Notre Dame’s VanGorder addresses key topics

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- During his roughly 30-minute interview with the media following Wednesday's practice, Brian VanGorder fielded a wide-ranging stream of questions.

One, however, seemed to mystify VanGorder, Notre Dame's first-year defensive coordinator. Has there been, the 25-year coaching veteran was asked, resistance to some of the changes he's implementing.

"Resistance? What's resistance?" VanGorder mused before providing an answer void of wiggle-room. "No."

So we can safely assume that KeiVarae Russell isn't knocking on VanGorder's door questioning his nickel package, and Sheldon Day isn't stopping practice to challenge VanGorder about how he's being used. But a certain question does remain as the Irish near the midway point of their 15-session spring practice schedule.

Will the Irish employ a 3-4 defense, as was the case under previous coordinator Bob Diaco, now the head coach at Connecticut? Or will they switch to a 4-3, the scheme predominantly seen during the practice sessions open to the media this spring.

"I don't know," VanGorder said. "I think the idea of us right now is we want to be multiple, so we've got to keep building that way. It just so happens as you're seeing in the early install, you're seeing a lot of 4-3 look but there's 3-4 out there too and we're mixing that in and trying to evaluate and see what's going to work best for us with the idea that we'll carry multiple looks into a game.

"I think you have to be prepared to do that."

VanGorder, who came to Notre Dame after spending the 2013 season with the New York Jets, touched on a number of other topics Wednesday.

•The catching up that needs to be done by inside linebacker Jarrett Grace and defensive lineman Tony Springmann. Grace suffered a broken leg in October and Springmann missed the season with a knee injury: "It'll be uphill. It will be uphill. But each player is a little bit different, but they're definitely going to be behind. You miss time, you miss repetitions, you miss experience, it slows the whole process down. There's no getting around it."

•On the last time he prepared for option football: "Let's see. Carolina. Buffalo Bills. Carolina the 14th game. I've seen it my whole life ... so it's not new to me. It's not a question of how you defend it. It's more a question of execution and can you defend it? You look at a team like Navy that's so wound in that offense that defensively it's hard to give them anything they've never seen and it's so systematic that they have good answers right away because they've done it forever, where we line up and we're doing it once a year."

•On the development of the cornerbacks: "I think KeiVarae Russell has had a very good spring. I'm very impressed with him. He's got a lot of work to do, but he's got a lot of skill. I think Cole Luke's a very skilled player; he's just a young player that we've got to keep developing. He has a lot of skill. But you've got to win out there on the perimeter, so we'll keep challenging them."

•On how position switches come about: "In all fairness, I'm still evaluating in spring ball. That evaluation started with film first, some morning training with them, watching them move around. But until you put the football down and put your cleats in the grass, there's a long ways to complete the evaluation. Now we're seeing them play the game of football. In the end of this picture in the spring, we pretty much can define and profile a player in terms of who he is."

•On senior outside linebacker/defensive end Ishaq Williams: "He's done a good job so far. I think there's a lot of football out there for him and I think he's got to keep working at it. We're counting on him to be a solid football player for us."

•How the adjustment period has been at ND compared to others he's had in his career: "It's a little bit typical of some places that I've gone in to. I guess the thing that stands out here is our youth. We're so young. We're really young in the front seven especially. So we've got to speed the process up and bring them along. That's the objective."

•On former walk-on linebacker Joe Schmidt, who has been working with the first team: "He's learned the defense, he's way ahead of most of the guys in terms of the defense. He's superior in the learning area. He's got a good grasp of it already. He's a good communicator. That kind of guy, a coach gets attached to that kind of player."

•On safety James Onwualu, who is making a switch from wide receiver: "He's struggling, but it's all new to him so he's struggling. But he's a good learner. He's a high standard and expectation guy so he brings a lot of good characteristics to it and he's a guy you'll see will greatly improve."

•His philosophy of man coverage and pressing at the line of scrimmage: "I'd love to do that. I think my mindset is to, especially in today's game, is to take more and more control on defense by being aggressive, and it starts out there. That's where you start your decisions as a coach, is can we hold up out there. So if you've got a corner who can press and take a guy out of a game, that's a huge advantage."

•On his son, Montgomery, who will walk on as a quarterback at ND, and if he wishes he could coach him: "Great for Notre Dame. Great for Notre Dame. I learned a long time ago, my five kids, don't coach them. They're all athletes, it just didn't work well. So I kinda backed off, gave them things here and there and kind of let their coaches coach them and let me be dad." ¦ 574-235-6428 ¦ Twitter: @BobWienekeNDI

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder works with Joe Schmidt (38) and Austin Larkin (52) Saturday, March 22, 2014, during spring football practice at Loftus Sports Center. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)