We’ll have to take Brian Kelly’s word for it.
That might not be the case much longer on freshman defensive end Daelin Hayes. The former four-star recruit and one-time USC commitment has flashed plenty during training camp’s open practices and the University’s in-house highlights. But it’s been exclusively against the second-team offense.
But Notre Dame’s head coach said Hayes is getting first-team work too, at least in situational lineups, which means going against potential All-American left tackle Mike McGlinchey or right tackle Alex Bars.
“He’s getting that every day in terms of pass rush and when we get into our speed package,” Kelly said. “He’s getting a lot of work against Mike and faring quite well.”
If that’s the case, Notre Dame could make a lineup shift at weak side defensive end, where Jay Hayes seems assured to start against Texas and the freshman may be moving past Andrew Trumbetti in situational roles. Both Daelin Hayes and Trumbetti could be on the field together in pass rushing situations, yet the Michigan product may still supplant the upperclassman in the rotation.
Notre Dame is desperate for pass rush help, with no returning defensive lineman posting more than one sack last season. That means Hayes should get every opportunity to provide it after a strong off-season when he cut seven pounds to get down to a lean 6-foot-3 ½, 250 pounds.
“He’s not as stout, but he’s athletic, and then we can get into our speed package as well,” Kelly said, comparing Daelin to Jay. “Against Stanford, (Jay) is going to be in against a big, big tackle, you’ll see a lot more of him. When you get into some teams that want to play fast but aren’t as impressive at the point of attack, Daelin gets his share.”
That combination probably won’t bump Trumbetti out of the defensive line rotation, but it may move him down the list. Considering Jay Hayes hasn’t played in a year and Daelin Hayes has played barely 10 games the past three years thanks to multiple shoulder surgeries, Trumbetti remains the most proven commodity at weak-side end.
Yet Kelly doesn’t necessarily see a player who believes that.
“It’s always about Andrew’s confidence and making sure he believes in himself,” Kelly said. “We believe in him. He’s his harshest critic. Sometimes we just have to have him lighten up on himself. He works hard, he’s given us the kind of effort we want. And we think he can give us the pass rush we need but sometimes he beats himself up too much.”
Trumbetti needs to cut that out to hold off Daelin Hayes, who’s worked over plenty of second-team offensive linemen in practices open to the media. Last weekend he cracked running back Tony Jones Jr. on one blitz rep and darted around the edge on another. During Monday’s practice, Hayes fooled classmate Tommy Kramer with an inside move to pressure Malik Zaire.
The point for Notre Dame is trying all options to generate a pass rush that’s been lacking under Kelly. The Irish have posted more than 26 sacks in a season just once under Kelly, which came during the BCS National Championship Game run four years ago.
As a point of comparison, 26 sacks usually ranks in the middle of the pack nationally.
Even with Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith and Aaron Lynch cycling through the roster the past six years, sparking a pass rush has been a challenge. Daelin Hayes might be able to change that. Come Labor Day weekend at Texas, we’ll see for ourselves.