Earlier this month it was reported that Notre Dame junior Shledon Day had already decided he was returning to Notre Dame for a senior season, but there had been some reports that he had been reconsidering recently. Day put those rumors to rest on Saturday by announcing he was returning for a senior season and in the process gave the 2015 Notre Dame defense a shot of momentum heading into the off-season.
Through three seasons Sheldon Day has shown plenty of flashes of greatness for Notre Dame, but up until now we still have yet to see the best Day has to offer. Various injuries to Day and depth problems in general for the Irish have combined to limit Day’s effectiveness. Even still, Day has played well enough over three seasons for an early exit to the NFL to be considered. He was second on the team in 2014 with 7.5 tackles for loss.
The lure of the NFL and a reportedly low draft evaluation from the NFL Advisory Committee, however, wasn’t enough for Day to bypass his senior year – a year he said he believes will be special for Notre Dame in a statement released by the University.
“I believe we’ve got an opportunity to have a special season in 2015 and I wanted to be a part of that success. I was blessed to play in the national championship game as a freshman in 2012, and I want to do everything in my power to reach that stage again with my guys.”
Day’s return not only means that Notre Dame will return it’s entire starting front seven next season, but it also means that they will be returning two of its captains from 2014 with Day joining Nick Martin as a returning captain. Brian Kelly said yesterday he expects Day to retain that role in 2015.
“It pretty much goes without saying that I’m excited to know that Sheldon has chosen to return for his senior year at Notre Dame,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “Most importantly, this decision keeps him on track to graduate in May.
On the field, Day’s return ensures that, baring injuries, the Irish defensive line in 2015 will be formidable at worst and elite at best. Day will team up with Jarron Jones on the interior of the line to give Notre Dame one of the nation’s best one-two punches. Mix in sophomores to be Daniel Cage and Jay Hayes who will each have a full off-season with Paul Longo to build up their strength to take on more snaps in 2015 after cutting their teeth as frosh this year and the Irish will be as strong and deep as they’ve been in years.
The one area Notre Dame is going to need some development along the defensive line even with Day’s return is on the edges where Notre Dame is in need of some pass rushers. Romeo Okwara led the Irish in sacks this season but only had 4.0 all year. Notre Dame could have Ishaq Williams back to provide some pass rushing skill on the edge and sophomore to be Jhonny Williams has the potential to be a great pass rusher in college although he reported to Notre Dame very raw after a late start to playing football and might not be ready for a prominent role next season.
With Day definitely back, however, the issues Brian Kelly and Brian Van Gorder need to address, like finding pass rushers, on the defensive side of the ball got a whole lot easier. Had he left for the NFL, VanGorder’s #1 priority for the off-season would have been finding a way to replace Day. Given the depth the Irish have heading into next season, the only way he could have would have likely been to force someone into a role they weren’t full ready for yet. Cage and Hayes saw action this year, but in an ideal world, they will be backups this year before being ready to step in and be full time starters as juniors in 2016.
Day’s return also increases the likelihood that Notre Dame will not be forced to play as many true freshmen at defensive tackle in 2015 barring another rash of injuries like they faced in 2014. Hayes’ redshirt was removed pretty late due to all of the injuries which unfortunately cost a year of eligibility that could potentially come in handy in a few years. Hopefully with some of the depth the Irish have built, combined with the return of Day, Notre Dame can keep those redshirts on the defensive tackles that will sign with the Irish next month.
Day’s return is a nice win for Kelly and his staff as well a year after they saw a flood of players with eligibility remaining leave early for the NFL. Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Troy Niklas, and George Atkinson all left Notre Dame with eligibility left although Nix’s was albeit as a 5th year. That came after Kelly was able to keep NFL bound talent like Michael Floyd, Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, Zack Martin, and Nix on campus previous years when it looked like the Irish could lose some early.
Kelly and Notre Dame’s attention now turns to Ronnie Stanley. By all reports Stanley has received a higher evaluation from the Advisory Committee making his decision much tougher. Getting Stanley back would be equally as big for Notre Dame and it’s chances in 2015 since it would ensure both the entire offensive and defensive lines from the Music City Bowl would be back in 2015.
This is such a good thing. There should be no excuses next year for the Irish. Everything, including depth on both sides of the ball, is in place for a very formidable run next year. Just need a short leash on the QB situation, and can’t let it get out of hand like it did last year. Hopefully this kicker they have coming in will do well also. Really looking forward to 2015!
Isn’t Joe Schmidt returning as well? If so, that should make 3 defensive captains returning.