Brian Kelly’s All-Time Notre Dame Team: Defense

If you read the first installment of this two part series, you know the drill. I’m picking the best players from the Kelly era, and fitting them onto a team with the idea they’ll play an actual game. As noted in the previous post, it is a rule the player has to have played for Kelly–or at least been on the team–for two full seasons. So, a player like Aaron Lynch, who only played in 2011, would be ineligible.

I’ll be using the current defensive alignment of 4-2-5 with one Rover for the purposes of this exercise. Let’s get to the picks.

Strong-Side Defensive End

Stephon Tuitt (2011-2013)

126 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 21.5 sacks, one (incredible) interception for a touchdown, one fumble return touchdown 

The best defensive end to come through during the Kelly era, Tuitt was a monster for Bob Diaco and his defense. He pretty much single-handedly won the USC game in 2013, with seven tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, and a pass broken up. He couldn’t and wouldn’t be blocked in the second half, allowing a Notre Dame triump 14-10 in what was not the most aesthetically pleasing game.  It was actually a bitter sweet experience, because while we watched Tuitt throw around his counterparts on the offensive line play after play, there was the dawning realization that this was the performance that would catapult him into the NFL draft as a junior following the season.  And it pretty much did.

Three Technique (Defensive Tackle)

Jerry Tillery (2015-present)

105 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks

Slightly edging out Sheldon Day in a close one, but I can’t get away from the size of Tillery in this spot. Tillery is actually ahead of Day’s pace through three seasons in tackles (105 to 99) and sacks (5.5 to 3.5) and slightly behind in tackles for loss (14.5 to 16.5). Day had an excellent senior season, but if Tillery improves on his 2017 numbers even a little bit, he will be the obvious choice.

It’s been a very positive turnaround for Tillery since the end of 2016, when he intentionally brushed the helmet of a concussed USC player in the final game, making him public enemy #1 for USC and a lot of college football fans. He apologized, made amends with the player, and turned into one of the most reliable members of the 2017 team. Good for him and a lesson for everyone that writing the definitive book on a sophomore in college is a bad idea.

One Technique (Nose Guard)

Louis Nix III

122 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks

Irish Chocolate!!! The obvious choice and paired next to Tillery and Nix would make this group incredibly difficult to run on. Never reached his true potential at Notre Dame, although he came darn close in 2012, and he was beset by injuries in 2013, only appearing in eight games. Incredible quickness of the line for a man of his size, and when he turned it on, he just couldn’t be dealt with. Also a forgotten fact that Nix delivered the only “L” for Alabama in 2012 during the Gangnam Style competition at a Miami Heat game in the lead up to the title contest. Bonus points for that.

Drop Defensive End

Jaylon Smith (2013-2015)

284 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 fumble recoveries

That’s right, I’ve got Jaylon in the Daelin Hayes spot, where he can fulfill his destiny and a be game-wrecker on defense and not simply a “clean-up” guy in whatever inept scheme Brian VanGorder concocted for him in ’14 and ’15. Look at his numbers: 23.5 tackles for loss in 38 starts. An embarrassment. Maybe there would be some concerns about his ability to hold up against the run at a drop end position, but come on, Jaylon has muscle upon muscle, I think he could handle it. Plus, he played at or near the line of scrimmage a ton in 2013, when he was itty bitty freshman self. Dammit, we really wasted this guy. Now I’m in a bad mood.

Buck Linebacker

Te’Von Coney (2015-Present)

190 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, one forced fumble, one recovered fumble (Hi, Sam Darnold) 

Coney makes his triumphant return to the Buck position where he went from a guy who the coaches thought maybe, might help them in 2017 to me looking up Manti’s junior season stats and making a “look I’m not saying he’s Manti, but the numbers are the numbers and look they are very similar” argument. It got to the point where nobody actually thought he was going to return for his senior season! That’s how good he was at the end of last year.

