Jaylon Smith: Everything You Need to Know About Notre Dame's Star Freshman LB

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IAugust 25, 2013

Jaylon Smith: Everything You Need to Know About Notre Dame's Star Freshman LB

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    The best defensive prospect of the post-Lou Holtz era at Notre Dame has arrived at long last.

    Jaylon Smith, a 5-star linebacker, per 247 Sports, has been listed on the Irish's official fall roster along with the other members of the freshman class that jovially refers to itself as the "Irish Mob."

    The Fort Wayne, IN, native is one of a handful of those freshmen making a fierce charge up the depth chart, hoping to become fixtures within the rotation at their respective positions.

    How has the outset of Smith's Notre Dame career fared thus far?

    For that answer and more, check out our preview of the Irish's star-studded freshman linebacker.

Who He Is

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    Height: 6'3"
    Weight: 230
    Position: Linebacker
    High School Awards: 2012 High School Butkus Award, 2012 Indiana Mr. Football, 2012 USA Today All-American
    Other Finalists: Ohio State, USC, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Texas A&M, among others.

Word on the Street

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    Jaylon Smith will inject the Irish program with a level of athleticism and raw talent not seen in an individual player in the past decade.

    But it's what Smith provides off the field that has caught Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's undivided attention, via Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com.

    "The thing that's most impressive is the character of this young man and his energy," Kelly said. "He just has it. When he walks into a room, the room kind of lightens up, and that's the kind of personality that he is, and he is one tough football player, as well."

    Smith's high school coach, Steven Keefer, echoed those sentiments in an interview with Gabriel Baumgaertner of Sports Illustrated.

    "The kids look for leadership and he filled that role for us," Keefer said. "He's a great performer and he had some phenomenal games through the playoffs on offense and defense. He was a real asset to our team."

    As for Smith's breathtaking display of his physical abilities, rave reviews have been aplenty, via Jason Sapp of Blue and Gold Illustrated, who scouted Smith prior to his commitment to Notre Dame:

    Displayed great speed by running a 4.44 and a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the event, and he even slightly bowed out his course within the first 10 yards of the sprint on both...You can teach a player technique, but you can't just teach a player to have the type of love for the game that he does...Not just a fast player, however, as he can be described as both tough and physical...He can do damage in the front seven as a player that can come off the edge on a two-way go or drop back into coverage, showing his versatility...Makes good reads in zone coverage and can turn and run down the field with the back on a wheel route.

How He Fits into the Defense

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    As Jaylon Smith's senior high school season progressed, his place within the Irish defense began to take shape.

    Recruited as an outside linebacker, Smith knew he would be facing an uphill battle to get on the field as a freshman.

    With Danny Spond, Ben Councell, Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara manning the two-deep roster at both outside linebacker positions, it appeared as if playing time would come at a premium for the heralded recruit.

    However, news of Spond's decision to walk away from the game of football due to debilitating hemiplegic migraines opened an avenue to immediate playing time for the 6'3", 230-pound linebacker.

    And despite lacking the expansive knowledge possessed by the veteran Irish linebackers, head coach Brian Kelly said Smith has grasped the concepts of the scheme in a rather quick manner, via Tom Davis of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel

    "Jaylon has done remarkably well in such a short period of time of picking up the defense," Kelly said. "And he certainly has the athleticism to cover pass route runners in space."

    Now running with the first team at DOG linebacker, Smith is expected to split reps with Councell, a redshirt sophomore, per defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (via Davis).

    "Both Jaylon and Ben are going to be stalwarts out there at that outside linebacker position," Diaco said. "They are both very different tools."

Adjustments He Needs to Make at College Level

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    As is the nature for freshmen players adjusting to the college game, Jaylon Smith has adjustments to make while transitioning from the high school game.

    First and foremost, Smith needs to pack on weight to his frame.

    As a DOG linebacker for the Irish, Smith is not only responsible for dropping into coverage against intermediate routes, but also for setting the edge against the run. And at just 230 pounds, that won't be a simple task for Smith.

    His cohort at the drop linebacker position, Ben Councell, checks in at 254 pounds, while Spond, the former starter, played a pound or two shy of 250.

    The good news is that this "problem" can and will be fixed by Notre Dame football strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo. Unfortunately, it's unlikely Smith will add the necessary weight as a freshman this season.

    Expect to see Smith arrive at next year's fall camp closer to the 250-pound rage.

    As a high phenom at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers High School, Smith dominated smaller competition, though it'll be an entirely different book when Notre Dame's season begins Saturday.

    Taking on and shedding blocks against opposing tight ends and pulling guards who weigh anywhere from 250 to 300-plus pounds will be an unenviable task for Smith.

    And while the freshman linebacker has quickly picked up the concepts of the Irish's 3-4 scheme, Smith will be thrown into the fire from the start, and how he reacts in given defensive situations will speak volumes about the breadth of his scheme knowledge.

Predictions for Freshman Season

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    With Spond no longer donning a helmet and pads, Smith literally became a starter overnight.

    While he'll be splitting reps with Councell, expect Smith to compile a rather impressive freshman stat line.

    Running with the first team, Smith will be a first- and second-down linebacker, but he will be pulled to the sideline in favor of Councell in short-yardage situations, goal line package included, as Councell's strength is defending the run. 

    But the obvious passing downs are where Smith's gleaming athletic ability and pure talent will be showcased.

    Because of his skills as a pass-defender, Smith will give the Irish, virtually, an extra defensive back on obvious passing downs.

    His number of total tackles won't impress anyone—expect Smith to finish with 30 tackles—but his activity on passing downs will be worthy of recognition. Two interceptions and five pass breakups aren't out of the realm of possibility for the freshman linebacker.