Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2014

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

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Page 47 of 113

BY DAN MURPHY T he plan for standout linebacker Jaylon Smith at the start of spring was logical. Notre Dame's ris- ing sophomore star — the crown jewel of its post-national title game re- cruiting class — would line up just about anywhere on the field. Head coach Brian Kelly said he wanted to put Smith in as many places as pos- sible to keep opponents guessing. "We don't want offenses to know where he is," Kelly said. It didn't take long to realize the plan was backwards. The sophomore shouldn't be the one hiding; his oppo- nents should. Two weeks into spring practice, Kelly and his defensive staff reversed course. The new plan was to make it impossible for others to hide from him. Smith moved to the Will linebacker position, where he is more likely to line up in the middle of the defense on a regular basis than on one of its flanks. First-year defensive coordina- tor Brian VanGorder initially pegged him as a Sam linebacker, the closest equivalent to the position where he started 13 games as a freshman in Bob Diaco's 3-4 alignment. The change made life simpler for Smith, put him in a spot where he could more frequently make plays and filled a huge need in the middle of the Irish defense. "Need was another huge factor in that," Kelly said. "[We] needed to move him in a position where he could impact that defense, and we felt that that was more of an impactful posi- tion." Before moving Smith, Notre Dame's options at the Will linebacker position were thin. Fifth-year senior Kendall Moore has limited experience on the field, and his role as a 251-pound run- thumper doesn't fit the faster style the Irish hope to play more often than not. Redshirt freshman Doug Randolph, playing inside for the first time this spring, is third on the depth chart. The Sam and Will positions are not dramatically different, but it will be harder for opponents to neutralize Smith in an X's-and-O's chess game at his new spot. For example, with three wide receivers split to one side of the field, the Sam linebacker is typically re- sponsible to bounce outside and cover the slot receiver. That formation would take Smith away from the line of scrim- mage and render him virtually obsolete against a running play. It's much harder Nowhere To Hide Notre Dame moved sophomore standout Jaylon Smith this spring to make him unavoidable for opponents

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