Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM PRESEASON 2023 29 BY JACK SOBLE N otre Dame runs multiple ball- disruption drills near the start of every practice. Defenders practice punching the ball out of the ball carrier's hands with accuracy and power, which forces fumbles head-on. They practice wrap- ping up and stripping the ball from the runner, which creates turnovers from behind. In individual drills, safeties work on tracking the ball through the air in zone coverage. Cornerbacks will line up against each other, the one mimicking a receiver will jog out a few steps and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens will throw the ball up for grabs, letting the two players battle for it. The Irish finished 81st nationally last year in forced fumbles with 8, 68th in interceptions with 10 and 129th in passes broken up with 24. Defensive coordinator Al Golden is fully aware something must change in 2023, and he's made it a sticking point for Notre Dame's defense heading into the season. "For me, ball disruption right out of the gate," Golden said when asked what he wants Notre Dame to improve upon the most in 2023. "Let's not wait like we did last year to get it going, and when we did get it going, it made a difference in the game. Absolutely that." Golden might have been selling it short when he said it made a differ- ence when turnovers picked up. The Irish forced 2 turnovers in their first six games last season, and they started 3-3. They forced 13 in their final seven con- tests and went 6-1 in that stretch. "We've got to play with consistency and attack the football," linebacker Jack Kiser said. "And I think that's defense- wide. At the start of last year, we took forever to get our first turnover. And I think you could really feel that on the field. Like we were playing decent ball, but there were times where we needed to step up, and we couldn't just get that big game-changing play." So far, from what reporters have seen, so good. On the first day of fall camp, when media could watch Notre Dame's full practice, sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison, senior cornerback Clarence Lewis and senior safety Xavier Watts all picked off passes, and sopho- more cornerback Jaden Mickey had two. This isn't just a defensive back ef- fort, though. The Irish have all hands on deck. Kiser stressed that ball disruption should start with the linebackers setting the tone, while junior defensive tackle Jason Onye insists his group can con- tribute just as much as the back seven. "As far as getting into the backfield and you're at the quarterback, and you're the second man in, you go for the ball, knowing that your teammates are going to have your back," Onye said. "We're just constantly expressing be- Sophomore cornerback Benjamin Morrison picked up in fall camp right where he left off as a ball hawk during his Freshman All-America season with 6 interceptions and 4 passes broken up. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER KEY TAKEAWAYS Defensive coordinator Al Golden is stressing the need for ball disruption in fall camp

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