Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

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

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Page 20 of 55 OCT. 17, 2016 21 W hen Brian VanGorder was hired to replace Bob Diaco as the de- fensive coordinator prior to the 2014 season, the Irish made a shift away from Di- aco's 3-4 defense to a four- man defensive front. Now that VanGorder has been removed — replaced by former defensive ana- lyst Greg Hudson — Notre Dame is going back to more of a three-man look, which is what head coach Brian Kelly prefers. "I like three-man. I've al- ways liked the balance of a three-man front," Kelly said on Oct. 4. "It will be part of what we do. It won't be all of what we do. We will mix it in." Kelly's desire for a re-em- phasis on a three-man front is not just about personal pref- erence or past experiences. There are practical reasons for the shift that the coach wants to take immediate advantage of. "When you're talking about … the ability to really get some one-on-one matchups with those tackles with hard, inside shades," Kelly said, re- ferring specifically to the Syracuse matchup. "We were able to push their offensive tackles back. That's not necessarily going to be the case every week, but having the ability to change up where those guys line up is going to be more effective for us. "They were single blocking because we were forcing their guards to go out and protect the edges. So I think a lot of one-on-one blocks allowed some of that pressure to occur and when you're in the three-down because of that edge presence that is shown, those guards have to kick out and it gets you a lot of one-on-one opportunities." Kelly and the defensive staff also wanted to create more of a rotation up front, with more players getting on the field. Being in more of a three- man look gives Kelly's defense far greater flexibility, which also factored into the decision. Both end spots are similar, which limits some of the rig- idness that comes when you have a weakside end, a strongside end and a three-technique. "It gets more guys on the field, be- cause there's the ability to use more players in the three-down look," the Irish head coach explained. "From a structure standpoint it fits my eye, so it's two-fold. It gets more guys on the field that I want to see out there that can help us win, and it's a structure that I like in certain situations." When a defense makes a shift like this there can be concerns about the team's ability to run the look in the present, and whether or not it has the personnel to run the defense moving forward. Having the right person- nel involves having linemen that can play with enough power to handle the run game, but also the versatility at linebacker to give your defense a pair of inside power players, a rangy coverage player to the field and a power rusher that can also defend the short side of the field. Despite recruiting for VanGorder's four-man look the last three years, Notre Dame has a defensive roster well suited for the 3-4 Kelly wants to re-install. PERSONNEL FIT UP FRONT The current personnel and use of three-man fronts will help the Irish make this transi- tion, one that is needed mov- ing forward. Notre Dame's current roster is perfectly suited for a three-man look. The Irish line has lacked play- ers that can rush the quarter- back with speed, but its roster has plenty of power players that will transition quite well into the 3-4. For players like junior ends Jay Hayes and Jonathan Bonner, this switch is ideal for their skill set. Senior Isaac Rochell has done his best work when he is allowed to attack inside or line up tighter to offensive tackles. The new looks will allow him to do that, which makes it far from a coinci- dence that Rochell had his best game of the season against Syracuse. He finished with four QB hurries and a tackle for loss in the game. LINEBACKER FIT Sometimes, the shift can have the greatest impact on the linebackers. On paper, it would seem that the Irish have the personnel to make an easy transition, but adjustments in scheme will likely come in the future. The cur- rent crop of linebackers should be able to handle it well, but until we see it that remains a question. The new looks do not change any- thing for the Sam linebackers, and the inside linebackers should be able to make a smooth transition. What changes most is the other outside position, which is basically where the weakside ends in the four-man look will play. Freshmen Daelin Hayes and Ju- lian Okwara are well suited for this position, where they can use their athleticism and range to handle cov- erage responsibilities and to rush the quarterback. ✦ Defensive Transition Under Way CHALK TALK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at Junior lineman Jay Hayes could become a major weapon for the Irish defense while it transitions to a three-man look. PHOTO BY RICK KIMBALL

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