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VanGorder Talks Defensive Personnel

VanGorder is effusive when talking about players such as linebacker James Onwualu and cornerback Shaun Crawford while admiring the progress made by linebacker Nyles Morgan.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder entertained a variety of questions pertaining to personnel and defensive philosophy in general during Wednesday’s media day.

Here is a cross-section of his responses.

• 2016 Defense: “It’s by far our best collective group of athletes (from 2014-16). A lot of them are young. We’ve got some guys that have been two-year starters for us whose production has to pick up. I’ll find out more when we get to Texas.”

• LB-Nyles Morgan: “You’ve seen Nyles’ career. His freshman year, he was thrown in there and he wasn’t ready to manage our defense. He’s tough, he’s persevered and he’s worked hard. He’s done an admirable job relative to managing things. I respect him greatly as a player.

“But I’ve got to see him as a starter. That’s why I can’t wait for the Texas game. Let’s see what you can do, Nyles. Let’s see what it looks like for 70 plays in a big game. He’s on the right road right now. He just keeps getting better. His last two practices have been his best two practices.”

• LB-Asmar Bilal: “You will see Asmar Bilal play some Will linebacker for us this year. He’s a really good young player. His speed traits are better than the other Will linebackers, but he’s just young in the game.”

• LB-Greer Martini: “Experience. He’s played a lot of snaps. He’s been through tough times. He’s had to persevere. He’s a much more confident player now. That’s what his process has been. I feel confidence with Greer now, and he’s a totally different player than he was early in his career confidence-wise. He’s been a top performer so far (in camp).”

• LB-Te’von Coney: “Te’von is probably the best one in the box against the run game right now.”

• LB-James Onwualu: “You talk to a guy like James Onwualu and the football he knows is amazing.”

• DE-Jay Hayes: “He competed in the spring really hard. His effort level was better than the other guys. He still has a lot of football to learn, but his effort was most impressive.”

• DE-Andrew Trumbetti: “I’m still waiting for him. His process has been a little slower than he or I would want it to be. I’m just waiting for a big jump from him. I’m seeing flashes of it, but his every-day consistency is not quite there.

“It’s been a challenge for Andrew. The vision I have for him as a player…he could be really good. He could be a production guy. He’s got some hurdles. He has to stay steadfast, keep working at it. We need his production.”

• DE-Isaac Rochell: “He’s got a lot more game out there. That will be one of the things that will be a key for us. His production needs to get better.”

• DE-Daelin Hayes: “There’s a role for him. He’s got some great traits. For a 250-pound guy, he has real unique speed and quickness. Getting him to take advantage of that trait is the challenge because he’s young. He’s doing a lot, so when we get into game week, we’ll cut it down. He’s a typical freshman with install right now. But he’s going to be a fine player.

“We’ve got to see how he develops as a football player. A lot of that is relative to how he can learn and see the big picture of the game. And then does he have the ‘it’ factor relative to getting to the quarterback. He’s going to do that. He’s going to do other things for us, but does he really want to get to the quarterback? We’ll find out.”

• On Naming Interior Defensive Line Starters): “I’d say no to that. That’s a position we have to keep competitive. I think we’re making progress. I’m seeing some better things. Again, it’s consistency. That’s what we’re looking for and we don’t have that yet.”

• NT-Pete Mokwuah: “He’s come a long way. He’s had some good days out there. The arrow is up on all of them. But again, I couldn’t say out of that group that any of them have had the consistency that we really need.”

• DT-Elijah Taylor: “He has flashed some things.”

• FS-Max Redfield: “He’s had a good training camp. I want to see him continue to concentrate and focus on his consistency. But he’s been a much better football player, both in spring ball and in this training camp.”

• CB-Cole Luke: “He knows our whole defense.”

• CB-Shaun Crawford: “He’s an obsessed player. He’s always studying the game. He’s all in. He’s a real football player. He’s got it all. It was hard for us to have him standing next to us on the sideline (last year). He’s so engaged. He’s intelligent, competitive…he’s got it all. I’m glad he’s at Notre Dame.”

• Freshmen Defensive Backs: “It’s a lot for those guys, especially the safeties. For our middle linebacker and safeties, our system is difficult. We found that out in pro football with the rookies.

“But they’re pretty typical of young players that have been thrown in there right away. The volume is getting to them a little and they’re working on the mental part to continue to grow. That freshman group is really talented.”

• On His Consideration of Scaling Back the Defense: “The first year, we had the payoff of our system in games. We’ve been dented at times since then. The rhythm of it hasn’t been maybe what I was hoping for.

“We’ve got our most athletic group overall. I wouldn’t compromise them relative to it being too big for them. I asked them the other day, ‘Do you want to stop installing? Is this too much?’ They all said, ‘No way, let’s keep going.’ I think they take pride in it.

“If we get better and better, we don’t need as much scheme.”

• Pressuring the Quarterback: “Oh, yeah, we’re going to be a team that gets pressure on the quarterback.”

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