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  • Summer Stock: Defense

    by SEE

    What do a former walk-on, a former wide receiver, a former safety, a linebacker whose leg was shattered “like a jigsaw puzzle” and another linebacker with an ACL tear all have in common?  They’re all vying for a starting position on the Notre Dame linebacking corps in 2014.  That M*A*S*H/Bad News Bears unit playing behind a defensive line that lost two early round picks to the NFL draft and just lost its top back-up at tackle are the two main reasons Notre Dame fans are pessimistic about 2014.  On the good side, rarely has Notre Dame entered a season with such depth at Defensive back.

    See, all better.

    The wild card in 2014 is new defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who’s going to be running a multiple front, but with (apparently) a 4-3 base which would better utilize the talent on hand (One Foot Down has a good breakdown on what to expect).  Van Gorder is expected to bring pressure and play press man-to-man which should cause more negative plays, but also will expose the Irish to bigger plays by opposing offenses.


    If one remembers back to 2012, Notre Dame fans were scared to death of the defense.  Most expected the Irish to get pummeled by the passers on the schedule as there were no proven corners. The top two candidates were switched from the offensive side of the ball and one was a freshman.  The defensive line lost Aaron Lynch, neither Nix nor Tuitt had become dominant yet and… the linebacking corps was considered suspect in the passing game.  Compared to last year, there’s room for improvement despite the key losses  as Nix and Tuitt were hurt most of the season and the starting three defensive linemen played less than 50 snaps together all season.

    The defense could be terrible, it could also turn out quite good if Councell and Grace are healthy and the young guys improve.

    Defensive Line

    • *11       Ishaq Williams             SR
    • *91       Sheldon Day                  JR
    • *94       Jarron Jones                JR
    • *45       Romeo Okwara            JR
    • 90          Isaac Rochell                 SO
    • 53          Justin Utupo                   SR
    • 89          Jacob Matuska              SO
    • 98          Andrew Trumbetti     FR
    • 50          Chase Hounshell          SR
    • 56          Anthony Rabasa          SR
    • 5            Marquis Dickerson    SO
    • 92          Grant Blankenship     FR
    • 96          Peter Mokwuah           FR
    • 33          Jhonathan Williams   FR
    • 75          Daniel Cage                    FR
    • 93          Jay Hayes                        FR
    • 55          Jonathan Bonner         FR

    LIKELY STARTERS: If you only looked at the starting defensive line from a recruiting standpoint, you might not be as pessemistic heading into the season.  5-star Ishaq Williams, will play next to 5-star/4-star (5 by Scout/4 by the rest) Sheldon Day.  On the other side 4-star recruit Jarron Jones will lineup next to Romeo Okwara.  On the surface… not a bad looking starting lineup.  But there’s little experience  at the positions in the 4-3 and very suspect depth.   Day is the leader on this line and Kelly has made that clear.  Ishaq Williams is coming in in great shape and has received a lot of early praise.  Recruitniks might remember that he was rated the top pass rusher in the Army All-American game ahead of Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.  After some promising play in 2013, Jarron Jones has entered camp a bit overweight but with high expectations.  He’s big and mobile and if he’s really motivated could turn into a very good defensive tackle/nose tackle.  Romeo Okwara, all 245 pounds of him, actually played nose tackle sometimes in 2013.  Ideally (with two years still before he can legally drink) he would have been a red shirt, but given all of the injuries last year there was little choice.  Okwara is very mobile for a big man, but he may struggle to hold off the charge from some of the new freshmen.

    IN THE WINGS: Isaac Rochell is the odds on favorite to back up at defensive end and the bet is here, also at defensive tackle.  Rochell is another player that could have benefitted from a red-shirt year, but this year he’s going to have to play as well as backup ( whether he plays outside or inside.)   He’s up to 290 now and Kelly noted that he has enough lower body strength to hold his own. Justin Utupo (a kid who’s really a beefed up linebacker) is one backup inside and he actually flashed some ability to penetrate the line in 2013.   Jacob Matuska, a 290 pounder most haven’t heard much  about, is also in the mix along with the oft injured Chase Hounshell.  The fact the Kelly’s talking about freshmen Pete Mokwuah and Daniel Cage is probably not a good sign.  Both reported to camp at a rolly-polly 325.  Still, Cage has drawn a lot of early praise for his combination of strength and athleticism and he’ll at least have the size to play meaningful reps… evenif he may have lost a few breakfast pounds on the sideline yesterday.   The staff seems very impressed with the young talent on the outside.  Andrew Trumbetti won the skills competition at the all-star game and played running back in high school, Jhonathan Williams, at 6’4” 252 has great athleticism for his size after playing wide receiver for a time in high school (Justin Tuck comparison anyone) and Kelly took time to point out Jonathan Bonner’s 35 inch vertical leap and his other leap to 270 pounds.  As Van Gorder rotates kids in and out and moves them around, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all of the above freshmen get playing time this year.   There’s a lot of potential, but also enormous question-marks around this unit.


