The closer we get to the 2021 season the more excited I get about the Notre Dame defense, and I cannot wait to watch defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman in action. Anytime you have a coaching change there are opportunities for some players to have breakouts, and for some it will be a direct result of the change at coordinator.
And there's the rub. When talking about Freeman's talent as a coach, his intelligence, his success and how impactful his defense could/should be it will inevitably draw comparisons between him and former coach Clark Lea, and it could come across as a criticism or critique of the former coach.
Two things can be true at the same time. Clark Lea was a brilliant defensive coordinator. Marcus Freeman will be a brilliant defensive coordinator, and praising him isn't a critique of Lea. They are both fantastic teachers, coaches and coordinators, but they are also different.
Those differences mean some players will fit one system better than the other, and one player that fits that description is linebacker Shayne Simon. The arrival of Freeman could be just what Simon needs to have a breakout senior campaign.
Simon came to Notre Dame as a top recruit in the 2018 class, ranking as the nation's 48th best player and 5th best outside linebacker according to 247Sports. The Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep star dominated on both sides of the ball in high school, shutting teams down as an athletic, rangy linebacker and as the top wideout for the Marauders offense.
He was just a special teams player his first two seasons in South Bend before finally winning a starting job at Buck linebacker in 2019. Simon struggled mightily, playing a robotic game, which prevented him from showing off the top-notch athleticism that made him one of the nation's best players in his class.
Lea was a very precise coach, and his defense had a lot of built in checks that required players to constantly be thinking and moving around. For an inexperienced linebacker like Simon, one who moved from one linebacker position to another his first two seasons, that can cause him to think more and react slower.
We just didn't see Simon turn things loose last season, which is why he registered just 14 tackles in 12 games.
Freeman's defense is more aggressive, it's complex schematically but less complex practically, which allows linebackers and defenders to fly to the football. Its meant to be more disruptive, especially when it comes to creating negatives and turnovers.
"We are gap oriented, but there's not too much of a focus on that, it's more about being free and making plays," Simon explained. "The new scheme is open. There's rules we have to follow, but the main thing is to find the ball. Find the ball, go hunt and try to make plays."
That is why Simon should benefit from the scheme change as much, if not more, than any linebacker on the roster. He needed a scheme that allows him to use his length and athleticism to attack. A more open system requires defenders to attack. Knowing the system and assignments is important, but it's a system that doesn't require as many checks, on-the-fly adjustments and it mandates being aggressive.
Simon has the length, athleticism and power to be an impact player, he just lacked the feel for the position. Should Freeman's system better fit Simon's skillset and mindset he could see a big jump in production. A breakout season from Simon would provide the defense with a huge, huge boost.
To comment below be sure to sign up for a FREE Disqus account, which you can get HERE.
Become a premium Irish Breakdown member, which grants you access to all of our premium content, our premium message board and gets you a FREE subscription to Sports Illustrated! Click on the link below for more
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown YouTube channel
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachD178
Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Facebook