NCAA FB

Irish hope 3-4 can solve leaky defense

Share This Story

   
 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)

Notre Dame's leaky defense, the one that gave up yards in bunches a year ago - especially during a four-game losing streak to end the season - is pretty much old news. At least that's how Kerry Neal sees it.

There's a new coach, of course, in Brian Kelly, who brought defensive coordinator Bob Diaco along with him from Cincinnati. A different scheme, the 3-4, is taking over for the 4-3.

And for Neal, there's a move from defensive end - where he started five times a year ago - to outside linebacker, where he won a role as a starter with his play this preseason.

With Purdue coming to town for Saturday's season opener, it's time to see how much improvement the Irish have made - if they've plugged up the holes with their new system, if the changes make a difference.

''We just don't even look back at last year,'' says Neal, who beat out fellow senior Brian Smith to be a starter at outside linebacker along with Darius Fleming. ''Out with the old, in with the new.''

If he did care to recall last season, he'd see the 6-6 finish and a porous defense that allowed 397.8 yards per game, including 170.2 rushing. In that final month, Navy, Pitt, Connecticut and Stanford all had great success running against the Irish.

''I know you can't win championships without playing good run defense. I can tell you that right now,'' Kelly said. ''And we'll get tested right out of the gates. Purdue is going to run the football.''

The Boilermakers' running game features Al-Terek McBurse after last year's leading rusher Ralph Bolden injured his knee.

Up front for the Irish will be junior defensive ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore and senior Ian Williams at nose guard. Inside linebacker Manti Te'o started 10 games as freshman and will be calling signals and be joined on the inside for the first game by Carlo Calabrese, with projected starter Anthony McDonald slowed by a hyperextended knee.

''Our defense is pretty much the same guys who were there last year,'' Te'o says. ''We've been through that, been through what we had to go through last year. We've seen the mistakes we've made and we know the corrections to those mistakes.''

Safety Harrison Smith had a strong preseason camp and seniors Darrin Walls and Gary Gray will be on the corners.

But the linebackers could be a focal point. Neal could be rushing the passer or could be in coverage.

''I'll be out in space more,'' said Neal, who has 21 career starts. ''I feel like I'm a pretty versatile guy. I can go out and cover and I can rush the passer. So it's the best of both worlds.''

Don't expect Brian Smith, second on the team in tackles last season, to get sore from sitting on the bench, either, even if he didn't beat out Neal to start. Diaco says many of his players are interchangeable and he'll be using more than just the starters as the season progresses.

''Coaches expect everybody they put out there to be able to go out and get the job done,'' Harrison Smith said, adding that the new coaching staff has stressed keeping defensive calls simple and tried to make so many returning players comfortable.

''Just the way they came in and didn't try to make it like them versus us, which is what I've heard happens a lot of times when there is a coaching change,'' Harrison Smith added. ''It was kind of, 'We all need to unite as fast as we can.' ... It made a lot of sense to me.''

Diaco, a former star linebacker at Iowa, has stressed versatility and variety.

''You got to ask the players to do the things they can do well,'' he said. ''Don't become too one-sided. I think we can move that way. It seems there are a lot of players who can do a lot of different jobs.''

And Diaco's defense might not rest too much this season.

With Kelly's fast-paced offense, where the challenge is to score as quickly as possible, time of possession is not a big deal. Get off and let the defense play.

Diaco says working against such a potent spread offense every day in practice should be beneficial to his defense.

''That's a help,'' he said. ''Just like it's a hindrance when you are going against a team that runs an offense that doesn't even remotely resemble anything your offense does. So there will be weeks that it will be an asset, there will be weeks it will be a liability.''

Tagged: Purdue, Northwestern, Buffalo, Navy, Notre Dame, Kerry Neal, Brian Smith, Harrison Smith, Ian Williams

Related Stories

College Football Pick'em on FOX


NCAA FB Videos

Sumlin annoyed by media's Manziel questions Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Kevin Sumlin responds to questions about life after Johnny Football by toying wi...

AJ Pasquale's journey back to UCLA Posted: Jun 17, 2014
UCLA football ops intern AJ Pasquale describes his own personal journey after th...

Winston issued adult civil citation Posted: Apr 30, 2014
Get the latest news surrounding Jameis Winston's recent shoplifting fiasco.

Get Inside the Locker Room with Scout.com

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/759777/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_759000/ff_759777_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Florida Gators Gridiron 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - Royal Blue
    Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Michigan_State_Spartans/browse/featuredproduct/760171/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_760000/ff_760171_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Michigan State Spartans Football 2012 Team Issue T-Shirt - White
    Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_USC_Trojans/browse/featuredproduct/761373/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_761000/ff_761373_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike USC Trojans Fight On My School T-Shirt - Cardinal
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/829709/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829709_xl.jpg&w=100 64.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Crimso..
    Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_LSU_Tigers/browse/featuredproduct/829740/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_829000/ff_829740_xl.jpg&w=100 49.99 Nike LSU Tigers Elite Force Coaches Sideline Performance Polo - Purple
    Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oklahoma_Sooners/browse/featuredproduct/830935/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_830000/ff_830935_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 Nike Oklahoma Sooners Legacy 91 Dri-FIT Adjustable Coaches Cap - Crimson
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/861243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861243_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish Hot Sideline Jacket - Navy Blue
    adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Nebraska_Cornhuskers/browse/featuredproduct/861247/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_861000/ff_861247_xl.jpg&w=100 69.95 adidas Nebraska Cornhuskers Sideline Hot Quarter Zip Jacket - Scarlet
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapback Hat - Charcoal/Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1087345/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1087000/ff_1087345_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Players Locker Room Snapba..
    Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Alabama_Crimson_Tide/browse/featuredproduct/1093431/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1093000/ff_1093431_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 BCS National Champions Locker Room T-Shirt - Ash