Notre Dame defense practice notes 8-15-15
SOUTH BEND — All eyes were on the defensive line with starting defensive tackle Jarron Jones sidelined with a season-ending knee injury. Plenty of combinations will likely be used to fill the void, but on Saturday, most of the first-team reps went to sophomore Daniel Cage.
The Irish also used a four-man defensive front with Isaac Rochell moving inside with Sheldon Day and Andrew Trumbetti and Romeo Okwara playing defensive end. That unit was mostly used when the Irish brought an extra defensive back onto the field in nickel situations.
Cage played solid in an increased role. He struggled at times last year but will need to make improvements sooner rather than later. In the scrimmage portion of the practice, Cage and the defensive line were stout against the run.
In pass-rush drills, Rochell continued to impress. His development at defensive end may make the coaching staff hesitant to plug him inside and hope someone else steps up in place of Jones.
In the secondary, graduate student Avery Sebastian took first-team reps in place of Elijah Shumate for much of practice. Freshman Shaun Crawford also jumped into the starting unit when the Irish used a nickelback.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder threw a number of different looks at head coach Brian Kelly’s offense during the scrimmage setting. Sometimes it paid off. Other times it didn’t. One gamble that failed came with a blitz of linebacker Jaylon Smith and safety Drue Tranquill off the edge. The offense responded with a quick screen to wide receiver Will Fuller which went for a long touchdown.
Day showed his dominance by flashing in the backfield for multiple tackles for a loss. He added a pass deflection on a quick pass from Malik Zaire.
With the No. 2 defense playing against the No. 2 offense, defensive end Jonathan Bonner made several plays. His highlights included what would have been a sack of DeShone Kizer (if he was allowed to tackle him) and tracking down a running back quickly on swing pass.
The biggest hit of the day came from freshman safety Nicco Fertitta and fifth-year linebacker Jarrett Grace. The two collided with wide receiver Corey Holmes on a short crossing route that drew some acclaim from the sideline.
Fifth-year safety Matthias Farley had a rough day. He failed to track down Fuller on the screen play that scored a touchdown, and was undressed by Kizer on a draw play near the goal line that resulted in another touchdown.
Defensive MVP: Day. The senior defensive tackle has even more pressure on him with Jones out of the lineup. He played at a high level throughout the entire practice and was a constant presence in the backfield.
Freshman MVP: Crawford. His reps with the No. 1 were clearly earned. He buzzed around the field and appears to have grasped the defensive concepts quickly. He showed his explosiveness by closing on a pass intended for slot receiver Amir Carlisle and breaking up the play.