Our series predicting spring happenings continues today with No. 2.
Prediction No. 2: Defense meshes well with Brian VanGorder
When Brian Kelly hired Brian VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, the fifth-year Irish head coach was effusive in his praise of VanGorder's job as a teacher, going all the way back to when the two worked together 23 years ago at Grand Valley State. That will especially come in handy this spring as VanGorder tries to rework a defense facing several question marks after losing several valuable contributors to the pros and graduation.
There's the defensive line, which loses potential first-round picks in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. There are the linebackers, who say goodbye to inside stalwarts and leading tacklers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, in addition to Prince Shembo at the Cat. The secondary, although the deepest unit on the Irish defense, loses captain Bennett Jackson at corner, too. So VanGorder has his work cut out for him.
Still, if his track record is any indication, there probably won't be any major drop-off or communication issues between the new coordinator and his pupils. Sure, VanGorder hardly comes off as the rah-rah, in-your-face personality that Diaco brought during his four years with the program. But he has been around the block a few times, with 11 different college and pro stops during the last quarter-century. His defenses have been catalysts for both conference championships (SEC) and division titles (NFC South). His methods translate to both levels, and he has had success at nearly every stop along the way.
The biggest identity, as he said during his Jan. 15 introduction? He is built to stop the run. Look no further than his work last season as the New York Jets' linebackers coach, as he took a franchise that had ranked 26th against the run and turned it into the NFL's best in terms of yards per rush. And that was just in one season.
What does that mean for Notre Dame? It means VanGorder will probably maximize what he has in the middle of his defense, where the linebackers took the biggest hit from last year to this year. Will he be more aggressive than his predecessor at bringing blitzes and disrupting opposing passers? That remains to be seen. But VanGorder's résumé suggests he won't have a hard time fitting in this spring with his new players, who face a quicker learning curve now that Diaco is off running his own program at UConn.