Notre Dame’s attacking defense won’t be backing off
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BY LAMOND POPE
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s defensive philosophy won’t change with Joe Schmidt sidelined.
The Irish still plan on being on the attack Saturday at Arizona State.
But not everything remains the same.
“From a leadership standpoint, it puts a lot more on me,” linebacker Jaylon Smith said Wednesday.
“I’m up for the challenge.”
Smith isn’t filling in at Schmidt’s position at middle linebacker. That task falls to freshman Nyles Morgan. But Smith will be one of several players called on to communicate more with Schmidt out for the year because of an ankle injury.
Smith doesn’t feel any added pressure to perform.
“It’s always been an expectation. Nothing has changed from that perspective,” Smith said. “Just understanding that the communication has to increase.”
It’s been a season filled with change for the sophomore. It started with a shift from outside to inside linebacker. It’s been a smooth adjustment. He’s second on the team with 59 tackles. He has two sacks and leads the Irish with 6½ tackles for loss.
Along the way, coach Brian Kelly said Smith’s leadership skills have evolved.
“It was hard for him to be assertive because he was learning, and now he feels a lot more comfortable that he can be more assertive out there, and so I think he will be,” Kelly said.
One of Smith’s best games last season came against the Sun Devils. He finished with nine tackles, 1½ tackles for loss and he forced a fumble in the 37-34 victory.
“He was asked to do a lot more, and that’s kind of what really put him in a position that we all felt like, all right, we can ask more of him than just playing the field and being a contain player,” Kelly said. “Maybe a little bit more confidence in his ability to do more, and then put more on his plate after that game.”
And Smith has shown he can handle it.
“I’ve always viewed myself as a leader,” Smith said. “It’s just about continuing while also learning and understanding.”