Darius Fleming re-setting the bar

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two weeks ago, Brian Kelly said Darius Fleming's play had been good but not great.

A week later, Kelly called Fleming's Week 3 performance against Michigan State his best of the year, while offering a caveat.

"It's one time an accident," the second-year coach said, adding, "Twice, you know, now you're trending in the right way. Hopefully we'll see it again."

Fleming did what he could to make that great play a trend Saturday at Pitt, recording two sacks, three tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry.

Kelly simply re-set the bar again.

"Two sacks one weekend," Kelly recalled telling Fleming. "Are you a real player? You need two more next week."

Fleming, a senior from Chicago, has nine tackles in his past two games. Playing the "cat" linebacker spot in defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme, Fleming has had his work cut out for him both dropping into coverage and rushing the signal caller.

And he's had someone in his ears every step of the way.

"That's something that I like," Fleming said of the high bar set for him. "The coaches do a great job of that and they let me know depending on who I'm playing or what they're doing in the scheme they expect certain things out of me. And if I don't succeed in doing that then they'll give me crap for it and I'll be disappointed in myself."

His own toughest critic, Fleming heard praise from his mother Saturday following Notre Dame's win at Pitt.

"But then my uncle got on the phone," Fleming said.

His uncle, also named Darius, kept track of every play and told him his performance wasn't all that special.

"I always need that person that's gonna tell me to continue to get better," Fleming said. "It's not always good to have someone just saying, 'You did great, you did your job even though you lost, you did what you're …'

"That's not gonna make the team better and that's not gonna make you better, so you always kind of need that guy that's kind of gonna give you the negative at the same time."

Fleming has had no shortage of those with the Fighting Irish. He said Kelly was all over him during Saturday's game despite the big performance, and both Kelly and Diaco often tease him in practice with challenges or comments to light a fire under him.

So far, the strategy's been working.

"Those two sacks, that's what I expect every game," Fleming said. "And it's just a challenge for me every week to beat that. If I can get three then I expect four the next week. So it's just a challenge every week to just continue to get better and make those plays my team expects me to make."