Sheldon Day Emerging as Notre Dame’s Defensive Leader

Sheldon Day - Notre Dame DE
Photo: Robin Alam // Icon Sportswire

Sheldon Day has been a captain for Notre Dame for the past two seasons now, but it hasn’t been until the last few weeks that Notre Dame’s stout defensive end has really started to emerge as the leader of the Irish defense.  Halfway through the 2015 season, it’s hard to name anyone else who has seized the leadership role more than Day though.

Sheldon Day was a captain for Notre Dame in 2014 after playing in the shadows of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix for two seasons.  The then junior was more a leader by example as a junior, however, as he grew into the role of a leader on what was a very young Irish defense a year ago.

A year later Day is once again a captain and halfway through the 2015 season, he is making his presence felt week in and week out and has emerged as THE leader of the Irish defense.  Some might point to Joe Schmidt, the quarterback of the defense, as the leader, but when Notre Dame has needed a big play this year; it’s been Day that has delivered time and time again.

When the Notre Dame was gashed on the first drive of the game and was in need of a stop after the offense tied the game up, Day delivered.  With navy facing a 3rd and 9 on the ensuing drive, Day came up with a huge tackle for loss knocking Reynolds down three yards behind the line to force a punt.

Two weeks ago with Notre Dame clinging to an eight point lead in the 2nd quarter against a pesky UMass team, Day came up with a huge sack to force a UMass punt.  Ten plays later, Notre Dame scored a touchdown as time was running out of the first half to take a 35-20 lead and never looked back.

Making negative plays at opportune times and being disruptive has been Day’s MO this fall though.  Day collected 7.5 tackles for loss in 11 games last fall and had 16.5 in his entire career heading into the 2015 season.  Through six games, Day already has a career high with 8 and is on pace for 17 on the season (assuming the Irish play at least one post-season game and Day remains healthy).

Day also had just 1.0 sack as a junior in 2014 and 3.5 in his career.  He’s got 2.0 already this season which would also put him on pace to eclipse his career mark this season alone.

Part of the reason for Day’s success in 2015 is the fact that he’s finally fully healthy.  Day has been plagued with some nagging injuries throughout his career.  The kind of injuries that might not have necessarily cost him a lot of games, but did cost him some effectiveness at times.  “I think he’s in great physical condition. I think he’s healthy,” Brian Kelly said on Sunday. “He played with some injuries last year. And he’s just a committed player.”

The Notre Dame defense has had its ups and downs already this fall, but Sheldon Day has been bringing it every week.  The senior who tossed around the idea of leaving early for the NFL last January, already has career highs in sacks and tackles for loss and with each week he is building a tape for NFL execs that shows a disruptive play making force.

“He wants to help this football team as a captain, and I think — he came back for a reason,” Brian Kelly said on Sunday.  “He came back so this would be his best year and help Notre Dame and help himself, and I think he’s living up to all those things.”

Day’s decision to come back to Notre Dame was one of many reasons why many predicted Notre Dame to be a playoff run.  Day’s coaches didn’t see his return for his senior season as a one way proposition though.  According to Kelly, they wanted it to be a win-win situation.

“One of the things that we felt like we could do for Sheldon was to — in getting him back here was that we could get him stronger physically, increase a lot of his numbers so that they would reflect somebody that could get drafted higher, and I think that physical prowess is showing itself on Saturdays.”

That prowess we’re all seeing on Saturdays is going to ensure Day has every opportunity to play on Sundays.  Before that, however, there is a lot of football left for Day at Notre Dame.   If the Irish are going to indeed make a run at the playoffs, they will need Day to continue to play at the high level he’s been playing at and continue to be the on field leader he’s been thus far.


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  1. SC rarely has to battle the elements. Pacific Nortwest at times. For years they had the RoseBowl advantage. In their own backyard. Practicing outdoors. Just living in nice SoCal year round weather. Midwest teams locked up for winter. Just the hinderance living in cold weather environment. Hoping for a miserable outing for SC. ND just hammering on them all game long. Let the chill set in. Cold to the bone for them. Not looking for ND to hang with them. Looking for ND to hang it on them. I’ve always despised SC. To hell with SC. Thanks

  2. Lower 40’s by game time. Colder yet when SC comes out of the locker room to start the second half. I was at the ’99(?) game when the rain and wind switched vs. SC as the teams did in the fourth quarter that game, and the weather, as much as Jarious Jackson’s run/recovered fumble into the end zone late turned the tide for ND that year. The colder weather might shiver and shake down the California boys this weekend. Start strong and stay with SC early and the cold will begin to gnaw away at our SC visitors.

  3. USC is 1-2 against teams in the Power Five. They are 2-0 against the dregs.

    Forget the firing. How underperforming is USC as an enterprise if they lost both of their home games against Power 5 teams?.

    Of course, there is the blowout of Arizona State.

  4. That guy certainly was strange and completely non-objective. I was hoping tech to pick Clemson. No such luck. GT took a dive so far this season. At least ND owns Tech. Not SC though in the last decade and a half. This has past the “getting old” stage. ND needs to win this one just on pure will and determination. Kinda down to basics and pure want. Refusal to losing. Maybe this team has that trait. Clemson aside. Thanks.

  5. david
    May 29, 2015 at 12:37 pm
    After Weis, I wished for Paul Johnson. Fans here disagreed. Lustily.

    At his introductory presser, Kelly pronounced the university name two different ways, and it’s been doublespeak ever since.

    I’m looking forward to Sept 19.

