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Notre Dame's hybrid defender

Notre Dame is switching back to the 3-4 defense this year, which is what most of the current players were recruited to fit. The 3-4 is most effective, though, when there's a strong "hybrid" defender -- a guy who can toggle between linebacker and the defensive line and make plays all over the place.

The Irish think they have that guy in place in junior Darius Fleming.

There's evidence to support that claim, too, as Fleming shined in a similar role last year, even though the Irish were primarily a 4-3. Fleming lined up in different spots and led the team with 12 tackles for loss, while finishing second on the defense with three sacks. They weren't huge numbers, but the Notre Dame defense wasn't very good last year.

The Irish hope for better things this year, and Fleming is a reason for optimism. He's got outstanding size for the hybrid position at 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds and is as quick off the edge as any defensive player.

"I feel a lot more comfortable at the position I am now because of my versatility," Fleming said. "I think I can make a lot of plays."

The 3-4 will give him plenty of chances to make those plays, and how Fleming delivers could have a lot to say about whether this defense turns a corner.