As we did last week with the offensive starters, today we rank Notre Dame’s projected defensive starters from top to bottom.
Dog LB Jaylon Smith – The Golden child came in with absurd, unrealistic expectations. Then easily EXCEEDED them. A marvelous athlete, hard worker who eagerly accepts coaching, yet the game comes easily to Jaylon. Spond’s injury allowed him to leap past Councell and grab the starting position. Could be duped in the first few games, but soon got beyond that. His interception against USC, and more importantly the drop that got him in the position to make it, was one of the most magnificent defensive plays ever seen at Notre Dame Stadium. Yet it was not a fluke, and a harbinger of things to come. Will benefit doubly this off-season, first from Longo, and then from Brian Van Gorder, whose experience at Georgia and in the NFL gives him the chops to coach someone so talented. Humble and a great teammate (wearing Spond’s number was Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet) a likely future captain. Jaylon might, just might. become an all-time Notre Dame great. He certainly did not disqualify himself in 2013.
CB KeiVarae Russell - recruited as a skill player expected to be an RB/WR prospect. When Tee Shepard departed, Russell shifted to CB and started as frosh. Went through his rite of passage against Robert Woods and USC. An eager tackler, got stronger last Winter and his body is morphing into the prototype for an NFL cornereback. Quick, has fluid hips, tough for a defender to shake. Along with Smith,will be a candidate for All-America Honors.
DE Sheldon Day - stellar as a true frosh backing up Kapron Lewis-Moore. Day incurred a high ankle sprain against Purdue in the third game and it nagged him throughout 2013. Quick, excels at shedding blocks, a premier run stuffer. Day could improve as a pass rusher. His volume of plays must increase in 2014.
ILB Jarrett Grace – labelled as “a werewolf” by Diaco as a freshman, Grace got caught in an ILB Depth Chart Logjam in 2012 as a redshirt frosh. Hit his stride by late September, before his broken Fibula against ASU in Arlington. Faster, quicker and a nastier tackler than Fox and Calabrese, needs to touch up his pass coverage skills. A true Senior in 2014, he will not be in contact driflls in the Spring, but will be a key pupil of Van Gorder as the last (and only experienced) man standing at ILB. A leader type, on and off the field, is a potential captain.
S Max Redfield – tall, rangy athlete who looks like an LSU/Bama Safety. Finally saw significant reps at Yankee Stadium and will benefit from Spring Practice. Has the athleticism to erase the mistakes and close the gaps the safeties allowed in 2013. Remember, last January he was EXCELLING as a hooper at Mission Viejo, but now he’s full-time football.
S Elijah Shumate - great hitter, sure tackler, surprisingly good coverage skills, especially when the ball is in the air, for a high school linebacker. Now a safety for a full year, should have cracked the cryptic codes allegedly required to play safety at Notre Dame. Poised to settle in as a starter at safety next to Redfield and solidity the back line.
Cat ILB Ishaq Williams - a Journeyman CAT, not more than that. Tantalizing measurables, and looks great in warmups, but not particularly productive. Maybe Ishaq needed to escape Shembo’s dominant shhadow, maybe VanGorder can unlock the potential lurking within Williams, maybe neither. Maybe, what we’ve seen is what we get.
NT Jarron Jones - 6’5 1/2″ 305 lbs. Tall enough, strong enough and nasty enough to be effective at Nose Tackle. Free of Nix’s shadow, Jarron is helped by being flanked by Day. Elston develops his plyers and Jones will get lots of attention this Spring. Should have a nice 3 year career as starting Nose tackle.
CB Cole Luke – Highly touted CB prospec coming from Steve Belles’ program at Chandler Hamilton. his first order of business was, in combination with Devin Butler, to push, swiftly and with extreme prejudice, Lo Wood out of the nickel slot. Great hips, aggressive when the ball is in the air, and an eager tackler. If he can add the same amount of muscle mass that KeiVarae Russell did last winter we might have a BCS quality set of cornerbacks.
DE-An “ELL” of a player- Either Chase Hounshell or Isaac Rochell would be expected to flank Jones on the DL. Rochell showed flashes in the preseason, but had a choppy (don’t they all?) frosh year. Kelly remarked on his progress in the bowl practice sessions. Listed at 6’3 1’2″ 280 lbs as an incoming frosh, should be North of 290 by the Rice game. Chase Hounshell had a promising frosh year, getting some significant snaps, but has struggled with a shoulder injury and surgery for nearly two years. He was making some progress in the Fall and was an active participant in the bowl practice. He will be ready for contact in the Spring. Listed as 6′ 4 1’2, 271 lbs. If these two are capable of splitting the position, that would leave Springmann as Jones’ backup. This battle will be intriguing in Spring, including a determination of whether Hounshell is fully recovered from his shoulder problems. Might get a sixth year. That means he would play through 2016.
ILB Kendall Moore – for 3 1/2 years built a reputation as a hard hitter, clueless in pass coverage and as Louis Nix’ foil. But with the injuries to Spond, Councell and Grace, got some snaps and came alive against Air Force. Kelly started nurturing him for a 5th year and Kendall will get plenty of experience next to Deeb this Spring. Great chance to be the starter in 2014, or at least the placeholder until Deeb or Morgan is ready to start.
Again, depth is important, but the sole purpose of this exercise is to rate the starters!