something we have rarely seen under Kelly. This may be the greatest challenge for Kelly this year, is to get the team up for every game, and try to put a team away by halftime.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 18, 2014 at 4:19 PM

      Good points onward. It’s like Muhammad Ali said ” everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” We need to score on the opening drive and on the second possession too and put pressure on opposing offenses to score just to keep up.

      • blackirish23 - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:09 AM

        Rarely do I see the need to correct people but that quote is by Mike Tyson, and he deserves the credit.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:28 PM

        Pretty sure Cassius said it first

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:30 PM

        I take it back. You are right it was Tyson. Good old iron mike the pugilist philosopher

  11. prancerbyanose - Apr 18, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    My take on Notre Dame’s linebackers:

    Joe Schmidt is a good football player, but not a good enough athlete to be the starting middle linebacker for this team. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think Jarrett Grace is fast enough to be on the field consistently either, and I don’t expect him to be faster when/ IF he ever returns from this injury.

    I predict the starting linebackers will be Smith, Deeb and Randolph; but, Schmidt, Moore, Morgan Councell and Grace will all play too. I think Onwualu and Turner will play too against teams that don’t run power running plays– but I’m not sure you can really call them “linebackers”

    • onward2victory - Apr 18, 2014 at 6:53 PM

      What makes you think Randolph will be a starter?

    • shaunodame - Apr 18, 2014 at 7:35 PM

      Solid point with guys like Turner and Onwualu. Can’t really call them “Linebackers” in the true sense of the word. They’re sub-package passing down LBs basically. More than a few times during the Spring Game we had as many as 4-5 former/current “Safeties” on the field.. As LB’s, at Nickel CB, and of course at SS and FS. We have so many talented/athletic safeties, I love seeing them all on the field. They give our defense a few interesting dynamics. They tackle/hit better than traditional corners and cover/read better than traditional LBs. In today’s world of Spread Offenses in College Football I like VanGorders idea to get as many of these guys on the field as possible

  12. danirish - Apr 18, 2014 at 6:09 PM

    When I am in a class half empty kind of mood I feel that FSU will drop a lot of points on the defense. Will BVG’s philosophy take a year or two? Is he playing with “Diaco’s” recruits?

    I just hope we can get some turnovers and stops…

    The D is my concern


    • mtflsmitty - Apr 18, 2014 at 11:19 PM

      I don’t think feeling FSU is going to drop a lot of points on ND makes you pessimistic. If you began lamenting a potent Navy offense putting a hurting on us (as some were bellyaching about earlier this week) that would make you a glass half empty kind of guy.

      If we beat FSU, that would be fantastic. But I won’t be betting the kids’ college funds on that one.

      • irishdog80 - Apr 19, 2014 at 12:58 AM

        If Winston plays, we will have a tough time beating FSU. He is the real deal and can pick apart a young defense. If he doesn’t play due to legal problems, we have a very good chance of winning. It’s the QB that makes the real difference.

      • ndgoldandblue - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:41 AM

        Smitty, Navy’s offense, potent or not, put a hurting on us last year. A lot of it is subjective, but 34 points is a hurting in my opinion. Just as many questions (if not more so) exist about the Irish defense for this season as last season. When the Cleveland Cavaliers go up against the Miami Heat, it’s not pessimistic for Cavs’ fans not to like their prospects of winning; it’s just realistic. If you think our D is going to limit Navy to single digits this season, then great. I love your optimism. But I’ll just say that I have some reservations. As for the FSU game (which is on the road, no less), we may be talking about the Irish “holding” them to 34 points.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 20, 2014 at 6:41 PM

        Soooo….In your analogy ND is…Cleveland? And, ummmm, Navy is…..Miami?

      • ndgoldandblue - Apr 20, 2014 at 9:29 PM

        You’re right. Maybe a bad analogy. All I’m saying is that since 2007 (with the exception of ’11 and ’12) the Irish defense hasn’t had much of an answer for Navy’s offense. I’m just noticing a trend; that’s all. Like the Michigan match-up. Things haven’t really gone our way much with the Wolverines lately. Some people say that Michigan sucks and Navy should be outclassed by Notre Dame, but I think our offense is going to need to show up in a big way against both of them. Because if recent history is any indicator of what we can expect against either team this year, the defense is going to be in for a long day. If that sounds unreasonably pessimistic, my apologies.

