Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko has quite a burden on his shoulders. Despite the program’s 4-8 record and porous defense over the last three seasons, when a new coordinator is hired he’s expected to get things turned around quickly.
Elko built Wake Forest into a top defense with far less talent than he inherited at Notre Dame, and that reality has many thinking he can right the ship much earlier than later.
There are legitimate reasons for optimism, and Elko’s defensive philosophy is just what Notre Dame needed.
Blue & Gold Illustrated sat down with the Notre Dame defensive coordinator this summer to discuss his philosophy and to get a read on where he thinks his unit stands heading into fall camp.
Here a little bit of what Elko had to say:
Blue & Gold Illustrated: Is the foundation of your defense built around how your teams play or the specific schemes and looks you give opponents?
Mike Elko: “I think the game is played on the field. Too many times we try to play it in the meeting room. At the end of the day, the better we are fundamentally the less stress there is on the scheme. If we can come off blocks, if we can talk, if we can run hard to the football then those things will overcome any bad situation we get into, any misplayed defensive situations we get into.
“Even when everything is running well and we call the perfect scheme, we still have to tackle. That’s the one thing through and through every single play is always the end all be all. If we can do the fundamental things correctly it becomes a successful play or a minimized negative play. That has kind of become our emphasis with it.
“… We try to do a really good job of getting the kids into all the football positions they need to be successful as opposed to spending all of our time talking X’s and O’s, then in the Temple game we miss a tackle or we come free on a blitz and we don’t get the guy down and we’ve never drilled or worked any of that stuff.”
BGI: So when you made the decision to come to Notre Dame and you looked at film and you break down your team, what were the things you identified that you really needed to address and improve here?
Elko: “We didn’t think we played the game fundamentally well. That was the one thing that jumped out to us on tape. We didn’t hold gaps well, we didn’t come off blocks well, we missed a lot of tackles.
“That’s what I saw when I watched the Notre Dame defense, so I think that’s where a lot of it came from. We can implement this new scheme, but if these things don’t improve it’s going to be the same result.”
BGI: Drue Tranquill is playing the rover spot in your defense, which is new at Notre Dame. How does he fit that spot?
Elko: “It is a position where a really good football player can get on the field and be really productive. … The things that Drue struggles with are no longer part of his job description. The things that Drue does exceptionally well are a major part of his job description.
“He’s going to be able to be good. I think it’s more a product of that, not necessarily that position is any more critical or important than others. I think it’s a position where a really good football player is playing and he’s going to find a way to be productive there.
“I think part of it, too, is we’ve constructed this scheme that allows that guy to not be a linebacker. That maybe creates a little more flexibility with that position.”
In the interview Elko went into more detail about his philosophy and about the Irish linebackers. He also discussed why he is so confident in the defensive line heading into the season. During the interview we spent a lot of time talking about how important safety play is in his defense.
To read more about those topics and get the rest of the interview be sure to get the 2017 Football Preview.
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