Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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42 PRESEASON 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI C lark Lea is not getting much of an opportunity to go into the college football wading pool. His debut as a defensive co‑ ordinator will have him swimming with the sharks at the outset. After eight seasons as a lineback‑ ers coach at UCLA (2010‑11), Bowl‑ ing Green (2012), Syracuse (2013‑15), Wake Forest (2016) and then Notre Dame last year, the 2004 Vanderbilt graduate will coordinate a defense for the first time versus Michigan. The Wolverines were not a jugger‑ naut on offense in 2017, finishing 91st in scoring offense (25.2 points per game), but Lea's counterparts on of‑ fense include Jim Harbaugh, who has gained much renown as a play caller; 21‑year coaching veteran Pep Ham‑ ilton, the passing game coordinator whose pupils included Heisman run‑ ner‑up Andrew Luck plus 10 years in the NFL; former Colorado State and Florida head coach Jim McElwain, who coordinated two national title offenses for Nick Saban at Alabama; and new line coach Ed Warinner, a 34‑year veteran (including at Notre Dame in 2010‑11) who won a national title at Ohio State in 2014. In a year when the Fighting Irish return one of their half‑dozen most experienced defenses since the start of the Ara Parseghian era in 1964, the primary question is how the 16th Notre Dame defensive coordinator in the past 34 years will handle his new role. Consistently down to earth and professorial in his communication, the candid Lea is secure enough in his own skin to acknowledge the scrutiny he will face externally. "Yes, I think about it every day," Lea said of his maiden voyage as a coordinator versus Michigan's brain trust. "I want to be at my best for these players by Sept. 1. I've worked really hard to do that." For Lea, though, it's not about try‑ ing to be flawless but to set the right approach through the inevitable highs and lows that come with his position. "I'm trying to build this peace of mind for me, too, knowing that I'm not going to be perfect," he said. "I'm going to make a mistake, and I've told the players that. I think they ap‑ preciate the fact that they know I'm going to give them everything I've got, and I expect the same in return. "Truthfully, I think there's a bond formed in knowing that they're shar‑ ing in my first experience, but they also know their coach is going to be a gloves‑off figure. Everything that I've got I'll leave it on the field for them, and they'll do the same for me. "I want to make sure that it never becomes about me. My only function here is to support our team, and the players have to know that about me. So I try not to make so much about my role in terms of what the title is. The truth is when Coach named me coordinator, I didn't change for a second. I was the same guy. For me, whatever role I'm in, can I be the best I can for the players? If I can do that I'll be proud of what I accomplished." For head coach Brian Kelly — who is on his fourth defensive coordinator in the last four seasons — Lea's or‑ ganization, every‑day consistency in his message and even adding some tweaks to last year 's improvement that saw the Irish finish 20th defen‑ sively in the Fremeau Efficiency In‑ dex is expected to have some payoff. "Clark's not married to, 'This is the way we do it, and we can't get better at doing it in a different fashion,'" Kelly said. Even consistency needs some flexibility. Here's a synopsis of each position group on defense from the Aug. 3‑20 training camp, with the fall semester classes beginning Aug. 21. DEFENSIVE LINE Top Topic Through Aug. 20: In their nine seasons at Notre Dame, both Kelly and line coach Mike Elston are in agreement that when combining star power, playing ex‑ perience, production and depth, the 2018 unit has the making to be their best with the Fighting Irish. It is not unrealistic to believe se‑ nior Jerry Tillery could become the school's first first‑round selection along the defensive line since Re‑ naldo Wynn in 1997. Fifth‑year se‑ nior Jonathan Bonner has shifted to nose tackle after starting all 13 games last season, and sophomores Myron Tagovailoa‑Amosa and Kurt Hin‑ ish contributed surprisingly well as freshmen with 329 and 177 snaps, respectively. They are much more physically prepared this year, espe‑ cially Tagovailoa‑Amosa. "With his athletic ability and first step quickness, we have two three‑ techniques now that can get up field and cause some havoc," Kelly said of Tagovailoa‑Amosa, who is behind Tillery. There might be even greater op‑ timism about the four‑man junior group at end — Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara at drop end and Kha‑ lid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji on the strong side — who are primed to ei‑ ther break out or bloom in year three. Even with Jay Hayes, a 13‑game starter last year, opting to use his graduate transfer year at Georgia, Kareem was considered the better prospect in the spring and Ogundeji has been described as a "thrasher, physical, relentless" by Kelly. "It's been a while since we've had four guys [at end] we feel can go out there and compete with anyone," Kelly summarized. Of Note: Hayes was slowed by pa‑ tellar tendonitis in the Aug. 15 ses‑ sion, but remained relatively active in some drills. Relating to the confidence the coaches have in the depth, in 2017 Dar‑ nell Ewell (No. 139 overall prospect na‑ tionally) enrolled as the highest‑rated defensive tackle to sign with the Irish since Louis Nix in 2010, but was buried behind Tillery, Hinish, senior Micah Dew‑Treadway and even freshman Ja'Mion Franklin at nose tackle. Thus, Ewell was moved to offen‑ sive guard by the end of the second week of August camp. Summary: Last year 's Irish were built around a veteran offensive line The Debut Tour Clark Lea steps in as a first-time coordinator for a veteran defense Fifth-year senior Jonathan Bonner, who has shifted to nose tackle after starting all 13 games at defensive tackle last season, is part of a deep Irish front four. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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