    • *31       John Turner                   SO
    • *38       Joe Schmidt                    SR
    • *9          Jaylon Smith                  SO
    • **30          Ben Councell                  SR
    • **59          Jarrett Grace                  SR
    • 8            Kendall Moore              SR
    • 42          Michael Deeb                FR
    • 17          James Onwualu            SO
    • 44          Doug Randolph            SO
    • 5            Nyles Morgan                FR
    • 43          Kolin Hill                         FR
    • 48          Greer Martini                FR
    • 52          Austin Larkin                FR

    LIKELY STARTERS: jeqe3u4e…but not as many questionmarks as ND has at linebacker.  Jaylon Smith has already established himself as a leader on the defense and with the move from Dog to Will, will (see what I did there?) be tough to gameplan around.  Everyone loves Joe Schmidt who’s become the vocal leader of the defense, but the big question is whether or not Schmidt can take the pounding inside.  Undersized and lacking great athleticism, he has drawn praise for his leadership and instincts.  Transplanted safety John Turner (who has new life at linebacker) gives the Irish a fast SEC type presence at the SAM spot, if undersized at 220 pounds.

    IN THE WINGS: Two players who could turn this unit from mushy to solid are Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell.  While neither is fully practicing yet, both Grace and Councell are expected back.  Grace was hurt just as he started to play well and Councell, at 250 pounds, was playing well at Drop last year backing up Smith before his injury.  If both can return and play at a high level, this unit could surprise onlookers. Converted wide receiver to linebacker James Onwualu and Michael Deeb will also challenge on the two deep.   By far the biggest name on the recruiting trail this year was middle linebacker Nyles Morgan. Morgan is a bit slighter than most expected him to be, but has already show flashes of talent that could move him ahead of Schmidt by mid-season.  Doug Randolph remains a question mark.  He has the size and athleticism, but are the instincts there?  Finally, don’t count out Drue Tranquil making a shift to the SAM position.  At 220 pounds, he came in ready for either safety or linebacker.

    Defensive Back


    •  *6         KeiVarae Russell         JR
    •  *36      Cole Luke                        SO


    • 12          Devin Butler                  SO
    • 00          Cody Riggs                   5th
    • 19          Nick Watkins                FR
    • 21         Jalen Brown                   SR
    • 24         Josh Atkinson               SR
    • 34         Jesse Bongiovi              SO


    • *28      Austin Collinsworth     SR
    • *10      Max Redfield                   SO
    • 41          Matthias Farley            SR
    • 22          Elijah Shumate             JR
    • 4            Eilar Hardy                     SR
    • 29          Nicky Baratti                 JR

    LIKELY STARTERS: The strength of this team is the defensive backs, but they’re going to have to prove it on the field.  KeiVarae Russell is already a veteran and considered a leader on the team, he’ll likely start opposite either  Cole Luke or Florida transfer Cody Riggs. Luke is a fluid athletic corner who came in a bit on the thin side but seems to have the inside track.   At safety, the story is Max Redfield, a long and athletic safety who has the ability to take away swaths of the field.   Veteran Austin Collinsworth returns at the other safety spot.  Loved by the staff, but challenged athletically Collinsworth is going to have to hold off Matthias Farley who has worked at both corner and safety and appears to be fighting for the “nickleback” spot.  It’s easy to forget after his 2013 season Farley with a band hand that Farley started on the 2012 team in place of Jamoris Slaughter and played well.  He has talent, experience and brings athleticism that Collinsworth hasn’t yet shown.

    IN THE WINGS:   Behind the  three corners the staff is very high on Nick Watkins and Devin Butler, both players have great size and athleticism and will likely get some developmental playing time this year. At safety  Elijah Shumate is a bit of an enigma.  The hard-hitting Shumate earned a lot of playing time as a freshman, but never seemed to impact the game and was prone to mistakes.   Overall, Notre Dame has two potential stars in Redfield and Russell combined with experience in Collinsworth, Schumate, Riggs and Farley and promise in Butler and Watkins


    PUNTER: Kyle Brindza return as the punter after averaging 41 yards per punt in 2012.

    13 Responses to “Summer Stock: Defense”

    1. Ronnie Dobbs says:

      Farley is lining up at CB (nickleback) not safety. He proved he was not a safety last year when he completely avoided Tyler Gafney on a touchdown run that sealed the game for Stanford. I am sure that did not go unnoticed in the film room by the coaches and his teammates. It is hard to play safety if you do not like contact.

    2. No excuses this year. five years of recruiting his own guys –time to show up
      without improvements in special teams however we are doomed.

    3. Patrick Bateman says:

      Farley likes Nickelback

    4. Better score a lot this year says:

      Converted linebacker James Onwualu in the linebacker summary?

      Converted WR actually.

    5. ND Chicago says:

      Maybe in year 5 Kelly will discover the third phase of the game and the ND special teams will make a big play, but I doubt it. Although, a punt return of more than 5 yards would constitute a big improvement over the previous 4 years.

    6. We could be better than last year and still lose 7 games this year. The schedule is a killer.

    7. SEC speed for John Turner? I got excited for a minute. Then I looked him up. He had offers from Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Indiana, Miami (OH), Minnesota, Temple, Toledo and W. Michigan. Looks like bottom of the barrel BIG 10 speed to me.

    8. ElkhartIrish says:

      I just want to know where I can get arms like Jaylon Smith.

    9. Exactly half the SEC SAMS last year were smaller than Turner