Irish's Fleming has 'overwhelming' potential

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees doesn’t even like facing senior linebacker Darius Fleming in practice.

Rees said he can’t imagine what it’d be like in a real game.

“He’s tough to play against every day, I’ll tell you,” Rees said. “He’s so fast off the ball that he gives our tackles a handful every day. He can disrupt the pocket, and he can drop out and cover.”

That’s just what Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had in mind when he moved Fleming to the Irish’s Cat linebacker position last year. With Fleming’s unique combination of size, speed and power, Kelly knew Fleming could be one of the game’s most dominating defensive players.

Kelly said he is ready for that to happen this season, especially from what he has seen so far of Fleming in practices.

“He’s been a dominating player,” Kelly said. “He has overwhelmed our offensive line at times. I don't use that word lightly. He's overwhelmed some of our players. He's now in that position where we believe he can be an impact player for us.”

Getting there was a process for the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Fleming. When he was switched to the Cat linebacker last year, it took him part of the season to adjust to having the responsibilities of rushing and dropping back in coverage. There were plays he wasn’t sure whether he was coming or going.

“It was just different,” said Fleming, who played at St. Rita High School in Chicago. “In the past, I didn’t drop back that much. At times, I may have been confused.”

Fleming said he felt he started to turn the corner at the position in the ninth game last season. The difference was he didn’t need to think as much and was just able to play.

In Notre Dame’s final five games, Fleming had 18 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.

Fleming said he is ready to build on that.

“I’m just being more confident in myself and being more confident in my position,” Fleming said. “Being more confident with my drops and rushes, it allows me to play faster and not think.”

And when Fleming is able to do that, there are not many players around who have his ability. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco can attest to that.

“Darius Fleming can create stress on a tackle that other players can’t because he’s got a unique combination of speed and power,” Diaco said. “He can generate a lot of power through his core and knock blockers back and create speed. That’s rare.”