This year, Notre Dame’s Football team will be one of the youngest that Brian Kelly has ever had at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are making slight adjustments on Offense and Defense. The Defense will likely operate with three Cornerbacks most of the time. Here are Notre Dame’s players ranked 1-22, continuing with #1
Jaylon Smith – Sophomore – Linebacker
Notre Dame got one of the steals of the century when they got Jaylon Smith to commit to them on National Signing Day. Jaylon was the number one outside linebacker and the number three over all prospect according to Rivals 2013 rankings. He was also the first freshman player to start a season opener since Kory Minor in 1995. Smith ended the season third on the team with 67 tackles – 6.5 TFL – 1 interception, this earned him Defensive Newcomer of the Year. It took Heisman runner-up Manti Teo 39 games to record an interception, fumble recovery, and force a fumble. It only took freshman Jaylon Smith eight games to achieve the same feat as Te’o.
Last season Smith relied on his physical abilities to make up for his lack of knowledge on the defensive schemes that Diaco was calling. It was evident when watching him that he would run himself out of the play or be a half second late on an assignment. Playing only on the outside of the defense Jaylon was asked to drop into coverage and cover slot receivers and tight ends off the line. This year with Brian VanGorder it has already been established that he is going to move Smith all around the defense. His versatility is going to make him a nightmare for opposing coordinators to game plan around.
Based on his production last year as a true freshman its easy to imagine him making vast improvements this season. Anything less than 100 tackles this year would be a let down. The great thing about Jaylon is that he gets to work along side Joe Schimdt who has VanGorders defense down to a science. It wont take long before Smith is the unquestioned leader of the Notre Dame defense just like Manti Teo was during his last two seasons. As good as T’eo was I believe that Jaylon is that much better and has real potential to with the Heisman as a pure defensive player.