According to sources, our original prediction about the Notre Dame defense under Marcus Freeman will be what we see in 2021. Notre Dame will be a multiple defense that will look different game to game, and possibly series to series in regards to the personnel that are on the field and the alignments the Fighting Irish will employ.
In talking with those same sources it appears that Notre Dame will begin with being a base 4-2-5 defense, which will look very similar to what we've seen from the Irish in recent seasons. It backs up what Freeman said on signing day in that he will keep many things that made Notre Dame so successful in recent seasons.
That includes most of the personnel names. Let's take a look at what we can expect to see from the base defense from an alignment standpoint, and what the names of each position will be. (Note: A video breakdown of the base defense can be found at the top of the page)
Here's a look that will allow you to see the defensive line and linebacker alignments more clearly.
Here are what those positions are:
BE - Big End - This is also referred to as the strongside end, but if Notre Dame is more of a field/boundary team the term strongside isn't as appropriate because Notre Dame won't be setting its ends based on the strength of the formation. This is a power player that must first thrive against the run and then rush the quarterback. At Cincinnati, Freeman often used the Big End (BE) inside in more of a three-technique (outside shoulder of the guard).
DT - Defensive Tackle - This is the interior defensive lineman when Notre Dame is in a four-down alignment. For Notre Dame in recent seasons the defensive tackle (DT) has been primarily a boundary player, but at Cincinnati this position moved around a lot more. He would play field and boundary side depending on the game plan, and at times he'll also bump outside and play in a five-technique (outside shoulder of the offensive tackle) when the defense goes to more of a three-down front. In Freeman's defense this is expected to be a disruptive, penetrating player that makes a lot of plays on the ball.
NG - Nose Guard - This position often plays over the center or over the inside shoulder of the guard. In previous seasons it was usually a field position alignment, but just like the DT position I expect this to be more varied under Freeman. When Notre Dame goes to three-man fronts the nose guard (NG) will play right on top of the center. This must be a space eater at times but also a penetrator at times.
Vyper - Vyper End - This is the boundary defensive end, and he'll always be standing up (according to Mike Elston), which is what we saw from Notre Dame the last four seasons. This player must be more versatile in that not only will he have to play the run effectively and rush the quarterback, he'll also need to play in coverage, both zone and man coverage.
Rover - This was more of a linebacker position for Notre Dame under Mike Elko and Clark Lea, and it could be that way at least in 2021 under Freeman due to the personnel of the defense. Ultimately, I expect Freeman to try and recruit more safety bodies for the position. This is a space player more often than not, one that will line up over slot receivers. He must be an effective run defender, he must be athletic and rangy enough to play in space and he must be a strong coverage player. When Notre Dame goes to a 3-3-5 alignment I'm curious to see if the rover becomes one of the three stacked linebackers with a third safety on the field, or if the rover stays outside and a Vyper or third linebacker lines up inside in more of a 3-4 personnel type of situation in a 3-3-5 alignment.
Mike - Mike Linebacker - This is the middle linebacker. In Freeman's defense this is an aggressive position that will do a number of run stunts and blitzes, but he must also be rangy enough to play off tackle and cover running backs and tight ends. The Mike linebacker doesn't line up over the center as much as it did in past eras, but that will be the case at times in the 3-3-5 alignments. Expect to see this position continue to move around the second level, lining up over the ball, in the A gaps and in the B gaps at times, and he'll primarily be a field alignment player. This must be a strong run defender.
Will - Will Linebacker - The Will linebacker is what Notre Dame called the Buck linebacker in past seasons. He will be primarily a boundary alignment defender. The Will linebacker must be athletic and rangy, he must be able to cover tight ends, running backs and even slot players and ideally he'll be a quality pass rusher both off the edge and inside. This defender must be able to play in space and at times he'll need to play inside as more of a run game thumper against certain looks.
FS - Field Safety - This is the safety that will line up to the field side.
BS - Boundary Safety - This is the safety that will line up to the boundary side.
From what I've gathered the Irish will be versatile with its safeties, but in the base defense they will go field vs. boundary. The safeties are somewhat interchangeable from a calls/assignment standpoint. From what I've seen breaking down Cincinnati's film I would expect the field safety do more middle of the field coverage when the Irish are playing with a post-snap single high safety. In those looks you'll see the boundary safety playing an alley or covering more on the second level. Both safeties, however, will do plenty of attacking the alleys and playing the run and quick game.
FC - Field Cornerback - This is the cornerback that will play to the field side. Having to cover more ground from an alignment standpoint the field cornerback must be quite rangy, and he needs to be a good tackler. The defense can protect this position in coverage, but the ideal scenario is that the field cornerback is a fast player that can thrive in man coverage. He won't press as much as the boundary corner, but if an ideal situation he is capable of pressing even when playing to the wide side.
BC - Boundary Cornerback - This is the cornerback that lines up to the boundary side of the field. This is expected to be a bigger, longer cornerback. Cincinnati's boundary cornerback was its best cornerback, Ahmad Gardner, who is 6-2. If Notre Dame plays in coverage like Cincinnati played in coverage expect to see the boundary cornerback to press a lot. This has to be a strong man-to-man cover player for the defense to be at its best.
To get a view of some of the other looks that Freeman used at Cincinnati give this past film room a gander. You can read it HERE.
Mike Elston explained some of the differences between the Big End (BE) and the Vyper, which you can listen to here:
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