If you were an offensive coordinator facing the Notre Dame defense last season and you wanted to protect your quarterback, it wasn't really rocket science. Slant your protection to where ever former Irish defenders Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt were, and you'd probably be alright.
Now preventing those two from registering sacks (they combined for 13), all the while dealing with All-American Louis Nix III in the middle of all that chaos proved easier said than actually achieved, but one gets the point.
The Fighting Irish will unveil its redesigned defense – to a degree – under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game (12:30 p.m., NBCSN), and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes Notre Dame Nation will like what it sees.
“What (VanGorder) has done is created some pass rush from where we lost some guys that could get after the quarterback,” Kelly explained.
The last couple of seasons, Tuitt would create problems along the line anywhere from inside to outside, while Shembo came from the outside 'backer spot or could line up as a defensive end, just depending on the alignment call.
With VanGorder switching the Notre Dame base package from 3-4 to 4-3, that pressure will be mixed up among a number of positions, including former Bishop Luers High School standout Jaylon Smith, who rarely “came off of the edge” as a true freshman.
“Jaylon played 'drop' (into coverage), but we never saw him come off of the edge,” Kelly said. “Now he's coming all of the time, so he's an extra pass rusher.”
VanGorder spent last season coaching linebackers for the New York Jets, and he's brought in multiple sets that can generate pressure from any number of angles.
“There could be some singular pressures from the field,” Kelly explained, “whether it be out of our 3-down with the cat (backer) and drop scenario. Just (VanGorder) creating those scenarios, he's done a nice job.”
Notre Dame will be multiple with its defensive front alignment this fall depending on any number of situations, be them which down, how many yards, the tendency and quality of an opponent, so there will be more defensive looks from the Irish than Catholic priests at the games. All of that has been introduced somewhat this spring, but there is so much more for the Notre Dame players to still grasp before the Aug. 30 opener with Rice.
“We've spent the last three or four practices running a lot of our stack and 3-down package,” Kelly said. “We've really been getting the guys comfortable with that. We started with a lot of our 4-down stuff, so you can see that they are very comfortable with a lot of the 3-down stuff (which Notre Dame ran mostly over the last few years). (VanGorder) really has done a nice job of kind of bringing in both packages together.
“There's been some stuff that he's brought with him from the NFL and some of our existing stuff. He's changed some of the terminology, but our kids have done a nice job of picking it up.”
Former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco used to sit in the press box during games, but VanGorder is not only mixing up the base alignment, but he'll mix up his location also.
“He'll be on the ground,” Kelly said. “He'll be on the sideline. That'll be his role in the fall. For Bob, he was just used to being upstairs.”
Kelly doesn't dictate to his coordinators where they spend the games. It is more of a personal preference for that individual that determines where he'll be.
“I've always sort of left it up coordinator, preference-wise,” Kelly said. “Very rarely have I mandated it, per se. Brian feels comfortable being on the field because of his experience.”