SOUTH BEND – Jaylon Smith will be asked to do more for Notre Dame in his sophomore season.
And the former Bishop Luers star is ready for the workload.
I’m blessed with that opportunity, Smith said. It isn’t going to do anything but help me in the long run. I’m really just taking everything in stride. They’ve overloaded me with multiple things, and I’m really looking forward to improving my football IQ. I’m very fortunate enough to be able to grasp things fastly.
Coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who stepped in when Bob Diaco left to become head coach at Connecticut, are moving the linebacker around during the spring to find the best way to utilize the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder.
Smith played exclusively at outside linebacker as freshman, collecting 67 tackles – 6 1/2 for loss – as well getting an interception, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble and recording a quarterback hurry.
The biggest change Smith is being asked to do is play at inside linebacker at times. He was lined up next to Joe Schmidt inside on one of the Irish’s sub packages the media was able to watch during Wednesday’s practice.
I’ve never seen the middle of the field my entire life, Smith said. I always played it from the out looking in.
It’s been different. It’s been fun. From a football standpoint, being challenged like that is something that I wanted. They’ve blessed me with that opportunity.
Smith isn’t just adjusting to being asked to do more, he is also getting used to a new coach.
VanGorder can often be heard yelling Smith’s name during practices, and Smith said he can hear the defensive coordinator calling out, Jay, Jay, Jay, even after practices are done.
But Smith said he has enjoyed learning from VanGorder, who also coaches the inside linebackers.
It’s good that I get to see him and be around him a lot. I love that the defensive coordinator is essentially your coach, Smith said. I think it has been a great experience. There is going to be more voice with Coach VanGorder. I’m looking forward to it.
And as far as being ridden hard by the new coordinator, Smith doesn’t mind that, either.
What do you expect? We are learning a new defense, Smith said. It’s not like we know the defense, and we are just continuing to make the same errors. You got to learn from what he tells you and not let it happen again.
Smith is also being asked to step into a leadership role in his second season.
Kelly said before spring practices started that he wanted Smith to be able to make those around him better. It’s another challenge the Irish’s defensive newcomer of the year from last season is happy to tackle.
It’s something I want to do and I’m ready for, even though I’m 18 years old. It doesn’t matter, Smith said. I don’t like to put an age on things. It is really about ability and holding yourself accountable.
Cornerback KeiVarae Russell said Smith is ready to be one of the defensive leaders.
His work ethic is second to none, Russell said. We always compete all the time and encourage each other to get better. We lead each other all the time, and we try to bring together and lead the team as well. We’re excited. We talked about it (Thursday) about how excited we are for the season.