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Football

Defensive line takes new shape

| Monday, March 31, 2014

Right now, the Irish defensive line is a unit in flux. But the flexible mentality of a group adjusting to new faces and the graduation of seniors fits right in with the philosophy behind a 4-3 defense.

Irish junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones looks to the sideline during Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28.Grant Tobin | The Observer

Irish junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones looks to the sideline during Notre Dame’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28.

Irish junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones looks to the sideline during Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28.

[/media-credit]Irish junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones looks to the sideline during Notre Dame’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28.

With its emphasis on reactions and dynamic adjustment, the new 4-3 defensive scheme allows Notre Dame to showcase its versatility and athleticism, junior defensive lineman Jarron Jones said during player media availability Friday.

“I think it’s better for us because we get to pin our ears back and attack the gap,” Jones said. “It’s pretty much a bunch of responsibility and more reaction, and it actually lets us show off our actual talents. Not to say that being in a 3-4 that wasn’t the case, but playing in a 4-3 is more of a looser defense than a 3-4. A 3-4 is more disciplined because you have to play two gaps, whereas with the 4-3, you only have to play one. You only have one rush lane. It’s a lot more on blitzing concepts. It’s a lot more fun.”

The Irish defense played in a 4-3 defense before former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco transitioned Notre Dame to a 3-4 for the 2010 season. This spring, current defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has worked on bringing the Irish back to the 4-3 set.

“It’s definitely been a good time,” junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day said.  “Coach VanGorder is doing a great job with making sure that we’re learning the defense, just trying to make sure everything we do is kind of up-to-par, and I definitely feel like he’s doing a great job.”

As Notre Dame’s defensive line adjusts to the different scheme, it must also adjust to a new unit dynamic. Several key players, including former defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, declared for the draft after the conclusion of last season.

“In my case, I feel like it’s about building another unit,” Day said. “We lost Tuitt and Nix to the draft, and it’s just about building the chemistry again, just getting around the guys and making sure everybody’s comfortable around each other, just basically overall building a unit that plays together.”

Day said he knows his role on this year’s defensive line will require him to take on more leadership responsibilities as an upperclassman.

“I feel like, with my play, I kind of set an example, or I hope that I do, and that people can follow me and kind of see what direction I’m trying to take this unit,” Day said.

The necessity of adjustments means that some players will have to move to different positions on the line. Senior defensive lineman Chase Hounshell has shifted this spring to playing defensive tackle.

“I came in at the defensive-end position,” Hounshell said. “Obviously, though, we were in a different defense last year, so this year, it’s based on who we have, our personnel. We have [senior outside linebacker] Ishaq [Williams] at the end; we have [junior outside linebacker] Romeo [Okwara]. We got some other guys. We got [senior outside linebacker] Anthony Rabasa, early-enrollee [freshman defensive lineman Andrew] Trumbetti has been absolutely phenomenal, he’s been great, so [defensive tackle is] kind of where the team needed me. So I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”

At least one thing is certain for the defensive line, and it is a principle that has molded the line over the past few years, according to Day: the line will learn to communicate best by spending a lot of time together away from the field.

“I feel like it’s definitely been carried on throughout the years, especially with Kap [former defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore] kind of bringing me under his wing, Tyler bringing me under his wing, Louis, Tuitt, just guys like that, always just trying to get around each other, maybe grab something to eat, always trying to communicate with each other,” Day said.

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