BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE ROSTER OWNER
The offensive line. The defensive line. The quarterback.
Reasonable minds can disagree on the order of the triumvirate above, but not that they represent No.’s 1-2-3 in the must-have pecking order for every college squad contending for something at season’s end.
Notre Dame’s offensive line at present ranks as a team strength. So too does its starting quarterback, at least in terms of his limitless potential.
It’s defensive front? Well, reasonable minds can disagree on the group’s upside, downside, and likely end product, too.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly sees more in the group than do most pundits outside the program’s walls.
“We’ll have to see. I haven’t changed the way that I feel about the guys that we have up front that can do some things and disrupt the quarterback,” he said when asked to revisit his initial positive evaluation of the crew. “I think (sophomore) Daelin Hayes continues to get better the more football he’s exposed to. I think (classmate) Julian Okwara is coming on and giving us the kind of edge presence we expected.
“(Senior) Andrew Trumbetti is getting better and more consistent as a pass-rusher for us. (Sophomore) Khalid Kareem has done some nice things for us. There’s four guys right there. I think we’re even going to get (sophomore linebacker) Jamir Jones activated a little more. He’s up to 242 pounds; I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to hold him back from being a bigger guy.”
Along with redshirt-freshman project Ade Ogundeji (upside galore…likely not for 2017), that’s the entire lot of defensive ends. What about the all-important guys in the middle?
“Jerry’s (Tillery) done a really nice job,” said Kelly of his mercurial junior nose tackle. “(Senior) Daniel Cage has had his best spring. I think that’s going to continue to transfer (over). Add (junior) Micah Dew-Treadway.”
Not to be left out of the comprehensive review was Dew-Treadway’s classmate on the interior — neither have played a college down entering season No. 3 at the program.
“Brandon Tiassum had a really nice day today. He’s coming on,” Kelly offered. “He came from a program that really was a basketball program (Park Tudor High School, Indianapolis) and he’s been in a learning mode and we’re seeing some signs.
“So yeah, I stand by the belief that that group is going to be solid for us.”
PUTTING THE FUN BACK IN FUNDAMENTALLY SOUND
A new defensive coordinator with a reputation for doing more with less.
A defense that did less than any in recent program memory last fall.
Will Notre Dame’s defensive personnel make the most of its potential in large part because of the new man in charge, Mike Elko and his scheme?
“The most important thing is, the scheme in itself is the fundamentals of football,” said Kelly of the current installation. “Being in the right place. To be timely to take the football away. It’s being in the right gap. All the fundamentals that we’re talking about that we lacked at times.”
Notre Dame’s defense forced just 14 turnovers in both of the last two seasons. The Irish forced 23 including 16 interceptions in the first season of the Brian VanGorder era, 2014.
“So we’re going to be a smarter more disciplined football team that I think is going to put us in position to be schematically a better football team, without having to create and be exotic, we can be a football team that takes the football away and is a better football team because we’re just fundamentally in a really good position each and every snap.”
PAGING GEROME SAPP? IS DAVID BRUTON IN THE HOUSE?
The Irish football program was blessed with at least one (sometimes two) playmaking safety in the following seasons this millennium:
2000, 2001, 2002, one-half of 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012…and, well, it’s been awhile.
As for the current crop, one populated by position switches, sophomores, and rookies?
“They’re developing. We’re playing the safety position quite differently than we did before,” Kelly offered. “(Junior) Nick Coleman has been the guy that has done some really good things for us. He’s extremely athletic. We’re in the process of continuously developing his understanding of the defense.
“But (sophomores) Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill are still in that programming mode in terms of doing all the little things right for us. Fundamentally. I think they’re getting better. I know Mike Elko really likes those two kids. Their toughness and their want to to play the game. So they’re going to be there for us.”
Unlike 2012 when Zeke Motta and (later) Matthias Farley took nearly every snap, the 2017 Irish are likely to employ the services of the masses in an effort to put the best player on the field at the right time, in the appropriate situation.
“I think you’ll see that we’re going to be situationally playing guys that make sense at the time of the game,” said Kelly. “First, second, and third down. And we’re going to put guys in position to succeed. It’s not going to be one guy and that’s it, in all situations.”
Not Necessarily Either/Or: While the popular opinion places Studstill vs. Elliott opposite Coleman, Kelly said that the sophomore tandem is not necessarily competing against one another. Not in total.
“They’ll have to know both positions and they’re not log-jammed,” he said. “They can independently work themselves onto the field at the same time.
“I think Isaiah Robertson the freshman, he started at a level of really not knowing much and he’s grown considerably over the last few weeks,” Kelly continued. “He’s done a nice job of picking things up. We’re making progress there. We’re going to need more time. but I’m pleased.”
As for any help on the way?
“I don’t know that anybody is going to walk in the door that’s 6’2” 215 pounds and can run a 4.5 anytime soon,” Kelly admitted. “We know who our guys are. We think there’s some more flexibility coming (freshmen) and with the players that we have that we’ll be able to come up with a really good solution by the time we kick it off against Temple.”
SPEAKING OF WHICH…
Sophomore Spencer Perry began his Notre Dame career as a special teams contributor, appearing in six contests last season including the season opener in Austin and ultimately in the squad’s last win, a blowout of Army in San Antonio.
Perry will play his final three seasons of collegiate eligibility elsewhere, the result of a semester’s-end transfer he decided upon earlier this week.
“Spencer has been a great kid. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” said Kelly . “He expressed to me that he felt like athletically he needed to find a place that would better suit him.
“I guess if you read between the lines maybe he wasn’t seeing the position in which he was playing (Rover), nor the area of reps suitable for where he is right now in the program. But you’d have to ask him to get a clear understanding.
“He’s a great kid. We wish him the best. We’ll release him to wherever he wants to continue his education because he’s been a great kid in the program.”
Perry was moved from safety to rover in new coordinator Mike Elko’s defense. Asked if he tried to talk the young competitor into staying through the conclusion of spring, delaying his decision in case of second thoughts, Kelly offered, “I gauge every individual accordingly. He seemed to have talked to his family and made up his mind. I don’t want to put an individual that’s not into it where he might hurt himself or hurt someone else.”