Igniting the individual

For Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, the strength of the pack is in the wolf.

Whenever a new coordinator is introduced to a program, the first couple of years he often makes it a point to tell the media he's working with what he's given. These aren't his players, you know. He didn't recruit them. Growing pains are going to be the norm.

However, with Brian VanGorder, you get the sense the experienced coach embraces that fact of instead of leaning upon it as an excuse to ease into program expectations.

Questions abound heading into camp on defense for the Irish, but VanGorder's emphasis on adopting his style of scheme to the strengths of his personnel is a given.

"I think what Brian does really well is he looks at a particular player and says, I'm going to put him in a position where he can use his specific ability well," Kelly said in his first press conference of the season. "This is where I've always been and this is where Brian and I have always been on the same page."

"It's always been about the player, not the play, and it's the same thing for Brian. It's always about the player, not the front.

Sophomore Jaylon Smith was moved from SAM linebacker to WILL in the spring. VanGorder wants Notre Dame's best player making plays from all angles. That doesn't take a former NFL coach to figure out.

Well, maybe it does.

And, emphasis on the individual looks to be a theme in how he operates.

You first got a glimpse of it with the way VanGorder attacked the recruitment of true freshmen defensive tackles Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah late in the 2014 recruiting cycle, both of whom were mentioned by Kelly in his press conference as potential immediate contributors.

"Their volume is ahead of any of the freshmen that we have had at that position since we have come here," Kelly said. "Their ability to go in and take reps immediately because they are so strong, as well. Both of them physically are able to compete right away."

And, it's continued with VanGorder's approach to the 2015 class. Brandon Tiassum's combination of size and potential, Ashton White's speed, Nicco Fertitta's grit and mentality, Nick Coleman's well-roundeness. While not necessarily four-star prospects by analysts' standards, VanGorder's sees parts of a puzzle that he wants.

"You're going to see us playing multiple players, utilizing their strengths," Kelly said. "And one of the things that Brian brings to the table is a great deal of experience in utilizing the strength of those singular players, those individual players. So if that's considered scheming, then that's what it is. He's always going to be about getting the players in a position where they can help play great defense, and so I think you'll see a lot of that as we move into the season."

If Notre Dame is to field a defense that can keep points off the board against a daunting schedule, it's going to have to adopt to different styles of offense. That task becomes more doable when different lineups are made available.

For the strength of the pack is in the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is in the pack. It should be compelling to observe how Notre Dame's individuals on defense respond when called upon to rise to the occasion at various points through out the season. Equally absorbing will be observing Notre Dame's first-year defensive coordinator figure it all out.

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