2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 83 become a really special corps over the next three to four years." BGI: So you are saying your changes will be more scheme related than philosophical adjustments? Lea: "Where we felt really good about funneling inside to two guys [Tranquill and Coney] that were really, really good tacklers, we can play the same call and just the tempo and how aggressive it's fit in the mid- dle may spray the ball out to where we feel like our best defenders are. "That is a little more how the package is built. It's second-level speed and athleticism. "Our two starting ends [seniors Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem] are elite play- ers. [Senior] Daelin Hayes is coming into his own, and we feel he can be a dynamic physical presence. [Redshirt junior] Ade [Ogundeji] has grown into being a player. We feel great about how those guys fit. "I think we do less this year versus last year. It's more about, 'Is this going to work with this group?' If they do this really well on the second level … if they take that gap as fast as possible, they are going to single up the [defensive tackle] and be disruptive to the running back. They are going to push him out and funnel him to players who are fitting off the perimeter blocks and will be effective that way." BGI: You lost two starters at defensive tackle, including first-round NFL Draft pick Jerry Tillery. How is that group coming along? Lea: "[Junior] Kurt Hinish is becoming his best self. I think we're seeing him grow into the player that we thought he could be. He's very close to closing off that last little piece of development. He's way more physi- cal in the run game than he was, particularly in 2017 where we felt like he got moved around. "Last year, he made strides. … In the spring, we went against a pretty good of- fensive line every day, and he showed he was continuing that progression. Through experience, he's growing into an effective run-stopping defensive lineman. "I thought Myron [Tagovailoa-Amosa, a redshirt sophomore] in his first year flashed more than Kurt. He has the ability to pry through blocks, he's athletic and he bends well. "We were really disappointed for him and for us that we lost him last year. He will probably be a little less far along in terms of reaching his potential. Fall camp will be huge for him in trying to make up for the time lost. "There were flashes last year when [soph- omore] Jayson [Ademilola] really showed an ability to be a dynamic player for us. His challenge now is finding a consistency, and that will be found in hard day-in and day-out work." BGI: From an outsider standpoint, line- backer appears to be a question mark head- ing into the season. Assess that situation. Lea: "We have a group of talented play- ers, but we need guys to start to separate themselves. … There are a few things that I think about every day, and one of them is the linebacker depth, and just the picture of what the linebacker position is and will be. "I can't tell you the number of combina- tions that I work through in my mind in terms of who is playing what position, what skill set gives us the best chance to win at certain positions, who may or may not come along to add depth, maybe replace depth or push for significant playing time. "I believe we have the ingredients there. We have talented players — we just have to keep pushing them along." BGI: You played mostly two linebackers a season ago, but you rotated players in both 2017 at Notre Dame and 2016 at Wake For- est. What is your preference? Lea: "You would like to have four. You would like to have two and two [at Buck and Mike linebacker, respectively], and could even go so far as to say five with someone who is helping you in third-down situations. "You put all your pieces on the table and say what gives us the best chance to win? "Playing four guys allows you to take a little bit of the pressure off the rep count of your starters. It also creates a greater sense of ownership, and that's huge with respect to playing defensive football. "One thing you love about the D-line corps is that you see these guys taking re- sponsibility for whatever their role. When you're training for at least 10 snaps, you're going to push the pedal down and the team is going to depend on you. "No matter how great of a motivational speaker I am or not, when you know you're not going to be playing, it's just hard. The more guys you play, the more buy-in you get, the more you get out of each player who's training for that opportunity." BGI: What does sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb bring to the game? Lea: "Jack is long and athletic, and he's got a very natural feel to playing in cover- age. He plays in and out of windows natu- rally. "In the spring, he never got cracked, not because he didn't get blocked, but he always seemed to bend his way around blocks and find the ball. "He has strong hands, and he uses his length by locking his arms out. That can be a jarring feeling with the length he's got behind it. "The other thing that he has for his frame to be 6-4 is the ability to bend and get pads under pads. Not only are you dealing with his length, where he's on you fast, he's also coiled and underneath you. Those are things that he does naturally that make him effec- tive. "Once you combine that with power and a little weight, you're going to start seeing a player you hope can physically dominate the game at the second level. "He is a smart player, too. Mistakes are made, that's part of it and my job is to cor- rect them and hold everyone to a standard. He's a guy who is really good in the football classroom. He's really in tune and in touch. "The more we can get him to act on that day in and day out, the closer he's going to come to being what I think he can be." BGI: Senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. fin- ished the 2018 season on a strong note. What is his ceiling heading into 2019? Lea: "He's got elite speed. … He's learned over his time here, snap in and snap out, to control himself emotionally, to handle getting beat and responding. He's still work- ing on that. "I've been really impressed with his ma- turity. He wants this to be a legacy year for him, and not just how he plays, but how he impacts the program. Those are the kind of guys you want suiting up for you. "The way he played in the playoff game is a great launching point for him going into his senior year." ✦ "In some ways, we're going to experience the evolution of young players who will be markedly better by the time we finish the season than when we start. They could become a really special corps over the next three to four years." LEA ON HIS LINEBACKERS

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