Defensive coaches discuss next season’s starters
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, March 31, 2016
Devin Studstill continues to receive glowing reviews from coaches this spring.
The safety early-enrollee picked up some more praise from defensive backs coach Todd Lyght when the defensive assistants met with the media on Wednesday after practice.
“Studstill, he’s an all-in guy. He’s a program guy,” Lyght said. “ … [He] has done a great job of picking up the defense. Obviously he’s made some mistakes because he’s young and learning the defense, but he’s done a great job with his attitude and effort.”
Lyght also said Studstill’s early showing has forced Notre Dame’s other safeties to elevate their game already in spring practice — particularly senior Max Redfield, who will be competing with the freshman come fall camp.
“I think Max [Redfield] has responded really, really well,” Lyght said. “There’s open competition at every position. The players are going to dictate who plays. The guys who are going to go out at a high level of consistency, who show a high level of production day in and day out, show that they can handle the durability, the workload and the volume are going to be the guys that play and start.”
“Devin’s very talented, very good athlete,” Irish defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder said, joining the list of those impressed by Studstill. “He’s very committed to learning.
“And so in the end of it, the competitiveness this spring — although Max should understand it a lot more than Devin does — I think will be a good thing. We’ll probably take it right into training camp and see how both players react.”
Elsewhere in the secondary, two faces have returned to action for the Irish secondary after missing all or most of last season with injuries, and Lyght said both sophomore corner back Shaun Crawford and junior safety Drue Tranquill look good back on the field.
“Shaun Crawford is a real football guy,” Lyght said. “He loves the game, he studies the game. He works at it really hard. Obviously he was going to start for us last year at the nickel position, had the knee injury. Did a great job in the offseason working to get back and has been doing really, really well as far as these first six practices have gone. We’re really pleased with his progress.
“ … Drue Tranquill is such an interesting athlete because of his size, his strength and his power and his speed combination. We can move him around a lot and plus, his football intelligence, he’s the type of guy we can put him at strong safety, we can put him at free safety, we can put him at outside back, we can put him in the joker position. I think that when you move a guy around like that, with that position versatility, it really strengthens your defense and that’s what we look to do with Drue.”
“Drue’s very bright. Very good student of the game,” Van Gorder said. “It’s important to him, so any task you give him, he’s going to work at it.”
Morgan settling into leadership role
The graduation of Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith leaving early for the NFL Draft left a giant void in the middle of the Irish defense, but linebackers coach Mike Elston said junior linebacker Nyles Morgan has started establishing himself as a leader of the 2016 defense.
“Nyles is having a really good spring, very excited about his growth from the offseason from where he was a year ago,” Elston said. “His communication is much improved, he’s playing very physical [and] his leadership is much improved. He’s definitely seen a great improvement, and I’m excited about it. He’s having a really good spring.”
“[Morgan has] got a lot on his plate as the middle linebacker,” Van Gorder said. “ … He’s a much different middle linebacker right now relative to the other players’ trust. His communication’s been solid, so he’s been very good so far.”
Still, Elston said he wants to see Morgan infect the rest of the team with his attitude and energy.
“I think that his game has come along, and all the attributes that he has for what we want our middle linebacker to have is come along, but now he needs to bring other people with him,” Elston said. “So he needs to make other people around him better and bring them with him on days like today when, coming off of an Easter break, first practice is a little lethargic. Nyles was good, Nyles needs to bring other people with him, so that’s what I’d love to see him grow.”
Another player Elston said he wanted to see step into a leadership role is senior linebacker James Onwualu.
“James needs to step up and be a leader,” Elston said. “He needs to, along with Nyles, bring guys with him. James is an accomplished linebacker. He’s getting better with what he needs to do, and he’s at a point now with his career where he’s able to do that and bring other guys with him, and he needs to vocally do it.”
Tillery, Hayes shift along defensive line
Irish defensive line coach Keith Gilmore said he’s been tweaking and experimenting with the defensive line this spring, and that has sophomore Jerry Tillery and junior Jay Hayes in new positions this spring. Tillery has shifted from nose guard to defensive tackle while Hayes has bumped outside to become more of a pass rusher, Gilmore said.
“I see [Hayes] right now being able to help us in a pass-rush situation, and hopefully he can play the run,” Gilmore said. “It’s all a new position for him, so how much he’s going to learn up from coverage and that standpoint is going to be a work in progress, but I’m hoping he can come in and contribute and help us this year.
“ … [Tillery is] going to have to learn more about protections and knowing when he’s got the one-on-ones and when he doesn’t. At nose guard, you almost never had [one-on-ones] so the only thing you had to do was bullrush and keep the lane, the rush lanes closed. “
Van Gorder said he has been impressed with another early enrollee along the defensive line, Daelin Hayes.
“Boy, he is a good looking player,” Van Gorder said. “Explosive, sudden, very dialed in, very competitive. I mean, it’s really driving him crazy not to get out there and be able to play. But he’s doing some individual stuff, and during that individual stuff his traits are, they’re really obvious.
“He’s going to play a lot of football for us this fall.”