Notre Dame got a bit of a boost to its suddenly deep linebacking corps on Saturday when Brian Kelly announced that Joe Schmidt has been cleared for non-contact drills and will be able to participate in 7 on 7’s and other non-contact drills for the final week of Notre Dame spring football 2015.
“Joe Schmidt’s going to be back on Monday in 7 on 7’s,” Brian Kelly snuck into an answer on the development of Nyles Morgan on Saturday when addressing the media. “He’s going to be in non-contact situations. He’s cleared to be in all movement drills, 7 on 7, non-contact drills. He’s moving pretty well so he’s going to get his opportunity Monday and Wednesday to be involved in all those drills,” Kelly clarified later.
In addition to being in non-contact drills on Monday, Schmidt was seen hitting the sled in Saturday’s practice video.
For Schmidt, his return to non-contact drills comes a little over five months after breaking his ankle against Navy. His return is a welcomed addition to the Notre Dame linebacking corps that was also boosted by the return of Jarrett Grace after his 18+ month recovery from his gruesome broken leg that he suffered in 2013 against Arizona State earlier this spring.
Schmidt’s injury was never considered to be the same severity of Grace’s who broke his leg in multiple places and suffered multiple setbacks in his recovery, so his return to non-contact drills already is a great indication that he’ll be in good shape for the 2015 season.
With Schmidt coming back and joining Grace, rising sophomore Nyles Morgan, rising junior James Onwualu and All-American candidate Jaylon Smith, Brian Vangorder and linebackers coach Mike Elston are going to have some tough decisions on how they align the Irish backers this fall. Grace has reviewed very positive reviews, Morgan’s athleticism is undeniable, Smith should never be off the field, James Onwualu was praised by Kelly earlier this spring, and Schmidt’s importance to the Notre Dame defense was in full display in November as they struggled with even average offenses following his injury.
Throw into the mix early enrollee Tevon Coney who physically will be ready to play this fall if he’s able to pick up the defense quick enough and rising sophomore Greer Martini who surprised many with how advanced he was for a freshman a year ago and Notre Dame all of sudden looks to be stocked at linebacker for the first time in years.
Kelly has said throughout the spring that they will look to find roles for all of the linebackers. Onwualu for instance gives Notre Dame coverage skills against a spread defense while Grace and Morgan give Notre Dame more size against teams that want to line up and run the football.
For the Notre Dame defense to truly to be successful in 2015 and reverse the downward trajectory we saw in the second half in 2014; Kelly, Vangorder, and Elston need to find the best trio of backers who can play every down for their starting lineup. Part of Notre Dame’s problem last year was opposing offenses realizing that the early success of the Notre Dame defense was predicated largely on all of the sub packages the Irish were running.
Once offenses started going up tempo and limiting Notre Dame’s ability to substitute, the defense faltered. Now, injuries depleted the defense causing the meltdown as well, but injuries hadn’t yet taken their toll when North Carolina came into town and carved up the Notre Dame defense with their up-tempo attack.
As Schmidt gets healthier and returns to contact in fall camp, the linebackers are going to be a lot of fun to watch compete. Notre Dame hasn’t had depth at linebacker to create this kind of competition in a while.