The arrival of Jaylon Smith held much promise for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish lost key defensive starters from their banner 2012 season and needed major talent to continue their championship aspirations. The 6'3", 220-pound outside linebacker from Fort Wayne, Ind. came to South Bend with no shortage of accolades.
Rivals.com ranked Smith the No. 1 linebacker prospect in the country, the No. 3 prospect overall. He was also the recipient of the high school Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in the country.
As we have seen with Dayne Crist, 5-star promise does not always materialize into success at the next level. Smith, however, is already showing signs of greatness.
As one fan put it:
I think jaylon smith is the best linebacker between all of my football teams— Steve (@PootND) September 15, 2013
The sentiment was echoed across Twitter.
Taking over at outside linebacker when Danny Spond retired due to chronic migraines, Smith splits his duties with junior Ben Councell.
He has logged a total of seven total tackles this season, most of which came in the Michigan game. Not all of what Smith does best is apparent from his stat sheet, though.
The South Bend Tribune's Eric Hansen put it best:
Smith’s tackle total perhaps suffers because at times his coverage is so good that opposing quarterbacks tend to move on in their progressions and find someone else. He also was one of the few Irish defenders early on Saturday night to get a good rush on Purdue quarterback Rob Henry.
His high school coach agrees.
“He doesn’t look out of place,” Matt Millhouse, Smith’s defensive coordinator at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers, told Hansen. “I think he’s doing what they’re asking him to do. He’s splitting time with Ben Councell, and I think that’s probably a good thing at this point that everything’s not on his shoulders.”
Indeed, he displays an almost preternatural ability to rush the passer and is quite adept when dropping back to cover receivers. His fluid mobility and play-reading ability have served him well in his first three games with the Irish.
Despite his promise, there are still a few areas for improvement. Smith—and all the Irish defense—need to pay more attention to the flats.
For those who do not know, the flats are an area on the field between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards into the defensive backfield, and within 15 yards of the sideline.
This is not the only area the Irish D needs improvement in—think screen passes and play action—but the flats are particularly relevant to Smith as he is an outside linebacker.
In Smith's case, the good far outweighs the bad, and with the experience he gains each time he steps on the field, there is little doubt he will evolve into Notre Dame's next great linebacker.