Coaches discuss offseason changes
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, March 30, 2017
Spring practice rolled on for Notre Dame on Wednesday as the Blue-Gold Game, signaling the end of the spring season, looms a little less than a month away.
After practice, cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght and special teams coordinator Brian Polian discussed some changes the team is undergoing in the offseason workouts.
For Lyght, one of the biggest differences between this year and last year is his coaching responsibilities. In the 2016 season, Lyght handled the cornerbacks as well as the safeties. This season, however, new defensive coordinator Mike Elko has taken over coaching the safeties, freeing up Lyght to focus more individually on the corners.
“I think with coach Elko taking over the safeties and me working with the corners [is a positive change], Lyght said. “Both positions are so different and when you have the entire secondary, it’s kind of tough to watch all the film because you’re working with the safeties, you’re working with the corners and what I found last year, just with our time restraints with college football, we didn’t get to watch enough one-on-one tape with the corners with the corners. That’s where I found the lack of time really hurt, especially late in the season. Now being able to split up, we can watch way more film. And everything’s more position specific so you can watch a lot more film to help the guys get better with their fundamentals, with their techniques, with their execution.”
Lyght said he also likes Elko’s new defensive system, especially for its focus on communication and streamlined nomenclature.
“I’ve been in new systems throughout my life. I’m in this game for well over 30 years and I love it,” Lyght said. “I think Coach Elko’s system is really, really good. I think it puts players in a position to be successful .. we’re going with one-word terminology so everything’s going really fast. Guys have to understand what’s going on, the communication has to be there pre-snap and post-snap for the exchanges for the combos. I’m really excited about the new defense and I think the players are too.”
While the Irish secondary was extraordinarily young last year, that group has a year under their belts and returns junior cornerback Shaun Crawford and senior cornerback Nick Watkins from injuries. Also looking to make an impact in his second year at Notre Dame is Julian Love.
“Julian has been successful everywhere he’s been and he has a lot of confidence in himself,” Lyght said. “Early on as a young player when you have success early, it does give you confidence. Julian can tackle in space, he can cover, obviously we want him to get better in his man-to-man techniques and in his leadership role because he is a young player. He’s going to play a lot for us, he’s come a long way and he’s continuing to get better each and every day.”
Special teams coordinator Brian Polian said his unit’s main focus is identifying personnel fit with his scheme in addition to changing the culture of the unit.
“It’s not as though I looked at the tape and said, ‘boy we need to change all of this,’” Polian said. “Coach [Kelly] and I had a long conversation. He knows what I believe in, we’re very much on the same page. There are things that are very similar, there are things that will look completely different. The biggest change has to be the urgency with which we attack the special teams and our execution and critical efficiency in critical times in the game. With the Xs and Os there’s only so much you can do, we’re not concerned with that right now. It’s really about setting a tempo, reestablishing a culture and identifying personnel.”
Polian said that he plans to play a good number of offensive players on special teams units due to a lack of depth at safety and linebacker. Polian also singled out freshman running back Tony Jones Jr. and sophomore running back Dexter Williams as candidates for special teams playing time.
“We really feel we have to identify back, big receivers and tight ends that can help,” Polian said. “We really think Tony and Dex are going to be on the coverage units. They have shown thus far in six practices, they can do what we want them to do. [Javon] McKinley, [Chase] Claypool, [Miles] Boykin, the bigger receivers, McKinley especially, I didn’t know much about him, but he’s a strong dude … he’s got to help us on [special] teams because we’re not as deep as you’d want to be at linebacker and safety positions. Where are we going to make up those bodies? They’re going to have to come from offense.”