Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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50 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI N otre Dame's alliteration at in- side linebacker remains in 2016. Smith and Schmidt from 2015 is now Morgan and Martini. Juniors Nyles Morgan (at the Mike position) and Greer Martini (at the Will position) settled in this August under third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, replacing last year's cap- tain duo of Joe Schmidt (Mike) and Jaylon Smith (Will). "This is really like VanGorder's first freshman class," Morgan said of his fellow juniors that includes strong safety Drue Tranquill, cornerback Nick Watkins (sidelined this August with an arm injury), and linemen Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage and Jonathan Bonner. "We know what we're doing [now]. "Coach VanGorder, when I came in it was like he's speaking Mandarin, I don't know what he's saying. We were all kind of learning together versus now when I know what he's saying." "It's definitely difficult, and it took two years," echoed Martini of getting a handle on his position. "I got yelled at a lot, that's for sure, my first couple of years here, just because I didn't have an understanding of it." Although named a Freshman All- American in 2014 when he had to re- place the injured Schmidt the final five games, Morgan's adjustment was akin to going from basic arithmetic to calcu- lus, and it showed during a four-game losing streak when the Irish yielded nearly 44.5 points per game — though, in fairness, it included a couple of inter- ceptions for scores by the opposition. "Back then everything is kind of like a whirlwind," said Morgan, who was rated behind only offensive guard Quenton Nelson as the top recruit in Notre Dame's 2014 class. "You're try- ing to get to here, get to there, make sure you're doing this right — but you kind of didn't understand why. "Year three, I kind of get the whys in a lot of things. I can piece together things a lot quicker … but it does take a lot of time, a lot of effort, especially at Mike linebacker." As a sophomore, with Schmidt back for his fifth season of eligibility, Mor- gan took only 41 snaps on defense, 28 of them in the 62-27 blowout of UMass. "It's kind of like you feed a pit bull steak one day, and the next day he's expecting it again, and it never came," Morgan said. "So obviously, he's hun- gry. … That hunger is really what is pushing this team to be great." Despite the loss of six defensive starters, most conspicuously But- kus Award winner Smith, Morgan believes there will be collective im- provement on that side of the ball be- cause the upperclassmen are far more in tune with the defense than when he enrolled two years ago, and the trickle-down effect is taking better hold with the freshmen. "Because we know what we're do- ing, we can tell them what the coaches are trying to say," Morgan said of pos- sibly a half-dozen freshmen expected to contribute on defense this year. Having added 25 pounds since en- rolling, the 245-pound Morgan looks the part, but more importantly he is confident that he knows the part. "He's on it," VanGorder said the fi- nal week of preseason camp, noting how Morgan was hitting his stride in- stead of the wall during the dog days of August. Morgan's job description as the quar- terback of the defense has expanded to bringing his compatriots up with him. "You have to take charge and it's yours," VanGorder told Morgan. "A lot of guys are depending on your com- munication and how you call it. He continues to tighten the grip on that. He's got a lot of work as a player, a lot of football left out in front of him, but he's got all the right things relative to being obsessed with the game and get- ting better and tough. "He's done an admirable job relative to managing it all, but I've got to see him as a starter — let's see what you Martini can play any of the three linebacker spots, but will start at the Will position. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND QUARTERBACKS Of The Defense Junior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini get their chance to lead

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