Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2016 Issue

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

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THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI good defense, right? If you have a large inventory and don't play real good de- fense, then that's the assumption. If you don't do well, you're going to hear those different things that come out. "But within in our room, we know the truth, what we've got to do. … It's fun to play in our system." Prior to coming to Notre Dame, Van- Gorder learned under longtime NFL defensive mastermind Rex Ryan, the head coach of the New York Jets from 2009-14 and Buffalo in 2015. "It was invaluable for me," Van- Gorder said upon arriving at Notre Dame. "I was already thinking ahead and planning ahead in respect to the many things I would take from Rex. It was a great influence." There is a caveat. Ryan's defense sup- posedly needs older players — we're talking 25 to 35 years old — who can absorb it all. In 2014, the Bills had a "Diaco-like" figure at defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz, whose elements were more basic and helped the Bills finish No. 4 in the league in total defense. Last year with Ryan, the defense dropped to No. 15, and players complained about its difficulty. Here is what longtime NFL general manager Bill Polian, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last August, told The Buffalo News this December about the drop-off. The words hit home. "You need veterans to make that defense work," Polian said. "First of all, the players thrived in another sys- tem — in a simple, straightforward, very easy to understand, very easy to communicate system where there was constant repetition of the same thing. … And the techniques were geared to- ward what the players could do, what their skill sets were, and the plans were constructed around the players and what they could do. "Rex's defense is just the opposite. It is not straightforward. It's exceedingly complex. There is no carryover learn- ing from one week to the next. There's exceedingly complex language. There are exceedingly complex checks that have to be made at the line of scrim- mage." When Ryan was with the New York Jets, 5-8 safety Jimmy Leonhard was to him what linebacker Joe Schmidt was to VanGorder: A lion-hearted figure you can't help but respect immensely, and a person to emulate in every day life, but … "I remember asking one of the Jets' coaches during the offseason, 'How in God's name can you put Jimmy Le- onhard on the field?'" Polian told The Buffalo News. "He said, 'No one else can translate the defense. No one else can get everybody lined up.'" Sound familiar? The best might still be ahead for Van- Gorder and his defense in year three, just like it was out of nowhere for Diaco in 2012. It needs to be if faith in the plan is to occur. ✦ Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at

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