Notre Dame returns experienced defense as fall camp opens
CULVER, Ind. - The tale of the Notre Dame’s season on the defensive side of the ball is going to be experience.
A large veteran core returns from last year’s much-improved unit, and on the first day of fall camp at Culver Academies, it certainly showed.
Almost every starter from last year is back including defensive lineman Jerry Tillery sliding into a slightly new position in front of returning stud linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney.
“It goes back to comfort,” said Coney, who shined late last season and was included on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker along with Tranquill.
“We know what we’re doing," he continued. "We trust each other. To have that is awesome. It makes you go out there and just focus on your job and makes it easier for you.”
In the defensive backfield, there is both room for improvement and reason to be optimistic.
Last year’s interception leader Julian Love returns and there is now an influx of talent around him.
The safety position – which failed to record a pick last year – gets a boost from transfer Alohi Gilman now eligible after sitting out last season.
On the other side of the field, Troy Pride has grabbed ahold of the other corner spot.
Head coach Brian Kelly spoke to media following the first day of practice, and said he was pleased with the improvements he’s seen, especially with the two corners.
“I don’t know if they’ve hit the ceiling yet,” Kelly said of Love and Pride. “Those guys continue to grow. You saw today, Pride is physically now being able to reroute receivers. Julian’s on all these watchlists and preseason [awards lists] but he’s maintained this focus. I really like their mindset and demeanor, and I like what’s happening with our safety position as well.”
Even the new defensive coordinator Clark Lea is a familiar face, serving as linebackers coach last year.
With one day of camp complete, players said the relationship with Lea and with each other is already paying off.
“[Lea has] laid out his vision and what he sees for this team, and how he wants his defense to work,” said Tillery. “Everyone understands that, so we’re here, we bought into that, and we’re excited to play some football."
The Irish will practice at Culver Academies until Tuesday before returning to campus in South Bend to continue preparations for the season-opener against Michigan on September 1.