Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

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

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34 JUNE/JULY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ne of the necessities to becoming a suc- cessful coordinator is knowing the strengths of your unit and designing a scheme and specific game plans to maximize those strengths. Notre Dame de- fensive coordinator Clark Lea was masterful at this in 2018, using his disruptive line and veteran lineback- ers to develop one of the nation's top defenses. Lea took over a defense that returned nine starters from the previous season when he was the lineback- ers coach, and he used that experience to his advan- tage. He won't have that same level of experience in 2019, at least not up the middle, where Lea must replace all four starters at defensive tackle and inside linebacker. The depth chart is especially trou- bling at linebacker, the position Lea coaches. Notre Dame's second-year coordinator must replace two multi- year starters who combined for 410 tackles, 41.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 11 passes broken up and 17 quarter- back hurries the last two seasons. Lea was able to allow his lineback- ers to make good reads, flow to the ball and finish a lot of plays in 2018. He cannot ask his new group of line- backers to do the same because they lack similar experience. But another part of being a suc- cessful coordinator is knowing the weaknesses of your unit and design- ing a scheme and specific game plans to limit or help mask those concerns. That is what Lea must do with the linebackers in 2019, especially early in the season. There are three tactics he can take to disguise their inexperience and accent their athletic gifts. 1. Be More Aggressive With Line- backer Run Stunts: Lea did very few linebacker stunts with his 2018 unit because they were so experienced and so good at reading the offense, making decisions and attacking the football. He cannot do that in 2019 because of his unit's inexperience. A stunt is a defensive call in which the linebackers are tasked with ag- gressively attacking a specific gap of the offense, one that is not being occupied by the defensive line. Think of it as a blitz that is designed to at- tack a running play instead of a pass play. The benefit of using more stunts with a younger group of linebackers — especially a unit as athletic as the current depth chart — is that it tells the defender where to go. There is less decision-making involved and less reading of the offense. To make it simple, the linebacker has a job to do and he does it without having to think too much. This would take some of the men- tal pressure off the young linebackers but also allow them to make more plays using their athleticism. Make no mistake, despite their youth, play- ers such as sophomores Jack Lamb, Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer, plus junior Jordan Genmark Heath, are all gifted athletes. Of course, the weakness in a run stunt — and the reason this tactic can't be overused — is if the line- backers and line don't hit their gaps and make the play, there is a greater risk of surrendering a long run. 2. Attack More With The Defensive Line: Another area where Lea can help the linebackers is by allowing his more experienced line to attack the offense. If he allows the front — espe- cially the tackles — to at- tack gaps more and try to use them to penetrate more than they did a season ago, it will make it harder for blockers to get to the line- backers. In turn, that allows the linebackers to make good reads and run to the football with a bit more ease. We saw some of this last year, and Lea was good with calling stunts that al- lowed his ends to crash in- side against the run. With the defensive end position being the strength of the defense, us- ing them as weapons against the run should take some of the burden off the linebackers. But again, the more aggressive you are with such calls, the greater risk there is that you give up a big play. 3. Protect Them With The Safe- ties: Last season, the safeties spent a lot of time attacking the alleys of the defense (the area between the cornerbacks and linebackers) in or- der to slow down run plays and pe- rimeter screens. One area where Lea can help the linebackers is by using his veteran safeties to come down behind the linebackers when they do run stunts, or to come into the box against the run. Either way, using the safeties more in the box instead of the alleys gives offenses more to prepare for and adds more weapons into the middle of the run defense. This opens up some problematic areas outside, but the linebackers are athletic enough to ease that burden for the safeties. ✦ Maximizing The Linebackers Vital For Clark Lea CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Junior Jordan Genmark Heath is part of an inexperienced but athletic linebacker corps. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

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