  6. BVG blitzes alot. Bringing Schmidt also. Teams the get ball out quick. They don’t get there in time. Also those D tackles are supposed to eat up two lineman and they don’t. Backer scrapes off tackles ass untouched in therory. That doesn’t happen. Backers are getting picked up by O lineman. Also D tackles need to be doubled teamed in therory (running plays). Keeping the o lineman off backers. Backers move freely to the ball. That doesn’t always happen either. Maybe what we’re seeing is D line short comings also. As well as scheme. Seriously, both those backers can hit. Navy game was much more congested in the trenches. Plus ball carrier was so close to LOS leaving less room and time for reaction with momentum. Hoping d line can pressure QB with just four. Haven’t seen much of that this year. Need to see it Saturday. Along with a very physical and fast ND play. To hell with SC. Thanks.

  7. George, Schmidt used to hit prior to his injury. I admire and respect Schmidt as much as anyone, but Morgan needs to get a lot of reps against USC.

  8. Sheldon is without a doubt the most important player on defense. He seems to be only player to consistently get pressure on qb by beating his one on one matchup. ND will need him at his best against Kessler this week. I couldn’t agree more with the first poster about Schmidt. He’s having a mediocre at best season and there is no way you can make me believe Nyles Morgan couldn’t produce more. Nyles “athleted” himself to about 8 tackles per game last season without having much of a clue about assignments. BK was asked about Nyles and simply said “Schmidt is better”… One tackle against Clemson?? I do however disagree about Jaylon Smith. Navy ran away from him the entire game. That in turn got Onwaulu playing opposite of Jaylon benched for Grace. On the first play from scrimmage for Navy Keenan Reynolds broke off that long run. Which linebacker was being blocked on opposite side of field and still Keenan down? Jaylon Smith, ran right by ND’s corners and safeties to make a play. An incredible display of athleticism. Jaylon may not be the most physical linebacker but when you can run around pretty much everyone and still make tackles then who cares???? I’d take him over any other linebacker in country right now.

  9. George, Schmidt looks like a completely different player compared to last year and if I am USC he is who I target in the pass game with all the speed they have. He made impact plays last year but he is just slow and late this year on defense. The excuse that he gets everyone in the right places can’t be used anymore. This is year 2 and if you don’t know where to line up and what gaps you have you shouldn’t be on the field. He needs to be replaced IMO.

    I hope Kelly and BVG have a good gameplan together because if they don’t USC can beat us. They have just as much if not more pure talent than we have. They are a wounded animal right now who has been backed in a corner. We will get their best shot on Saturday. I hope they get ours as well.

  10. It’s difficult to know why Jaylon Smith didn’t excel vs. Navy without knowing what his role was to be according to the Elliot/Van Gorder option scheme part 2, but maybe Navy’s blocking schemes and designed formations had something to do with Smith not being as involved. What is obvious is Jaylon Smith will be playing in the NFL, probably next year, despite any posters’ reservations about him.
    Joe Schmidt won’t. I have so much respect for Schmidt and what he has accomplished as a walk-on.
    His is a great story, but concerns about him have grown. Did his injury diminish his production (he’s been a step late too often this season), or has he peaked and levelled off ? If the D’ is too complicated to execute after a year and a half to maximize the talents of your best athletes, be they Max Redfield or Niles Morgan, then maybe the problem is elsewhere than with those who execute the schemes ND employs. Is Redfield a bust? His 14 tackles vs. Clemson would add doubt to that conclusion. Instead, that your safety would get that many tackles vs. Clemson calls question to the effectiveness of your front seven that game. As for vs. Navy, disappointing ND line play (other than Day) on offense and defense. I do agree that from SC on, we will get a better idea/sampling once ND plays more traditional offensive schemes here on out. I also agree that come November, we will see if the DBs, the DL other than Day, and the OL are good enough to propel ND to be among the elite or not.
    So far, their 2015 resume would conclude- not so much. But it’s still too early for a final verdict!
    That can change as the season evolves.

  11. Peter you are right about Russell. Its hard to miss a year and come back. Hopefully he has the right people in his circle telling him he needs to come back next year.

  12. Peter, I think that part of the problem has been popping the clutch from Georgia Tech to UMASS to
    Clemson to Navy. All that is behind. And we play more conventional offenses the last 6 games.

    It’s a better and fairer sample size.

    I am mystified about Russell. He better be ready on Saturday.

    Smith was magnificent against Georgia Tech, pedestrian against Navy.

    Redfield has a lot at stake in the last 6 weeks of the season plus bowl(s). BVG, LYGHT and Redfield need to see if Redfield is a stud and a leader, or just another guy with great measurables and potential who just is really not a football player.

    I will remember your question Peter, and take a better stab at it in mid-November.

    Burgundy, or do I know you well enough to call you “claret” did you mean “Beautiful Mind?”

  13. Duranko a question, or two, for a more developed football mind than mine…or two… much has VanGorder’s defense contributed to Smith, Russell, and Redfield’s lack of consistency vs their talent? Do you feel that in addition to his system, his play-calling has been suspect?

  14. Absolutely, Day has clearly been an (the) anchor for the ND defense. Jaylon Smith, “the best BK has ever coached” according to BK (Manti T’eo?), has been an enigma as it relates to that comment. Some spectacular moments, but clearly unspectacular consistent excellence contrary to BK claims. PS Kavare Russell has not been as advertised, and Max Redfield is confusing at best.

  15. Day is playing great and he is our best defender and I would argue our most important defender even over Smith who just isn’t physical enough. Smith flashes but overall none of our starting LB play that physical. Joe Schmidt is a captain but he hast played like one this year. I don’t think he should be starting IMO and is the weak link in this defense but no one talks about it because he is a captain and BK loves him. He is not playing on the same level as last year.

    Day might be playing himself into a day 1 draft pick if he keeps up this play. On the next level Day is good enough to play and start in any scheme.

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