A Special Day

Notre Dame's 2012 defensive front was the program's best unit last fall. After losing just one of its top eight contributors from a 12-1 campaign, it has a chance to be better in 2013, and a big reason for that is sophomore defensive end, Sheldon Day.

Unique, mature, studious, disciplined, coachable.

Five words that seem to surface each time a Notre Dame football coach is asked to talk about sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day.

And because those five descriptive adjectives seem to follow him on a daily basis, Day's on field attributes lead his same triumvirate of coaches, from defensive line coach Mike Elston, to coordinator Bob Diaco, to head man Brian Kelly, to offer praise the pragmatic, bottom-line fan can embrace as well.

"He's got unique first-step quickness and ability to get off blocks," said Kelly of Day. "Whether he's 6-foot-1 or 6-3 or 6-2, his skill set overcomes any lack of length at that position. We knew that going in.

"There's nobody that we have defensively that gets off blocks like Sheldon Day. Again, the only way I've found to get a guy off a block is just to yell at him louder, in other words, it's an innate trait that you have. And he has that."

That and much more. Whatever "IT" is for an athlete, Day apparently possesses in spades.

"Sheldon Day is having an excellent spring," said Elston, the coach with whom Day drills every practice. "He's an outstanding young man and I'm very happy with his progress. He's going to be an outstanding player.

"He's a student of the game. Its important to him. That's not just in football, its his whole life. He just has it all put together. It starts with his home life. His mom has done a great job with him and I couldn't be happier with him. He's a great kid to be around and does everything we ask him to do. And he's coachable. When he doesn't do it right, we tell him that he doesn't and he fixes it. He does a great job."

Rotation to Regular

It'd be easy to tune out praise from a coaching staff in the spring, but Day proved last fall as a true freshman he was ready for prime time on Saturdays as well.

There was the key sack of Denard Robinson that helped turn back Michigan in the fourth quarter last September. There was the sack followed by a pass deflection (one in which Day admitted "reading the quarterback's eyes") one week prior the help upset Michigan State.

And there was his spot cemented as Notre Dame's top backup on the programs's best defensive line in at least a decade, if not since the early 1990s in South Bend.

Said Diaco of his pupil after a month of play last fall, "So many times, we coaches (will be talking about first-year players), we'll leave Sheldon off the list. He's so mature and so productive in practices, scrimmages and games. He carries himself like an upperclassman.

"He's got a very mature demeanor."

Mature, humble, and athletically blessed despite a 6'1" frame, comparatively short for modern defensive ends.

"When you recruit a short guy, he has to compensate in other areas," said Elston. "His initial quickness and his arm length is very long, so when he locks (Notre Dame tackle) Zack Martin out, its not a short guy lock out, its a big guy lockout. So he's able to get the guy off of him, disengage, and go make plays. If you're going to recruit a shorter guy, you're going to have to measure his arms to make sure they have length."

Day's ability to get off blocks is part dedication to his craft, part talent.

"You'd like to say that's coaching," said Elston, noting part of Day's progress is innate. "He was trained very well in high school (Warren Central, Indianapolis). When its very important to you at that level and you take in and absorb the coaching there, it helps. He plays with such great pad level and leverage, and his technique is what allows him to get off those blocks."

Technique Day hopes to continue to improve upon.

"All summer I want to improve my fundamentals as a defensive lineman," Day said. "I want to be the best I can be as far as playing the right way. Its not important to worry about a starting job. You don't get better trying to start. (Starting) comes naturally when you focus on getting better every day."

Day's ability to play both defensive end in the 3-4; the "stud" position, or defensive tackle in the 4-3, and at times, nose guard in the team's dime pass rush package affords the unit versatility and explosiveness across scrimmage.

"It makes you feel better to help out the whole defense, if you know every spot, we can all fill in for each other, he said when asked also about Stephon Tuitt and Tony Springmann. "It was definitely a growing experience, playing a 3-4 end since I didn't play it all that much in high school, but I feel like when the season went on I kind of got used to it.

"I love it (the shifting front). It's a positive. You get the best of both worlds."

As does the Irish defense staff from Notre Dame's new starting defensive end, every day

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