Notre Dame defense adjusts without LB Joe Schmidt
Samantha Zuba | Friday, November 7, 2014
With sidelined senior Joe Schmidt moving from linebacker to “coach on the field,” as Irish coach Brian Kelly has called him, the Notre Dame defense will have to adjust Saturday against Arizona State.
Schmidt fractured and dislocated his ankle last Saturday in the third quarter of Notre Dame’s 49-39 win over Navy. Before the injury, Schmidt was the leading tackler for the Irish with 65 and also had two interceptions.
In comes freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan from Crete, Illinois. But it won’t be a one-man effort to fill the hole left by one of the defense’s amiable leaders.
“I think everybody will pick up the slack there for the loss of Joe, and I think that we’ll make it so Nyles doesn’t have to do too much, but he’s going to have to do something as well,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference. “He’s been here — he’s got enough football.”
Defensive players from various position groups have upped their leadership in practice, junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day said.
“Everybody’s stepped up their communication a lot, especially coming from me and [sophomore linebacker] Jaylon [Smith] and then the safeties,” Day said. “Everybody’s making sure we understand what’s going on, the play call and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
When asked how Smith has been able to act as a leader already as a sophomore, Day answered, laughing, “I guess it’s what Fort Wayne kids do, I don’t know.”
“He does a great job of communication and making sure everybody’s on the same page, so I commend Jaylon a lot,” Day added more seriously.
Day described how his own position on the defensive line gives him more opportunities to guide the rest of the defense in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme.
“Coach VanGorder’s big thing is always start off with viewing the field,” Day said. “So being a defensive lineman, I can view the field and then get in my stance and kind of see what things can be and where the defense needs to line up, so I wouldn’t say it’s a greater role, but I definitely have to communicate more.”
Overall, despite the loss of Schmidt, Notre Dame’s defense won’t change too much, at least in terms of its scheme. In terms of position-by-position roles, not much will change, sophomore defensive lineman Isaac Rochell said.
“We have a next-man-in mentality, so it’s not like we’re changing our defense because Joe is hurt,” Rochell said. “I mean, obviously he was an integral part of our defense, but at the same time, we have to keep going.”
Even Schmidt’s middle linebacker position might not feel that different overall with Morgan receiving his first career start, Kelly said, although he and Schmidt play the position with a different style.
“I think [Morgan’s] physical ability is probably his biggest strength,” Kelly said. “He’s fast. He’s athletic, strong. … Joe was able to put himself in the right position and maybe does not have quickly as Nyles can get there because Nyles has got the physical ability.”
And since stepping into his new role, Morgan has started to add a vocal command of the defense to his skill set at practice, Rochell said.
“He’s definitely more vocal,” Rochell said. “Because when you go out with the twos, it’s a different feel than when you go out with the ones, and we kind of always looked to Joe, and so now we’re looking to Nyles. Even though he’s young, we don’t look at it like that.”
As for Schmidt, Kelly said he’s confident the senior will be an active presence.
“He’ll absolutely be working with us as soon as we get him out of surgery and get him up and around,” Kelly said. “He’ll be a coach on the field for us, there’s no question. He’ll be an asset for us and helping us and utilizing his great knowledge of the position to help Nyles.”