Notre Dame is in desperate need of a pass rusher along its rebuilt defensive line. It sounds like the Irish might be ready to look to true freshman Daelin Hayes to be that pass rusher based on Brian Kelly’s remarks over the weekend.
The competition at the weakside defensive end position appears to be all but over with Jay Hayes running with the first team unit and getting the lions share of starting reps. “He’s one of our more rough and tumble, physical guys,” Kelly said of Jay Hayes.
“At 280 lbs, if you’e a pulling guard, you have a hard time with him. At the point of attack he’s really stout, really physical. And, he’s not bad as an occasional drop player into the short field,” Kelly added. “You never would want to put him in much other than an occasional hook to flat drop player, but he certainly can do that. He can handle that. He’s agile enough too play in that role.”
When Notre Dame needs someone to step in at WDE and be able to drop, another Hayes – freshman Daelin Hayes – was the first name to he mentioned. “Daelin can do a little bit more,” Kelly said. “He’s not as stout, but he’s pretty athletic. Then we can get into our speed package as well.”
Earlier in the week Kelly spoken even more highly of his freshman pass rusher. “I think he’s that hybrid guy that can drop, that can come off the edge,” Kelly said on Thursday. “I see him in our sub package, he can play over the tight end. He’s been impressive. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
In coachspeak, it sounds like Jay Hayes will get most of the starts and play in obvious running downs with Hayes playing in nickel and sub packages to provide that pass rush.
“They all will have a role and they all compliment what our defense will look like depending on what kind of offenses (we face), Kelly would later add. “Against a Stanford, he (Jay Hayes) is going to be in against a big tackle (so) you’ll see a lot more of him. When you get into teams that want to play fast and not as aggressive at the point of attack, Daelin obviously gets his share.”
Playing a true freshman along the defensive line could be scary. Many times freshmen rush ends have a difficult time adjusting to the speed of the game and the strength of the opposing linemen. Daelin Hayes specifically brings in that concern given his past shoulder injuries.
When Hayes, a long time USC commitment, signed with Notre Dame and enrolled early last winter, Kelly was noncommittal on his future position because of those injuries. “We just feel like with the shoulder surgery, he hasn’t really been able to weight train,” Kelly said in February.
By all accounts, however, Daelin Hayes was on a mission this off-season in the weight room. After checking in at 260 lbs in February, Hayes reportedly dropped upwards of 10 lbs this off-season as he transformed his body during his early start to his collegiate career. The official 2016 Notre Dame football roster lists him at 250 lbs.
“We just think that he has such a range of positions that he can play. We’re just going to kind of let it naturally happen, and where there’s an area that he can help us.” Even then Kelly hinted that Hayes’s future could be as a pass rusher. “I think we all know that getting after the quarterback would be a great start for him.”
That area appears to be as a pass rushing specialist.
Luckily for Daelin, he gets to face one of the nation’s best tackles every day in practice in senior Mike McGlinchey. The staff hasn’t held back from letting him go against their stalwart left tackle either. ” He’s getting that every day in terms of pass rush when we go into our speed package so he’s getting a lot of work against Mike (McGlinchey),” Kelly told the media on Saturday.
Playing a true freshman in pass rush situations wouldn’t be unheard of during Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame. In 2010 Prince Shembo played as a pass rusher from outside linebacker in Bobby Diaco’s 3-4 defense. Two years later, Aaron Lynch was perhaps Notre Dame’s best pass rusher as a defensive end in that same 3-4 defense. Both were able to make their marks despite not playing every down.
Having the pass rush come from a true freshman coming off multiple high school shoulder injuries is certainly not an ideal situation. When that true freshman is a 5-star recruit who spent his first healthy off-season in the weight transforming his body though, it’s not the worst of situations.
The bigger concern is opposing offenses preventing Notre Dame from using it’s sub packages like it would like. We’ve seen that story play out before in 2014. North Carolina exposed Notre Dame’s sub-frenzy during Brian VanGorder’s first year at Notre Dame. The Tar Heels exposed the defense with an uptempo offense that limited those sub-packages and ever since then we haven’t seen the same defense that shutout Michigan back in September 2014.
There’s a lot of time between now and the season opener, but based on the practice reports thus far and the marks from the head coach, it sounds like we’ll be seeing a lot of Daelin Hayes this fall. And that just might not be a good thing for opposing quarterbacks.