Notre Dame Assistants: They Said It On Defense/Special Teams
Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Clark Lea.
On the inexperience at linebacker and rover, with eight of the 13 scholarship players either freshmen or sophomores. Plus, projected junior starters Drew White (Mike) and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (rover) have barely played, and Asmar Bilal (Buck) shifted from rover last year to inside:
“It’s more about constant competition — this constant feeling that I have to come and interview for the job I have every day, that I have to prove and re-prove. I think that ultimately shapes us as competitors at the highest possible level. It’s a young group. It’s a talented group. The other point is to let this unit evolve as the season does, too.
“We always want things to happen faster than they should, but we’re dealing with first- and second-year players. ...Football’s a little different too, it’s not like basketball or baseball where you play so many games. Each exposure is just peeling back the layers and the experience will build. I think we’ll see growth and maturity as the season goes.
“I want to be able to use the skill sets of each player. I want everyone to feel like they have a role, to be at our best ability to beat the opponent week in and week out. Beyond that, I want each guy to feel they have room to go up or down based on how they approach the day at hand.”
On the second cornerback position (field), opposite Troy Pride Jr., having similar competition for playing time like linebacker, with Donte Vaughn, Houston Griffith, TaRiq Bracy, Shaun Crawford (cross-training at many spots), among them:
“We’re leaving the doors open a little bit just because we’ve had guys battle through. ...Again, it’s also based off the opponent. ‘What do we have to stop? Who do we have to stop? Who’s skillset fits that mold the best?’
“It’s not going to be a two-man show. We’re going to be creative to how we fit our people and put them in the right positions. We’re excited about who we have over there and obviously we’re excited about Troy. I think he’s had a great camp. He’s pushed it to another level for himself."
Associate head coach/defensive line coach Mike Elston.
On this being what he said is “the best defensive line we’ve had here in quite some time,” and figuring out how to play so many bodies:
“The season is long. There is great opportunity for everybody to play. We played 12 guys in the playoff game and all of them came away with some level of production. You lose guys here or there…helmets break, guys go in. Everybody knows they need to be ready.
“We have packages that Coach Lea and the staff have put together to try and get everybody in as best as we can. It’s a good problem to have.”
On what enables 6-1 ½,293-pound freshman Jacob Lacey, who already excelled in the spring, to be in the tackle rotation:
“He’s big, he’s fast, he’s very athletic for his size … and then also he’s very intelligent. Coming out of high school he’s one of the top students in his class and he learns really well. He’s not a high-rep guy who needs 50 reps to get it right. He makes one mistake, you show him on film, and he gets it right."
Pass defense coordinator/safeties coach Terry Joseph.
On how he discovered freshman standout Kyle Hamilton, who has starred in the preseason and will find himself in sub-packages:
“Two years ago I was working at North Carolina and we had a bye week. One of my walk-on DBs said, ‘Coach, do you recruit Atlanta?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, if you get a chance, stop by my school. I think they have a player who’s a pretty good player.’ He was describing Kyle. So I had some time, I stopped by the school and coach signed off on him.
“Then you see the kid play and move around and you’re like, ‘Oh my God. How can I keep this from the rest of the world?’ In the meantime, the season ended at Carolina and it was a whirlwind and I became the safeties coach here — and he was one of the first people that we reached out to get an offer to.
Throughout the recruiting process, it was like the perfect storm. It was a kid who was very level-headed, knew what he wanted, and basically at Marist he went to a ‘little Notre Dame.’ So it was kind of already set up for us. ... Started off as a two- or three-star; ended up as a five-star. But the truth of the matter is he never really got affected by the process.
“He called me about a month before he went public and said he was coming to Notre Dame, just to not tell anybody. So that was the biggest challenge, to not tell anybody. I had to stay quiet for a month, and he was true to his word.”
Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght.
On what he teaches about playing through the course of an arduous season:
“A player who influenced me in terms of preparation was [former All-Pro running back] Marshall Faulk. I remember we were sitting down having a conversation about playing not at 100 percent. He said, ‘I kind of like playing not at 100 percent because it makes me focus more.’ I thought it was an interesting point and I had never looked at it like that. If you’re not at 100 percent, the mental part of the game has to pick up because you’re not all there.
“It’s true. I changed my mindset in terms of how I felt in my preparation. Going through the course of the season from August on, you’re not going to be 100 percent. You’re going to be anywhere from 85 to 96, 97 percent. You have to have the mindset to do the right things, practice with the right habits and energy. You have to execute at a very high level to give our defense a chance to win a national championship.”
On the difference of recruiting at Notre Dame now than when he starred from 1987-90:
“It’s a little tougher to bring in a lot of the five-star athletes. Now, we’re going to range anywhere from 15 to 5 (in rankings). We want to be closer to the five and we’re at the point now where we’re trying to break into that top five.
“There [are] a lot more prestigious teams with the landscape of college football, especially with media markets. Twenty-five years ago … we had the most exposure. You have the ACC Network and SEC Network ... Kids understand they can go to a different school and still get a lot of exposure.”
Special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator Brian Polian.
On replacing record-breakers Justin Yoon at kicker and Tyler Newsome at punter:
“[Punter] Jay Bramblett has done an incredible job. Having him here for the spring was really good, and it was really important. I don’t think people know how hard Jay worked academically to make sure that he could arrive here at the (spring) semester. … The spring was a little bit of a struggle. We kept putting holes in the ceiling of Loftus. I had this young man from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and I have him out in March at seven in the morning on LaBar. He couldn’t find a groove, and frankly, I couldn’t blame him. But he has really steadily improved.
“[Kicker] Harrison Leonard coming here as a non-scholarship player from Avon Old Farms has done a really good job. He does not have the natural strength that Jon [Doerer] does, but he’s three years younger. He has really represented himself well.
"And frankly, the last two weeks I think Jon Doerer has been really, really good. …We don’t expect them to be the next Justin Yoon. We don’t expect them to be the next Tyler Newsome. We just need them to do their jobs to the best of their ability, and we’ll clean up from there.”