He has a vastly improved player in Jarron Jones.
And he has desire, both from his younger charges and from within.
Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston has a tall task in front of him. The "dominating spirit" he preaches and teaches is not yet present in most of his youth-filled corps. He's encountered the issue before, both in previous stops and while wearing the blue and gold.
"We had that issue when we first got here," said Elston. "You need the young guys to play aggressive. There was a little bit of experience there with (2010 linemen) Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, Kappy (Lewis-Moore) was a young guy at the time learning. There's always been a few guys like Sheldon out ahead but you need young guys to come along."
Day is the line's best player, though he too is in learning mode. A new position as a defensive tackle (primarily three-technique) and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's new scheme is part of his springtime challenge.
Junior standout Sheldon Day
"It's a good fit for Sheldon," said Elston. "He's a little undersized at times at that spot, but when it comes to the movement traits and pass rush, he's right on track."
Asked what fans will see from Day in the fall, Elston offered, "I don't know. Hopefully you're going to see a guy that's out there dominating. He has the ability if he stays healthy, production will be very high, be a tough guy to block. Plays with great leverage vs. the run and he's an excellent pass rusher.
"(Improved) work volume, being able to go longer. That we don't gas him out with how much he plays so he'll be able to go on third down, which we weren't able to do a year ago with not a lot of depth. Sheldon is the only guy coming back with good experience. We can't let that (reality) take over, and (fail to) get a young guy in to give him a spell so he'll be able to go hard a later down."
Pivot man just as importantWith one former five-star prospect in Day seemingly ready to break out in the fall, Elston's line and the Irish defense as a hole desperately needs another former five-star (later downgraded to a four stars by Scout.com) to fulfill his potential.
Jarron Jones' career arc bares little resemblance to his classmate's. While Day contributed as a regular rotation member from day one, Jones took nearly two seasons to break into the rotation. His break came when standout nose guard Louis Nix's Irish career ended.
Jones blocked kick proved key in a 17-13 win over BYU on Senior Day
"His game has come a long way," said Elston of a player who just last October was relegated to the Irish scout team. "He's focusing on fundamentals and getting better. He's aggressive and he's having a nice spring."
Asked what he'd like to see from Jones, Elston didn't mince words:
"Well with his size you'd like to see him dominating. But what he's really been working on is his lower body leverage, power, playing with leverage. He has a very good bend. Block destruction, use of his hands. He's really improved his pass rush. Jarron is a very improved player right now and with continued practice he'll continue to get better."
Jones offered earlier in the week that he greatly preferred the new defensive scheme to the previous run by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
"Oh yeah. Jarron's really enjoying it. I'm enjoying coaching him. He's a completely different guy. He's growing up. He was a very immature player, very immature in everything. He's starting to grow up."
Part of that growth process was being there for his teammates -- on a trial-by-fire basis.
"I think it was a wake-up call for him to realize, 'I'm not where I need to be,' said Elston of Jones earning starts last November and in the Pinstripe Bowl. "He has a lot of work ahead of him. He's making a lot of improvement but it was a good eye-opening experience."
Elston added that Jones' inability to get off blocks early in his career was more of a technical issue, not a matter of desire.
"A lot of it was pad level, improper technique, looking in the backfield trying to find the ball rather than defeat the block," said Elston. "Those are things he's worked on this spring."
Elston and Day are the known commodities for 2014 up front. The Irish defense needs Jones to make that reliable duo a trio.