  13. shaunodame - Apr 18, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    I usually love every article you post on here Keith but I really am not find if these past 2 Depth Chart articles. Like the WR’s yesterday, the LBs are just a jumbled mess. How bout some Mike, Sam and Will projections? How bout some Sub-Package projections? And also what happened to Jacob Matuska, I thought he had a very solid spring/spring game?

    There’s two things I’m not buying into just yet..
    1. Joe Schmidt is “too reliable to take off of the field”?!?!?! That’s a joke right? When did he become so reliable? In the 40ish snaps he played all of last year? In a spring filled with an absolutely depleted depth chart at ILB? In the Spring Game where he played like 10 snaps tops?? I don’t see Joe Schmidt as being anywhere even close to a lock at ILB let alone a reliable stalwart there. Heck, I’m as big a fan as any of this guys story and whatnot but everyone crowning him as such a breakout player is more premature than FNC at a strip joint.

    2. I’m also as high on Nyles Morgan as anyone, and I fully believe he’ll be an absolute stud down the road. I just can’t agree to all this talk of him coming in and takin over the ILB slot from Day 1. In recent years there’s been an odd sort of trend when it comes to ND players seeing the field early. RARELY, ala Jaylon Smith, does the stud top position prospect come in and play immediately. More often than not here at ND guys like Folston play before Bryant. Elmer/McGlinchey before McGovern (and a host of other higher rated OLinemen), Corey Robinson and Will Fuller before Davonte Neal and Torii Hunter Jr. My point being, it’s often the overlooked lower “star” rated guys who see the field before their perceived “star” superior peers. I expect Greer Martini or Nile Sykes to have as much a shot at ILB as Nyles Morgan.

    • bernhtp - Apr 18, 2014 at 9:29 PM

      Keith isn’t including unenrolled freshman for a good reason: they may never come, let alone materialize into significant contributors. We’ve often have someone not make it all the way in; I expect that to happen this year.

      • shaunodame - Apr 19, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        Keith is the one who mentioned Nyles Morgan in this article. Nyles Morgan, the unenrolled freahman.

    • Keith Arnold - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:06 PM


      We’ve got 4+ months to figure out the depth chart. This is supposed to be a snapshot as to where we are, a week after the B-G game. Of course there are holes and unanswered questions… that’s kinda the point.

      As for the LB positions, Who is playing where is still evolving, especially with Jaylon playing Will. But there are plenty of things left to figure out on the DL as well.

      • shaunodame - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:25 PM

        Keith, just please tell me you don’t have your own version of a “Joe Schmidt Rudy 2.0” article written up already, just waiting in the wings, and I’ll feel a lot better lol

      • NotreDan - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:59 PM

        Shaun, spelled wrong, any Irish Sean is Sean… shut up. It’s off-season.

  14. yaketyyacc - Apr 19, 2014 at 6:14 AM

    good points by most of the posters. mentioning so many names with possibilities infers great talent.
    asked to produce gold from the mine, Van Gorder realizes that he has stumbled onto a diamond mine, and has the opportunity of cutting, shaping and polishing them into some of the finest gems.
    let him be, let him work, and see the dazzling

    • kapnd73 - Apr 27, 2014 at 5:34 AM

      Love the metaphors, yak!

  15. ndrocks2 - Apr 19, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    Lot’s of guys we were excited to have on NSD, know let’s see what they have. Should be an interesting year, one way or the other.

  16. doc-domer79 - Apr 19, 2014 at 2:40 PM

    When putting in golf- speed kills. Absolute speed kills absolutely.

    In football (and physics) Force = mass x VELOCITY squared.

    • bernhtp - Apr 20, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      Doc, You can’t do this on an ND board.

      F = MA

      Kinetic Energy = 1/2 M V^2 (non-relativistic)

      • papadec - Apr 20, 2014 at 7:54 PM

        Say what? Does that mean some big sob, moving very fast, hit some poor back – very hard?

      • bernhtp - Apr 20, 2014 at 8:06 PM

        It means that 10% more speed is worth more than 10% more size in a hit.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 20, 2014 at 11:38 PM

        What about the coefficient of friction bern? And the effect of angular velocity? Berrnouli’s principle, and for that matter Archimedes too? Don’t forget the ideal gas law

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