The Key To Notre Dame Fighting Irish Class? Linebacker Jaylon Smith

By Rick Stavig

Brian Kelly, if not for coaches like Bill O’Brien (Penn State Nittany Lions) and Bill Snyder (Kansas State Wildcats), would be a shoo-in for Coach of the Year for the 2012 season.

What the Head Coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has done this season has truly been magical.  Finally after more than 20 years of waiting for an appropriate successor to Lou Holtz, the Irish have found a coach who knows how to win games.  Considering the gauntlet of a schedule the Irish put themselves through each season, being undefeated with two weeks to go is very impressive.

But the success of Kelly is a double edged sword.

Not only is Kelly winning on the field, he’s been winning off the field as well.

The class that Notre Dame is assembling for the 2013 is one of the best in the entire country.  The only class that is hands down better is the Southern Cal Trojans, and that could be debatable by the time National Signing Day comes and goes.  The offensive line and linebacking corps that is committed to Notre Dame right now is as good or better than anyone else’s nationally.  So one must ask: what’s the key to the Irish’s 2013 class? The answer: linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Smith, 6’3” 215lbs, is ranked by some recruiting publications as high as the number three overall player in the country.  He’s ranked even higher than Manti Te’o was ranked when he was coming out of high school.  That’s pretty high praise for a linebacker.  But he should be worth it.  He has the frame of a linebacker, but when you see him play, he looks like either a defensive back or a running back.  His speed for the position is better than anyone else in the United States.  His sideline to sideline playmaking ability is second to none.  Granted, he will need to put on some good weight when he gets to South Bend, but he should be a future star.

The rest of the linebacking corps, although not on Smith’s level, is also very impressive.  Alex Anzalone, Michael Deeb and Doug Randolph all are heavily recruited players who will fit perfectly with what the Irish are looking for in a linebacking corps.

What is it the Irish are looking for in their linebackers?

Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco primarily runs a 3-4 defense.  That means the linebackers need to be both big and fast.  The outside linebackers need to be big enough to take on offensive tackles on the edge but fast enough to drop into coverage.  The inside backers need to be big enough to take on offensive guards in the middle yet fast enough to get to and fill any hole in the middle.  Te’o is the epitome of what you need for a ‘Mike’ ‘backer for the Irish 3-4.  He’s big and strong enough to get off blockers, but he’s fast enough to cover (five interceptions this year).

The defense has been key to the success the Irish have had this season.  Their front seven is a big reason their defense has been as successful as they’ve been.  Their linebacking corps, led by Te’o, spearheads the front seven.  Which is why the Irish have to be excited about the linebackers they’re bringing in next season.  These young guys are the future of the program.

Is Jaylon Smith the next Te’o? It wouldn’t be fair to make that comparison.  But is Smith as talented as Te’o was coming out of high school? He could be even better.

Now we just sit back and enjoy the ride, because Smith and company could make the Irish front seven even more fearsome than they currently are.

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