Irish defense eyes improvement


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The Notre Dame football team clocked in for its first fall practice on Saturday fully understanding first-year coach Brian Kelly's expectations.

Unlike the system-shocking spring, the Fighting Irish appeared well prepared for the red-line pace at which Kelly and his staff operate.

"The more you get used to something, the more you get comfortable, the better you get at it and the more familiar you are with it," said sophomore inside linebacker Manti Te'o. "[And] the more smooth you move, and our defense as a whole is moving very well out there."

The Irish defense, which allowed nearly 400 yards and 26 points-per-game last season, has the most issues to iron out. Often outspoken, senior outside linebacker Brian Smith prudently addressed the criticism his unit faced last season and the motivation moving forward.

"We've got a lot of work to do, so we need this time," said Smith, who isn't rushing to get at Purdue in the Irish’s Sept. 4 opener. "We don't really need to prove anything to anybody else but ourselves. We just need to go out there and be the best we can be."

St. Rita High School product Darius Fleming, a junior working opposite Smith, said cracking pads against Notre Dame's new spread offense each day will only bolster the defense on Saturdays.

"It's fun and exciting," he said. "It's a lot faster and a lot different. We know what kind of talent we have and our capabilities. We'll have every opportunity to make big plays."

Junior Anthony McDonald and sophomore Carlo Calabrese will continue their battle at the other inside linebacker position next to Te'o, as most of the major shuffling will take place in the backfield.

Kelly said on Friday he was exploring a number of position changes in the secondary. Saturday he said it would probably be next week before that information would be made public.

"Not yet," he said. "That will probably be two, three days down the road before we get into moving anybody around. I've got a lot of guys in mind, just haven't made that decision yet. We haven't pulled the trigger on anybody yet. So until I talk to them face-to-face, I don't want them to hear it first in the media.”

Seniors Gary Gray and Darrin Walls are the probable starters at cornerback and senior Harrison Smith and junior Jamoris Slaughter are the safeties at the top of a two-deep Kelly said the media shouldn't get "too married to."