Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2017 Issue

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

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32 MAY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY MATT JONES M ike Elko was brought in to change the culture of Notre Dame's defense, cre- ate pressure on the quar- terback and take the ball away from offenses. For the first-year Irish defensive coordinator, much of that responsi- bility falls on a group of defensive linemen that have underperformed during their careers. "We have enough people in this room to be good," said Elko when asked about the defensive line. "There's enough to work with, there's enough to go out there and be successful next fall. That's our charge." Elko made his name as a coordi- nator at Bowling Green and Wake Forest over the past half-decade by building top-flight defenses with mostly two- and three-star play- ers. He inherits much more talent in South Bend along the defensive line, though drawing that potential out is the challenge. Notre Dame's defensive line fin- ished 2016 ranked last among Power Five conference schools in sacks (three) and yielded more than 170 rushing yards per game for a school- record third consecutive year. Elko has experience fixing prob- lems like that, and Notre Dame this spring put former linebackers coach Mike Elston back in charge of the defensive line, a job he held from 2010-14. "We're really going to have a chance to be good," Elston said. Sophomore Daelin Hayes is the most intriguing player on the Notre Dame defensive line. The former five-star recruit looked strong dur- ing spring practices, flashing the po- tential he showed glimpses of as a freshman last season. Hayes is up to 255 pounds on his 6-3 frame and represents Notre Dame's best potential star pass rusher. "He's a great example of taking his focus and understanding of the position up a couple of levels," head coach Brian Kelly said. "The position is new to him this spring in the sense that he dabbled at it a little bit, but this is really a new position for him. "Playing defense, he doesn't have a big résumé, so this was a great spring for him with Coach Elko to really lay down a great base of learning. I think he did a terrific job of buying into that and not getting too far ahead of himself. "Taking on blocks, dropping into coverage, paying attention to those details that go with the position — when he gets to that first game, you'll see a player that has improved dramatically because he's really paid attention to those kinds of things." Patience is vital for the highly gifted Hayes. He enrolled early last spring but was limited with a surgi- cally repaired shoulder. According to Blue & Gold Illustrated's unofficial snap counts, Hayes played 155 snaps in 2016 as a specialty third-down pass rusher. "He's an explosive athlete," Kelly said. "There are going to be some mistakes along the way, and I'm OK with that as long as he's learning. "Here's the great thing about it: he cares a lot and he wants to get better. We're going to live with some of the mistakes as long as he's the same kid every day, which he is, and he cares deeply about wanting to get better." Notre Dame's other Hayes, Jay, is locked in a battle for a starting spot at strongside end with fellow senior Andrew Trumbetti. Jay Hayes, now a 280-pounder, played just 155 snaps last year to Trumbetti's 467, though that is expected to even out in 2017. "He's big, he's physical, he plays physical," said Elston. "Jay can give us a lot of snaps if he continues to grow in the areas he needs to, which he is. He's committed to that right now." Junior Jerry Tillery enters his third season in a major role and will likely start at the nose tackle spot with se- nior Daniel Cage backing him up. Cage missed the final four games of last season with concussion issues, but Elston said those are behind him now. Tillery finished second among de- fensive linemen with 627 snaps in 2016, though he rarely showed his full potential. Kelly said the Louisi- ana native has taken his game to a new level this spring. "We're developing some consis- tency along the defensive line, and we're seeing consistent play with Jerry Tillery," Kelly said. "It was a good spring for Jerry. We saw much more consistency from him." Senior Jonathan Bonner will likely start at defensive tackle. The Irish took a blow this spring when junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor went down with a Lisfranc fracture in his foot, which will likely hold him out until July, Kelly said. In Taylor's place, more reps went to junior Micah Dew-Treadway and senior Brandon Tiassum during the spring. The 6-4, 299-pound Dew-Treadway has a lot of physical skills, but missed all of last season with a Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his foot. "He's got to learn better," Elston said. "We're challenging him every day to pick it up faster. We're de- manding a lot from him, and he may not be ready for that right now, but we're going to keep throwing it at him. "I really like his attitude, and I like how he's working. It's exciting for him, because he's got a lot of ability." ✦ A Chance To Be Good Notre Dame's defensive line has something to prove this season "WE HAVE ENOUGH PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM TO BE GOOD. THERE'S ENOUGH TO WORK WITH; THERE'S ENOUGH TO GO OUT THERE AND BE SUCCESSFUL NEXT FALL. THAT'S OUR CHARGE." DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE ELKO ON THE IRISH THE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN Sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes, now 6-3, 255 pounds, has the skills to lead a resurgence along Notre Dame's defensive line. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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