Ready to Roam

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder looks to take his second-edition Irish to the next level by the conclusion of spring ball 2015.

Lauded as the player most well-versed in Notre Dame's new defensive scheme entering the 2014 season, eventual team MVP Joe Schmidt offered a valuable piece of advice to those that inferred he "knew it all."

"There's always more to learn. Always more to explore in defensive football," Schmidt said.

That's the theme second-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder carries over at the outset of his second spring session in South Bend.

It's inarguable, however, that VanGorder's troops are several steps ahead of the first.

"We look better. Much better," said VanGorder. "We're still young in a lot of places so we're battling that. But as we grow the installs here, we'll be way ahead of a year ago."

That pain presented primarily in November when crucial starters fell by the wayside and young players were forced to carry the torch.

"It was a little painful going through it, but it should pay off for them in Year 2," said VanGorder.

VanGorder's view of the defense won't change drastically, but a lack of position designation to accompany his coordinator role does afford the chance to teach more pupils the crucial components of his scheme.

"I think Coach VanGorder does a really good job of coaching every position," said first-year defensive backs coach Todd Lyght. "Some defensive coordinators look like they're focused on one position. He coaches everybody every day.

VanGorder's freedom of movement doesn't change his initial point of view.

"I think in my career I've been much more visual through the mike linebacker and safeties," he said. "They're our communicators, quarterbacks of the defense so to speak. Responsible for a lot of communication, so I'm constantly working with the linebackers and safeties.

"Coach (Mike) Elston with the linebackers so I'm kind of working with him right now. Eventually I'll start walking more, spending time with the D-Line, spending time with the secondary. Right now we're trying to let coach kind of grow comfortable with the linebackers and how we do it."

It's a comfort level much more easily realized than was last year's ongoing challenge.

"I think (Vangorder's style) is great for understanding the concepts of the defense," Lyght continued of the end goal. "Why we're doing it, when we're doing it, where the pressure is coming from. Sometimes young players only understand, 'What's my job and what's my responsibility?'

"In order for us to be a great defense, we have to understand the jobs and responsibilities of all 11 defenders on the field, and then we can take our games to the next level."

HE SAID IT
VanGorder was asked about myriad players at today's interview session.

-- Regarding sophomore LB Nyles Morgan: "His physical traits say he's more of a mike linebacker than he is an outside linebacker. Again, we'd like to get him a comfort level (at mike). We'd like to be able to cross-train linebackers. He's still in the learning process. We may experiment with that later when he gets comfortable playing mike, completely comfortable there.

-- On 5th-year senior Jarrett Grace: "He's been excellent. Very intelligent player. He couldn't play last year, all he did was study, study, study. He knows our defense and he's way ahead of guys that have played because of that. He's an amazing, amazing guy. There was a point in time I didn't know if he'd ever play football again. I had my doubts. To see him out there says everything about who he is."

-- On the safety duo, Max Redfield/Elijah Shumate: "They've been real solid, both of them. Way more comfortable, way more knowledgeable. Not getting a lot of panic snaps from them. They're playing much more confident. Both of them have very good physical traits. The consistency in their position and the comfort level in their position will bring out those physical traits that they have and make them both more productive."

-- Regarding Jerry Tillery, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Te'Von Coney: "They've been outstanding. All three of them, really. Not overwhelmed by the situation at all. Not inhibited. They're competing. All three of them have been very surprising for freshmen -- whatever they are -- mid-year freshmen."

-- On backup defensive linemen, notably Daniel Cage: "Still young. Still young. But he's a much better player right now. Even last year, not only are they (freshmen linemen) probably too young to be playing as they learn the game, but the volume of a season, really at the end of the year really showed on him. The wear and tear of a season. He has a long ways to go, a lot of football out in front of him. He's got to keep accelerating his game. He could play a very valuable role for us.

-- On DE Isaac Rochell: "He'll move inside in our sub package which we haven't really gotten into yet. But in the base defense he'll play our Big End position."

-- Asked about reshirt-freshmen Jhonny Williams: "We have to get some more improvement out of Jhonny. Today wasn't a real good day for him. He's in that battling process -- young player, has to learn the system, has to learn how to play it consistently. He has a lot of work ahead of him.

"We label him as a rush. Kolin Hill (a dime package pass-rusher last year) is playing sam (linebacker) right now. (Williams) is in the position with Romeo (Okwara) and Andrew Trumbetti. He's young and learning. Lot to learn."

-- Regarding soph. CB Nick Watkins: "I think the last couple practices, Nick's been better. Kind of a rough start. Lot of growth there. Lot of development left. He seems to have a better attitude than he did as he came in as a freshman. He was one of the freshman that couldn't really find himself last year. I've seen improvement there and that's where it really has to start. Last couple practices have been better for him."

-- On Nickel Matthias Farley: "Matthias is a reliable, dependable player. We've moved him to safety (from nickel) and started teaching him some safety. He was solely our nickel, then at the end of the year, with injuries, we got him back there again. He's a little rusty. We have to fine-tune him this spring, get him some more reps at safety. But again, he'll keep playing nickel for us. He's very important."


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