Notre Dame Defense Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

Jarron Jones & Isaac Rochell - Notre Dame DL
Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports


Last Spring was Brian Van Gorder’s first coordinating the Notre Dame defense. As Spring practice unfolded, there were some intriguing personnel groupings.

These Four:

  • Ishaq Williams, the Five Star, poised at last to emerge.
  • KeiVarae Russell, star cornerback, destined to be on the Thorpe list.
  • Eilar Hardy, a solid swing safety, sound tackler in the open field.
  • Kendall Moore, tackler, solid sub, perfect for slowing Navy and North Carolina down.

It was an interesting foursome, with tons of experience, as Moore was entering his fifth year, Hardy and Williams rising seniors and the precocious Russell a rising junior. Experience on defense is a big asset.

Also during the Spring, some starting opportunities were up for grabs-and competition. The spots were earned by these Four:

Austin Collinsworth, rising fifth year senior, glue guy and communicator on the back line shepherding young’ unsRedfield, Baratti, and Tranquill.

Joe Schmidt, intense, heady signal caller in Van Gorder’s complex schemes

Jarron Jones, emerging as a redshirt sophomore in 2013, now a worthy starter playing next to

Sheldon Day, rising junior accepting the leadership mantle from the departed Tuitt and Nix.

More experience from these four, Collinsworth entering his fifth year, Schmidt his fourth and Jones and Day as rising juniors.

Spring practice! Old men dream dreams and young men shall see visions. These eight would be the core for that finale in the Coliseum. Williams, Day and Jones manning the line and shutting down Buck Allen. Schmidt orchestrating from the Mike. Russell locking down Agholor, Collinsworth the traffic cop on the back line.

But to paraphrase and pigskinize Eliot, April is the cruelest month breeding the lilacs of false defensive hope out of the cold, bitter ground.

The Frozen Five (80% on the D) happened, the straining of academic gnats by the bureaucrats. Devastating injuries happened. And when the Irish walked onto the blood- and tear-stained soil of the Coliseum, only Hardy of the 8 was in pads. Six Spring starters were absent.


Spring is here again and hope returns with the chirping robins on the campus. But there is more than hope which returns. A lot of defensive players, too many forced to play in 2014 to fill the ranks depleted by the above will now experience their FIRST Spring practice at Notre Dame.


  • Jonathan Bonner
  • Grant Blankenship
  • Kolin Hill
  • Jhonny Williams
  • (NOTE: Trumbetti was an early January arrival)


  • Daniel Cage
  • Jay Hayes
  • Peter Mokwuah
  • Jerry Tillery
  • Micah Dew-Treadway


  • Nyles Morgan
  • Greer Martini
  • Tevon Coney


  • Nick Watkins


  • Drue Tranquill

14 players are in the first Spring practice for the Notre Dame defense. That’s roughly 1/6th of the entire roster. And they now get to work afresh with Coach Lyght and Coach Gilmore.

Lots of seedlings. Lots of moving parts. Lots going on.


There’s more. In June two special players arrive.

KeiVarae Russell returns from prodigal status to the top half of the Thorpe list.   Will any team in America have a defensive recruit as impactful as Russell?

And the mature Avery Sebastian comes in from Berkeley, an RKG, a hitter, a special teams whiz, a mature and calming force in Todd Lyght’s safety corps.

This is not the 2014 defense. And it just might be fun to watch. Go Irish!!

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  1. my god how things have changed

    “Being a school like Notre Dame, we kind of have a rap where a lot of times people take us as being kind of soft,” said Irish defensive end Isaac Rochell. “’They’re smart,’ whatever. ‘They’re not really football players.’

  2. Irish chan you are onto something. Grace may be stronger and more athletic after his rehb. He’s more mature and knows a lot about the BVG defense.

    Last year against USC, because of Morgan’s half game suspension, Martini was forced to start at Mike, and he got rolled by Sarkisian and Adoree Jackson on a wheel route.

    We are miles deeper this year. Grace and Schmidt are fifth year players, and Morgan an ezxperienced soph.

    Grace was a real soldier in his rehab

  3. I’m really pulling for Grace. Granted it’s been a while since he’s been on the field and he’s had a long road to recovery but I feel like he is the better athlete. He was really starting to come on strong mid-way through his I jury season.

    I’m as interested in the middle backer compition as much as the QB battle. Lol

  4. Yes,and no archangel. While the depth is young, remember a bunch of those kids, Blankenship, Hill, Hayes, Morgan, Martini and Tranquill have already played. Surprisingly we are quite a veteran group in the starting 11.

    In the front four only Rochell is a junior, while Jones and Day and Okwara are in their fourth year on campus.

    At Linebacker, Smith and Onwualu are in their third years, and Schmidt and Grace in their fifth. Of course, if Morgan starts he is in his second.

    At cornerback we have a fourth classman, Russell, and a third year guy, Luke.
    Same at safety with a fourth classman Shumate and a third year guy, Redfield. The ringer here is Avery Sebastian, a fifth year guy.

    So I guess our starting eleven is pretty mature, and only Morgan would be an underclassman-if he beats out Grace and Schmidt and nabs the starting job.

  5. My calming thought last Spring, after all the academic “bureaucratic gnats” did their best to maximize the minimum, was that next season is “the season” when a very young team will be a year more experienced anyway. Looking at the numbers of young ‘uns on the DL, (especially at DE as Ishaq seems less and less likely) I suspect how quickly they evolve into college stars will be the determiner as to the number of victories this edition of ND football will accomplish, as the first several games are loaded with teams that will be difficult to defeat. At least ND has numbers and depth like they haven’t had in years. A surprise or three that might emerge from the Frosh and Sophs, like a K.Russell did not long ago, could help make this a magical season.
    ‘Hope springs eternal’ as each Spring arrives.
    #looking forward

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