Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame’s Emerging Star

Jaylon Smith - Notre Dame vs. USC
Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Jaylon Smith (9) celebrates after intercepting a pass in action during a football game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo: Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

Occasionally a 5-star recruit immediately steps into a starting role as a true freshman and shows that his lofty recruiting rankings were dead on.  Luckily for Notre Dame and the 2013 Fighting Irish, it appears as though Jaylon Smith is one of those rare players who start living up to the hype from day one.

Thrust into a starting role this year with the sudden and unplanned retirement of Danny Spond, Jaylon Smith started every game this season and has improved each week for the Irish.  On the heels of back to back impressive performances, it’s become clear that he has quickly become one of the defenses best playmakers in the process.

Two weeks ago against Arizona State, Smith was all over the field and one of the main reasons the Irish kept the Sun Devils kicking field goals instead of extra points for most of the first half.   Then this past weekend, Smith made one of the biggest defensive plays of the season with an early third quarter interception that set the tone for a second half of dominance from the Notre Dame defense.

Seven games into the season Smith has 31 tackles, 3.5 for loss, an interception, two pass break ups, three more passes defended, and a forced fumble.  None of those stats really jump out at you individually, but his stat line illustrates just how versatile and well rounded he is just past the midway point of his freshman season.

Smith’s head coach has taken notice to how special of a player Smith is for Notre Dame already.  “He’s very important to our defense. He sets the edge of our defense, which as you know is so important in the 3-4 defense,” said Brian Kelly on Saturday night following Notre Dame’s 14-10 win made possible by a dominant defensive performance.

Kelly talked a little bit about just how much Smith is asked to do for the defense as well.   “He’s athletic, great interception. He’s playing man to man coverage down the field on a pretty talented player. He’s bringing pressure. He’s a pretty special player. Not a lot of guys like that in the country as true freshmen.”

That interception Kelly referenced is the kind of interception that not many Notre Dame linebackers over the last twenty years or so were capable of making.  Smith dropped back into coverage and made an outstanding play on the ball in the air.  Notre Dame hasn’t had another backer who could make a play like that since… well since maybe never.  Manti Te’o racked up gaudy interception totals last year, but the majority of his interceptions were made in zone coverage as opposed to plays where he was asked to play man coverage on an athletic receiver.

Smith is also just scratching the surface of his potential for Notre Dame and has a lot of room to improve.   “Zone coverage he continues to learn.  He’s had a mistake here or there in terms of zone fits.  That’s why we put a little bit more man with him.  He’s still learning there,” Kelly admitted the day after Notre Dame’s third win in the last four years over arch rival USC.

Kelly later added that even though Smith still has room to grow, he is playing and improving at an impressive pace.  “We love the curve that he’s on.  I think every day’s a learning experience for him, every game that he plays, he picks up the nuances.  The big picture stuff he’s grasping very well.”

With the responsibility of setting the edge for the defense, these next two weekends will be a huge test for the freshman with Air Force and Navy’s option offenses on tap for the Irish back to back weeks.  This weekend will especially be a tough test for Smith with the Irish traveling to the high altitude of Colorado Springs – a tough task for any true freshman still getting used to the physicality of the college game.

So far Smith hasn’t done anything to suggest he won’t be up for the test.  If anything, Smith’s performance against Arizona State where he made several athletic plays on the perimeter of the defense suggest that Smith could excel for the Irish the next two weekends.  If he did, it would surprise no one just like it won’t surprise anyone if he’s mentioned in the same sentence as Manti Te’o many more times over the course of his career when people discuss the best linebackers to ever play for the Irish.

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    1. Where is the Bleacher Report article entitled, “The 25 Most Intelligent UHND Commenters” that shows BJ isn’t on the list?

  1. I heard on the radio this evening that Cierre Wood was let go from the Houston Texans today for allegedly smoking dope before there game on Sunday with Two other texan players. Heres the Funny part. Woods attorney claims the players were sharing a cigar and it wasnt dope. Now ive done my share of partying in my younger days and ive passed the joint around many of times. Ive also played a lot of golf and enjoy smoking a cigar on the course but ive never shared a cigar with my playing partners like these guys were allegedly doing. Mustve been a Blundt. Now I know why Cierre was stuck in BKs doghouse last year. WTF

  2. I watched the Irish Connections video and thought it was great!

    I really was impressed by Kelly’s speeches. They fired me up. Also, really liked how jacked up the Irish D was at the end of the game. They were on fire! It was like a shark frenzy….anything that moved, got hit viciously!

    Niklas is from my HS and Joe Schmidt is from our rival HS. They are bros. They both could easily have been at SC. Thank goodness Kelly brought them to ND!

    Hat tip to Coach Kelly and staff. It wasn’t pretty. It was medieval and we ended up on top!


  3. Hot off my KellyCare hotline:

    ND is 25-4 in its last 29 regular season games. Only Alabama and Oregon have a better winning percentage than that.

