Duranko’s Digest: Ranking Notre Dame’s Projected ’14 Defensive Starters

Jaylon Smith - Notre Dame OLB
(Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

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!

Go Irish!!!

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  1. The Ishaq situation has been very strange, to say the least. The head coach speaks in clipped tones about him to the media, which tells me there is a huge level of disappointment in the young man. I would love to hear Kelly say, even in clipped tones, “Ishaq does not have a football player’s passion or instinct for the game. He doesn’t have a good motor, has never learned how to shed a block, how to pursue from the other side of the field. We are shocked by what this player has turned into but, he has one more chance to turn these three years of being a complete bust into a good memory for himself and for his family. If he doesn’t dominate in the spring, we are not going to slow the progress of a younger player behind him on the depth chart. If all things are equal on the field, Ishaq will be a senior bench player. He must dominate, in spring, in fall, in every practice and every game, for us to put him and keep him in the lineup.It’s a competitive business. He’ll find that out when he graduates from here so he better strap on his chinstrap every day.

  2. to joseph t. Hogan, no not a relation, just a fan of the great Duranko.

    He and Johnny Ray were a marriage made in heaven. I’ve always been more confortable when Notre Dame has a great defensive line and Duranko, Page, Hardy and Rhoads was one of the best.

    As you know, Joseph T. Hogan, duranko was not merely from Johnstown, but OF Johnstown.

      1. No Binghamton, NY.
        Pete Duranko visited me and I visited him in Johnstown, PA many times.
        Pete was my classmate. I graduated from ND in ’66. Pete was injured and received an extra year of football eligibility.
        Pete played on the “66 Ntl Champ team and then with the Denver Broncos.

  3. ToGeorge, Chi-Town and jeff:

    George, I agree that Grace was choppy the first three games, but then he seemed to settle in, despite the misplay against Shepard against OU (an error that was compounded by a much bigger secondary misplay) And, George, perhaps it is wise for all of us to reserve FINAL judgment.

    Baratti was much more than a gimmee as a freshman. Then the injury. Were he to come back strong in Spring and win a starting job, well, you can throw me in that briar patch all day long! Safety is the team’s most frustrating position. There is talent on campus but the alignment of the depth chart was puzzling. Baratti is very fast and rangy, muscular.

    To Tom, I would be surprised if Moore is the starter when we go to Tallahasee in early October. Morgan arrives in Summer and may need a few games to get comfy. The closer call is whether or not Deeb can beat out Moore in the Spring.

  4. What happened to that Nicky barrati kid at safety? I think he got hurt early last year and was done for the season. He got some PT as a frosh I thought

  5. Personally, I haven’t seen anything out of Grace that would warrant a #4 spot here, but I’ll delay final judgement. Re: Ishaq, “Maybe, what we’ve seen is what we get” is the correct answer.

  6. I think Kendall won’t be getting the start at Mike. I think it will be either Deeb or Morgan. They both look ready to play and if Deeb is athletic enough, he should be ready to take over until Sykes or Martini gets a good RS year under their belts

    1. Slide Ishaq to down lineman and you have your 4-3, and maybe even make him more effective. I, too, expect Shumate and Redfield to finally get the starts at S, or at least more time than they’ve gotten. A new DC makes that more likely, and IMHO, overdue. DL and LB are keys as to how strong this D will be. What strikes me about this duranko post and his offensive starters’ post previously are that we’ve arrived at where there could actually be a reasonable debate regarding options due to better depth, oh happy day!

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