Under Golden, n°5 Notre Dame prepares his defense
SOUTH PLIAGE, Ind.
Notre Dame freshman defensive coordinator Al Golden arrived on campus with a simple plan.
Stay the course.
New Fighting Irish coach Marcus Freeman, Golden’s predecessor, agreed. With Golden taking over as the team’s third defensive caller in three years, Freeman opted for continuity over change, especially after the unit showed so much promise in 2021.
“We try to keep some consistency in what we do,” Freeman said. “There have obviously been some improvements because of Coach Golden’s experience as a defensive coordinator and in the NFL. But the basis of what we’re going to do isn’t going to change.
Why should he?
After making the 2020 college football playoffs, the Fighting Irish took a significant step forward by producing 41 sacks, 26 takeouts and finishing 15th nationally in points allowed (19.7 per game) in the Freeman’s first and only season as coordinator.
If the Irish can replicate those numbers, the No. 5 Notre Dame could be back in the hunt for the playoffs.
The mantra is simple: Play fast, play for free. And Golden, 53, intends to stick to the script.
Golden brings a solid track record to South Bend. A successful tenure as Virginia’s defensive coordinator led him to head coaching positions at Temple and Miami before joining the NFL. He coached linebackers with the Detroit Lions and appeared in the Super Bowl for the Cincinnati Bengals last season.
Now he’s trying to help build another championship contender.
“I think we’re talented, I think we have depth and I think we have leadership,” Golden said. “It’s a great starting point. What excites me the most is that it’s a group that wants to be empowered, that wants to do it on the pitch, that wants to communicate on the pitch. Great things can happen when you have this kind of group.”
The closet is far from empty as the Irish prepare to open the No. 2 Ohio State season on Sept. 3.
Preseason AP All-American Isaiah Foskey decided to return to school rather than pursue an NFL career after leading the Irish with 11 sacks while forcing six fumbles. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end is the anchor of the front seven.
“I feel like I need to be more vocal as a leader,” he said.
Defensive end Rylie Mills will start on the opposite side after recording three sacks in 2021 and they’ll be backed by upperclassmen Justin Ademilola, Jordan Botelho, Alex Ehrensberger and Nana Osafo-Mensah.
Justin’s twin brother Jayson Ademilola and seniors Howard Cross III, Jacob Lacey and 310-pound graduate transfer Chris Smith will lead the inside line. Smith played at Harvard and Golden likes what he saw from the newcomer.
“A Harvard graduate who plays at Notre Dame? Golden chuckled, “He’s really strong – a good anchor in there.”
Center linebacker JD Bertrand returns after posting a team-high 101 tackles and rover Jack Kiser also returns after recording 45 tackles and two interceptions that he returned for scores. There’s also sixth-year senior Bo Bauer, who had 47 tackles last year.
Also, senior Marist Liufau is healthy again after missing the 2021 season with a broken ankle and Botelho could see action at linebacker where everyone learned to play in multiple positions under Golden and James Laurinaitis. , Freeman’s former teammate with Ohio State.
“Coach Freeman encouraged us to do that so we had more depth,” Golden said.
Starting cornerbacks Cam Hart, Clarence Lewis and fifth-year senior TaRiq Bracy also return. At safety, the Irish fire two more experienced starters – DJ Brown and Houston Griffith.
Add All-American Brandon Joseph, who had six interceptions at Northwestern in 2020, to the mix and the Irish secondary could be even stronger despite losing star safety Kyle Hamilton to the NFL.
“Brandon is a natural leader,” Freeman said. “He’s confident, which is hugely important, and he’s made plays and he’s very vocal in making checks.”
It will be a tough combination to match – a Freeman, naturally, wants to stick together.
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