Mike Linebacker

Manti Te’o (2009-2012)

437 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions 

The most decorated linebacker in the history of college football. Moving on.


Drue Tranquill (2014-present)

206 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three interceptions, four recovered fumbles

Another member of the current defense makes a return to the position they played the previous season. At his Rover spot, Tranquill looked like a natural in space, where he was able to bully receivers in the slot and out athlete tight ends and linemen in the run game. There are some other players who could fit this bill, I think Zeke Motta could have played this spot nicely, but no one is the natural fit like Tranquill.

Boundary Corner

Julian Love (2016-Present)

113 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two touchdowns, 23 passes defensed 

Field Corner

Keivarae Russell

169 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, five interceptions, 12 passes defended

Grouping the corners together here, the two guys who missed the cut are Bennett Jackson, and Cole Luke, who were basically just battling for Russell’s spot. Russell is the better athlete between he and Jackson and Cole Luke just didn’t want to tackle anybody. Love is a no-brainer, he had a historic 2017 from a passes defended stand point. Love is also the fourth member from the current team on the Kelly all-time squad after none appeared for the offense. Illustrates how good this seasons defense should be, at least on paper.

Free Safety

Harrison Smith (2008-2011)

307 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 7 interceptions, 20 passes defended

Strong Safety

Robert Blanton (2008-2011)

194 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, eight interceptions, one touchdown, 10 passes defended

Cheating here a little bit with Blanton, since he didn’t play safety at Notre Dame, but did in the NFL. But, I’m taking the best secondary and this is the best secondary. Blanton was very good in 2011 with 70 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions, while playing corner. Smith is obviously the best safety to play at Notre Dame in some time and was easily on this team. I almost took Zeke Motta in the Blanton spot, and it’s actually difficult not to include Matthias Farley, but this team is indicative of the 2018 team in terms of roster makeup. I feel like I could have easily picked Blanton, Luke, Russell, or Jackson at corner, but after Smith I wasn’t really sure what direction to go at safety, so I moved Blanton. Derrik Allen and Houston Griffith, save the safety spot boys.

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  1. Harrison Smith appears to be a very transparent “revisionist” pick. Because everyone on these sites demanded that Kelly bench Harrison for anyone else with eligibility and a pulse. It was pretty brutal, the crap he took from you experts.

    1. And no Manti T’eo…despite his leading the entire defense in a defense-led, uniquely successful ND campaign to a NC appearance.

      Because, I’m assuming:
      1) that “weird internet thing” and embarrassment to ND and its fans —- not him, to be clear; and
      2) he hasn’t been a superstar in the NFL…which is quite irrelevant (see Smith discussion above).

      1. Ooops..missed the manti pick. Mea Culpa.

        The pop up ads scroll the screen down, interfering with one’s reading.

    2. Nobody wanted SMITH OUT DOPEY DAVE!! Another FACTLESS , STUPID AND ASSANINE ARTICLE FROM DUMBASS DAVEY!!! Beware those pop up ads DAVEY, they can b tough for someone like you and your 4th grade education!!! Congrats Dopey you r now the only person who responds to your own posts , at least you know your STUPID and have to correct yourself!!! Oooops im DUMBASS DAVEY!!!!

  2. Greg , I agree on Jaylon Smith 100 %. You hit the nail on the head —where his talent his best suited. He is wicked off the line as a pass rusher. BTW Greg —any upcoming articles regarding the new NCAA Rules regarding Transfers and Red Shirts —these new changes go into affect 2018 season. I believe the new rules benefit the student/athlete. He has more freedom/control to decide his future—not the Powers That Be.

      1. Another insightful masterpiece from Ron.
        What a year it’s been…and it’s only June!?!

    1. Schmidt would be first in line for a “defensive leadership” category but definitely not even close when it comes to actual to p linebackers.

  3. We may have more defensive guys on someones first, second, or third AA team this year than we have in a long time.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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