Fears of a serious ankle injury were confirmed for Notre Dame linebacker Joe Schmidt. X-Rays taken Sunday revealed a broken ankle and a dislocation, ending the season for the Irish’s leading tackler. Head coach Brian Kelly confirmed the news Sunday.
“He has a fracture and a dislocation of his ankle,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “He’ll have surgery on Tuesday, so he’ll be out for the year.”
Without Schmidt, Notre Dame will lean on freshman Nyles Morgan at middle linebacker. Thrust into his first significant action on Saturday night against Navy, Morgan flashed the athleticism and playmaking skills that made him one of the most coveted linebackers in the country. He also forced the Irish defense to simplify their scheme, a key factor moving forward.
Kelly talked about the highs and lows from Morgan during an assignment-heavy game that showcased the best and worst of playing a true freshman, confirming some missed assignments by Morgan, including blown coverage on Navy’s successful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
“His trait is physical, and that trait shows itself. He made some real big physical plays for us,” Kelly said. “He’s going to be a good player, he’s just a young guy that just needs to continue to grow, and he’s going to get that opportunity because he’s going to be put in that position now.”
Joining Morgan in the two deep is sophomore Michael Deeb. Right now, Greer Martini will continue backing up Jaylon Smith at the Will linebacker, not currently part of the plans that are still very much evolving.
That evolution will need to include a new form of communication from defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to his troops. Without Schmidt to pass along the various assignments, Kelly and his coaching staff are reworking the framework for their defense, a necessity now that the team’s main communicator is lost for the year.
Don’t expect the slack to be picked up by one player.
“I think everybody is going to have to pick up a little bit. Jaylon is going to have to pick up. I think the defensive line is going to have to be more assertive in making sure they’re taking care of their end of things. I think our safeties. I think everybody is going to have to pick up the slack for the loss of a guy that really did most of the work. He’s a big loss, but I think our guys understand that it’s a next man in, and let’s get ready to roll.”
While giving no timetable on Schmidt’s return to health, Kelly confirmed an obvious decision when he said he expected the senior to be back in 2015, playing as a fifth-year senior.