Notre Dame’s Lyght Born to Coach

One of the two best cornerbacks in Notre Dame’s storied history, first-year defensive backs coach Todd Lyght has made an instant impression on his boss and pupils alike.

Chances are, he saw it.

If you’re a Notre Dame defensive back, and your technique was improper, or you failed to be physical enough in an attempt to re-route a receiver, rest assured, Todd Lyght saw it.

He apparently sees everything.

“He brings a lot of energy to it. He’s very detail oriented,” said 5th-year senior safety Matthias Farley of Lyght. “He has the ability to see what happens to all four DBs in the field at one time, or five if there’s a nickel.

“He’ll tell you that you did this, you did this, and you did this (three guys) all at the same time. You know he’s watching.”

In other words, the age-old football truth, “That one’s going to hurt in the film room,” barely applies – Coach Lyght has already informed the offender of his error and how to correct it.

“Todd Lyght's done a terrific job with all of those guys. I love the way our one-on-ones have gone,” offered head coach Brian Kelly. “It has been the best since I've been coaching, no matter where I've been. Our one-on-ones have been better than anywhere because there is constant teaching and coaching going on.”

DOG EAT DOG

Lyght’s practice priorities were first honed during his time under Lou Holtz (1987-1990) but greatly enhanced during his 12-year NFL career – especially near its conclusion when Lyght won a Super Bowl and earned All-Pro honors on the corner due in part to the competition he faced during game week.

“The thing I learned as a player was that all the really good teams compete really hard in practice,” said Lyght. “If that competition level goes up, it makes the games easier. When I was with the St. Louis Rams, our offense was the Greatest Show on Turf. We used to go against Kurt Warner, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az-Hakim, Ricky Proehl, Marshall Faulk and all those guys. The competition got pretty heated at times.

“That’s what I’m trying to teach our guys. As young players, they don’t know what it’s like to practice hard all the time, consistently,” he said. “They have ups and downs. Compete at a high level and ascend your game daily.”

Hoping to compete at a similar level to his position coach one day is senior KeiVarae Russell. Absent from spring ball due to his recently adjudicated suspension, Russell first locked minds with Lyght this summer. Camp has since been an eye-opener for the veteran of 26 starts.

“He watches everybody go. He doesn’t spend too much time coaching one guy so then he misses the rep of the next guy,” said Russell. “He instructs extremely quickly. Your eye violations, bad progressions, inaccurate footwork – he sees it at the line of scrimmage instantly.

“He knows so many techniques and knows how to fine-tune your game,” Russell continued. “You have to be able to grasp it right away. Every day we’re progressing because of his ability to teach the techniques.”

But does he really see everything?

“I mean, it kind of validates all the stuff he accomplished,” said Farley. “The fact that he can instruct you instantaneously. Maybe he didn’t see your re-route, but he knows why that guy got open down field, and he (then) moves to correct it.

“He has such high standards for us. He wants the best for all of us.”

FIVE GOOD MINUTES

A rundown of Irish defensive backs per their position coach:

On the role of Notre Dame Safeties: “The way we do it, the strong safety lines up to the strong side, the free to the weak side. Basically they do the same jobs. I like crossover at the position. It’s a long season, somebody is going to get hurt, you need to know how to play both spots.”

On Russell Shadowing the Foe’s Best WR: “We might do that, but really I just like having the flexibility to do that if we have to. There might be a situation where Cole (Luke) goes down and then we have our third corner come in and he may be struggling. Then we could have KeiVarae follow their best guy.

“But I like to play left and right. I like to flip-flop. I just like to have the ability to move guys around so offenses can’t dictate to us.”

On Defending Will Fuller: “I tell (the DBs) all the time when we’re going through these drills: if I’m out there, I’m trying to cover Will Fuller and Chris Brown on every play, because it’s not going to get harder than that at the NCAA level. They’ve been getting after it – the competition level has been great.”

Regarding his competitive freshmen: “Absolutely, ‘Competitive’ is the perfect word. Those guys can play with the big boys and they will play early and often. A big thing for them is their confidence – their ability to come in and learn the defense, and not be afraid. I know that young players come in, they’re a little nervous and tentative and it tends to tighten them up when it comes to their game, so they’re not able to play loose and play fluid.

“But I tell these guys: It’s just ball. It’s just ball. Go out there and play ball. And they’ve responded really well to that. Those guys came in with confidence, but technically, they’re very sound as young players. When you’re talking to them and you’re teaching them, they’re able to apply the teaching right away. They figure it out really quickly.”

Regarding Max Redfield: “I think the thing I love about him is his grit -- his ability to play hard all the way through practice. He’s one of the toughest guys on our team and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that.

“He’s an outstanding player. For him, physically, he can do everything really, really well. I’d like to see him pick his game up in the mental part of the game -- understanding offenses, route combinations, understanding concepts – so he can relay that information to everybody else on the defense.

“Our Mike linebacker Joe Schmidt has to do a great job of communicating with players but Max also has to in terms of communicating down and distance, what to look for in certain situations and scenarios, etc.”

On transfer Avery Sebastian: “He’s been doing a great job. He’s the type of player that’s really smart so there aren’t a lot of mental errors. You don’t want your secondary to have mental errors because it leads to explosive plays. He brings consistency to the group and he adds a lot of depth to the position, which we really like.

“Great enthusiasm, great energy. Ever since he’s been on campus he’s done really well assimilating and trying to make friends. He’s a very likeable guy and the guys have done a good job making him part of the family. It’s very important to him, it’s easy to see that.”

On Shaun Crawford: “Shaun isn’t the biggest but he plays really big. He’s able to figure out things on the fly. He’s a very instinctive player. There was a blitz (Tuesday) where he was shielded off and he was able to cut to the A-Gap. It was very instinctive, nobody ever told him that and he made a sack on one of our two-minute drives.

“That’s what you love, for a player to come up with solutions on the field in real time and he’s one of those types of players.”

(Note: Crawford tore his ACL at practice one day later and will miss the 2015 season.)

On Nick Watkins: “Nick has had a great camp. He’s a very interesting player because he has great size, really good speed, he has a really, really long wingspan which is incredible for a cornerback. He’s the type of player that can be slightly out of position but because his wingspan is so big, he can still make a play.

“He has to learn how to use his long arm. Sometimes when he’s defending, he’ll use his short arm, which is (inside). I’m trying to teach him the difference because it’s anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of coverage. That could be an interception, a pass defended, or a touchdown.

“Once he grasps all the different concepts of what we want to do defensively, he can be as good as he wants to be too. I know he’ll play a lot this season and do really well for us.”


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