Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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Page 48 of 99 PRESEASON 2016 49 "The answers I don't have are the first time they're in front of 90,000 [fans] and you all are writing about them and they're reading all this stuff … the first time they make a mistake and get beat, I don't know how they're going to react," VanGorder said. There is no single answer to upgrad- ing the pass rush without a Stephon Tuitt- or Justin Tuck-like figure there, at least for now. "There's nobody on our roster right now that we can claim as having that," VanGorder said. "We've got to depend on everybody. If we're running a pres- sure, we've got to be better as a line- backer and a pressure, a safety and a pressure. We've got to cover better and give the D-linemen a chance. "Doing it in a drill is one thing. You get in 11-on-11 or a game, you've got to do it then." • At nose guard, fifth-year senior Jarron Jones and junior Daniel Cage are counted on to supply at least "25 to 35" snaps per game apiece, Kelly said, although deep down the preference would be to have stamina that exceeds such a count. • At the three-technique tackle posi- tion vacated by 2015 captain Sheldon Day, sophomore Jerry Tillery is pro- jected to be part of the three-man inte- rior rotation with Jones and Cage, and possibly a sophomore such as Elijah Taylor or Pete Mokwuah. With Jones sidelined last year with an MCL tear, Tillery was thrust into the nose guard role, where he rotated with Cage. By the end of the season, Tillery was running on fumes, which makes the move to three-technique more wel- come to his skill set. "Defensive tackle [for an] 18-year- old kid, that's not easy," said Tillery, who hit the proverbial freshman wall in November and finished with 12 to- tal tackles (four in the last eight games). "We play a long season. I'm telling the freshmen now, 'It's coming. Just wait.' There's a camp wall, there's a lot of walls you have to break through in order to be successful in this game. "Everyone hits the wall … I think they will be fewer and further in be- tween, because I have more experience, and I think I've gotten a lot better." If not, the coaches can always turn to senior strongside end Isaac Rochell, especially with junior Jonathan Bonner displaying some appreciable progress behind him. Ah yes, Rochell — the man who started at nose guard versus LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl and at three- technique in last year's Fiesta Bowl. Labeling him merely as an "end" doesn't tell the story of his versatility and durability (his 60 snaps per game even eclipsed the graduated Sheldon Day's total of 57). Entering his senior year, Rochell has played more than Day (who had missed seven games because of injury earlier in his career) but his 3.5 career sacks — the most among any returning Irish player — are a relatively modest figure at his position. His seven QB hurries were second to Day's 13 last year, but the Notre Dame pass rush is one of the prime question marks. "He's got a lot more game out there," VanGorder said of Rochell. "That'll be one of the things that will be a key for us. His production needs to get better." "I don't think I've had trouble pass rushing or getting off of a block — it's just a matter of finishing," Rochell said. "… The biggest thing is in that five yards between beating the [blocker] and the quarterback, you've got to get there — because you only have two and a half seconds." Cohesion and teamwork along the front also is an underrated essential to enhancing the collective pass rush (the Irish finished 75th last year in sacks with 25 and 91st in intercep- tions with nine). "I can have a great play, but if someone else doesn't have a good play, it doesn't matter, or vice-versa," Rochell said. "The goal is to develop confidence [as a complete unit], and that begins by competing." The multiple packages under Van- Gorder leave room to highlight the talents of individuals. In some nickel packages, the freshman Hayes and Trumbetti have been aligned at end, while the two strongside ends, Ro- chell and Bonner, are in the interior as tackles. Then in a 3-3-5 front, Trumbetti and Rochell have been at the ends while Tillery was in the middle. T h e re h a s b e e n m a y b e m o re individual star power along the defensive line in Kelly's first six seasons, but the options and depth perception might be at their peak in 2016. ✦ Senior Isaac Rochell is expected to anchor the defense from his strongside end position, but he also has experience playing along the interior and could slide there in nickel packages. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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