Thursday, May 13, 2010

Te'o Will Be Focus of Defensive Revival @ Notre Dame

With the installation of the 3-4 defense, Notre Dame will certainly look different from a scheme perspective. It should be noted, however, that an outside linebacker will walk up to the line quite often next season to create a four-man front — making it look less like a 3-4 and more like a traditional 4-3 scheme.

The pressing question is will the Irish have enough playmakers on that side of the ball? Or, more simply, will it be able to stop the run and the pass more consistently?

Manti Te'o, one of the most highly recruited defensive players in the country in 2009, is the face of the new scheme. The 6-2, 250-pounder will man the middle linebacker spot after playing on the outside in space during his freshman campaign. Te'o, who finished with eight tackles and an interception on Saturday, played inside of a 3-4 defense while in high school, so the familiarity can only bode well for the Irish. And despite making 63 tackles in a solid first season in South Bend, Te’o is driven to become a more consistent defender. All expectations are that Te'o takes a huge step in his second season.

He’s confident in his progress under the new system, as is Kelly.

"He is, in his own mind, and our coaches and myself, living up to maybe some of the expectations that everybody had coming in as one of the top, premier high school players in the country," Kelly said. "He can be a great player. He's got a chance, and he's showing some signs of that. His recognition, his leadership, it's exciting to watch him grow. He's really growing quickly in a short period of time."

What Te'o did was accept Kelly's challenge, not fight it. And both have benefitted.

"Personally, I'm getting more comfortable as days go by," Te'o said. "I still have a lot to work on, of course, but I'm getting more comfortable and making plays in this defensive scheme."

"I think the thing that I like about him the most is - he's a mike linebacker that can stay on the field," Kelly said. "He's not a guy that you take off the field on third down. He's really good in space."

That was evident in Saturday's Blue-Gold Game, with an interception - just the first glimpse of the player Te'o wants to be this fall.

"I expect a lot from myself," he said. "And to be a leader on my team, and to help motivate my team, and just be the best defense we can be as a whole."

While Te’o garners the most individual attention, his fellow defenders will need to step up their performance, as well, after the Irish surrendered 397.8 yards per game — the worst defensive performance in school history.

It makes one wonder whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that most of the core players from last year return next season.

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