    Ah, but you guys are probably right. Get rid of the bum!


    1. You conveniently left off Saban’s 3 National Championships…..Whoo hoo! BK ZERO! Nothing x Nothing = Nothing! How about some apples to apples NC KellyCare Facts Polyanna boy!

      Ah..yes as Donald Trump says “You’re Fired” after 1st 5 year contract for no NC like you agreed to!

      So RB statistically gifted wonder boy! Tell me the percentage of current Division 1 Head Coaches who have not won a NC Championship after 4 years?

      Even John F. (Jack) Welch Jr. past CEO/Chairman of GE FIRED the bottom 10% of dead weight employees EVERY YEAR! Why? So the company would reach it’s goals with it’s top producintg employees annually and make room for fresh blood!

      Of course a guy like you would be out the door with the bottom 10%! Ah Gee, so sad! How’s mom & dad’s basement working out for you?

      1. This is Ron Burgundy reporting live from the basement, which is quite spacious and luxurious. It has many leather bound books and smells of rich mahogany, but I digress. Onto the questions.

        I didn’t go very far in school so not sure i completely understand the question but here it goes. There are currently 6 active head coaches who have won a NC. That’s 5% of all Division 1 head coaches have won a D1 NC. Further Spurrier won one in his 7th year at UF and Brown in his 8th year at Texas.

        To look further using your magic number of 5 years, only 2 active head coaches (Saban and Meyer) have won a title. So just over 1% of active head coaches have won a title in the last five years.

        I’m all for Jack Welch and the bottom 10%, but my man BK doesn’t fall into that category so not sure what point that makes.

        Stay classy and oh yeah laugh, laugh, laugh!

      2. Understandable RB, I don’t think your capable of fulfilling any type of a contract or comprehending it either! You don’t even understand your little duranko project I gave you. So why would you understand?

        Only premium leaders sign employment or consulting contracts agreeing to performance metrics. If BK doesn’t achieve his written goals then on to a new head coach! Just that simple! We don’t have time for a life time of next years! Besides not to worry, you won’t be making that decision one way or the other. When ND decides it time to go, it is time to go without your consult. For your information, CW thought he had his 18 million contract locking-in his dream job forever! ND tossed him without even blinking. Willingham set the record for fasted guy out the door. But what do you expect for a 3rd choice? No job is cast in granite, especially in this current tumultuous economy. Sorry your neophyte comments are just that.

      3. Please teach me master, I so seek your wisdom.

        Your daily teachings keep me going.

        JC JC JC JC JC JC

      4. Become an innovator! Create a new product or service in the market place. Transform your non-productive time into productive time. Take a hobby like this you so dearly enjoy and develop your own blog! Imagine all the advertising dollars you can make off the side bars and main billboard like this site. Be the CEO of your own internet business and google the whole nine yards to get started! (How to start my own blog) Be sure to trademark your name/service and copyright all articles!
        There you go basement-O-nomics 101! Or a garage like Bill Gates if you prefer. Make money while your having fun and collecting automatic advertising money from google via the internet! A mind is a terrible thing to waist! Especially in this economy!

        Say thank you JC!

      5. Who would of thought, a classic valedictorian response like that! Ron Burgundy…the peoples choice, the womens delight! May I have your autograph please?! Ah…Never mind, I have to cash another advertising check from one of my websites. Cheers!

  4. “Jaylon, you can not do it better, that was perfect.”

    Joe Schmidt’s comment on the sideline to Jaylon Smith after the
    interception, as shown on the Irish Connection video.

    Joe Schmidt knows football.
    Joe Schmidt knows a great play when he sees it.

    Two games in a row, ASU and USC, Jaylon has been making wow plays. Soon, he will become a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators, a factor in shaping (limiting) the opponents’ game plans.

    It is amazing, but Jaylon Smith has EXCEEDED expections.

    1. A completely different challenge for Jaylon the next two weeks against the academies, being assignment focused and disciplined with his containment.

      Speaking of great plays, Russell’s hit that dislodged the ball from #15 on their final play of their final possession was matched by the previous play, Schmidt’s perfectly timed crunch of their receiver, jarring loose the would be first down (and, incredibly, $C’s 11th consecutive failed 3rd down conversion) ! Joe Schmidt not only “knows a great play when he sees it “, he delivered a key one that also secured that victory!

  5. What more could you ask from a freshman? This young man will win the Heisman Trophy in three years if he stays healthy of course! Don’t get excited KellyCare(TM) lovers it’s Jaylon making the plays NOT BK! Albeit, BK would love to give himself the Heisman!


      1. Mike

        Welcome, now be prepared to be called a name, followed by words that you have never heard of and finally some laughing.

        Great to have you!

      2. Sorry Burgundy,

        PHD is out of the question for you! It would only mean piled higher and deeper in your case Ace!

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