Brian VanGorder brings experience, new looks to Notre Dame’s defense
BY LAMOND POPE Sun-Times Media March 26, 2014 10:36PM
FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2013, file photo, Brian Van Gorder talks to the media during a news conference introducing him as Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame defensive players say their heads are swimming learning a new system, a new terminology and for some new positions, but say the one thing they understand for sure is new defensive coordinator VanGorder wants them to be more aggressive. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond, File)
Updated: March 26, 2014 10:50PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Cornerback KeiVarae Russell described Notre Dame’s new defense as “more aggressive.”
Linebacker Jaylon Smith expects the unit to “take more chances.”
It might become all of that, eventually. But for now, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is calling it a work in progress.
“There are a lot of mistakes out there right now, which is not unexpected,” VanGorder said Wednesday. “We’re getting a lot of looks from our offense and we are in the middle of installs, so players are getting a lot of scheme thrown at them right now. We’re moving some guys around, trying to evaluate. It’s an evaluation period for us, too.”
VanGorder became Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator in January. He replaced Bob Diaco, who is the coach at Connecticut.
VanGorder’s previous coaching stints include time spent as the defensive coordinator at Georgia, Auburn and for the Atlanta Falcons. He served as the linebackers coach for the New York Jets in 2013.
“He has great knowledge, great understanding of the game and the defense he has brought in,” Smith said. “I feel like with us trusting him and listening and applying that to the field that we will be all right.”
VanGorder expects the Irish to be multiple, mixing it up between a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme. He’s emphasizing speed in Notre Dame’s sub packaging and has experimented using players in different roles. For example, Smith started all 13 games last year at outside linebacker. This spring, he’s seen time inside and outside.
“A guy like Jaylon Smith is playing a lot of different positions right now, partly because of his ability and partly because he has good natural instincts in respects to the game so he can do that some,” VanGorder said.
VanGorder said he’d love to have a defense that features pressing at the line of scrimmage by the cornerbacks.
“My mindset, especially in today’s game, is to take more and more control on defense by being aggressive. And it starts out there,” he said. “… If you have a corner that can press and take a guy out of a game, that’s a huge advantage.”
Russell likes the added responsibility.
“I’m excited for this opportunity to play man-to-man a majority of the game and to make plays on the ball,” Russell said.
Smith, Russell and cornerback Cole Luke, linebackers Joe Schmidt, John Turner and Ishaq Williams, lineman Sheldon Day and safeties Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate and Austin Collinsworth were among those making an early impression.
“We’re trying to find a comfort zone in respects to a player and his ability,” VanGorder said, “and where he’s going to fit best for us as we build our scheme.”