Sophomore Surge

Notre Dame has three handfuls of sophomores that will contribute heavily to the team's offensive and defensive rotations next fall. Few are as important as 6'4" 287-pound defensive end, Isaac Rochell.

There are the givens to start: senior Ishaq Williams, junior Sheldon Day and redshirt-sophomore Jarron Jones.

There's the X-factor athlete, junior Romeo Okwara.

And then there are two of Notre Dame's most important players for the 2014 season, injured senior defensive tackle Tony Springmann and his sophomore line mate, Isaac Rochell.

Both must contribute heavily to defensive line coach Mike Elston's young rotation, and Rochell's quest to go from spot player to invaluable backup has begun in earnest this spring.

"The main goal is developing as a D-End and as a D-Linemen," said Rochell as he was peppered with questions regarding scheme changes and new coordinator Brian VanGorder. "You have issues learning the defense but the goal is pretty much the same, to develop as a D-Lineman, to use your hands, getting off the ball, stuff like that.

"Obviously developing in the weight room is something we're always working on," he added.

Added bulk without a loss of quickness is the goal for most collegiate sophomore linemen. Rochell's development to that end will result in increased opportunity, both from his defensive end spot behind Ishaq Williams and as a potential rotation player inside, where only Day and Jones seem set.

"You face the same challenges no matter what, so the main thing is just developing as a player and not necessarily focusing on a scheme because all of that will fall into place in time," Rochell said.

Early indications show a defensive front that attacks off the snap, a stark change to the read and react approach employed by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. In turn, Notre Dame's inside linebackers will be asked to read more rather than merely attack an interior gap.

"It's definitely more of a coming off the ball type defense," Rochell said. "That's been the main thing, just working on get-offs

"I think we're more aggressive this year. It's something we're all excited about and I'm excited about personally."

Rochell has worked behind Williams this spring though the line will doubtless be able to flip side-to-side (there won't be set right defensive ends/left defensive ends or tackles, nor was that the approach under Diaco). The sophomore's work volume has noticeably increased since he was forced to take the field as a not-yet-ready freshman last fall.

"The first thing that's pretty clear is he's starting to physically develop," said head coach Brian Kelly of Rochell. "He's a different kid than he was in the fall in the sense that he is stronger. He has made gains in the weight room. You could just see it in our two-spot drill today. Physically, last year, his legs would crumble underneath him. Today, you could see he's got some bite to him.

"Is he a dynamic pass-rusher off the edge right now? No, he's not. "But can he be? I think in time. He's a lot stronger as a football player. So immediately he's going to help us more, especially in the early downs. He's a lot more physical as a football player."

Rochell's remaining spring and summer development are as important as any current "reserve" on the Irish squad. College football programs are only as good as three aspects of their respective rosters: the quarterback, the offensive line, and the defensive line.

Two out of three appear in place for Kelly's Irish. The third is a work in progress, as is the unit's promising sophomore. Top Stories