Expect Notre Dame to be ranked in the Top 25 in both run and pass defense in 2010 not because I say so, I didn't do all that well in this year's NCAA basketball brackets.
My wife did far better predicting games and the eventual outcomes based on the color of the uniforms and which ones she liked better, no kidding! Notre Dame will be much improved because what they are doing is much more sound than what their predecessors taught.
If you teach and demand good technique you will get good and productive play. For that reason alone look for ND to make giant strides toward being better defensively. I haven't seen a practice in person or met the new staff yet but based on years of experience and from what I have read I know that if you do certain things well you can limit offenses to average games just by being sound even if the offense knows what you are doing on any particular down.
I don't care if they know you are a base Cover 3 secondary with a 5 man front, for instance, you still have to execute and beat us. If I do what I'm supposed to do you don't get off the pass in the backside flat, or you don't run a cutback behind the backside backer. We fill ALL the gaps and we defend ALL the zones with great technique and don't rely on just talent alone.
This is where Notre Dame will make believers out of the naysayers. Notre Dame will be more SOUND defensively than anyone on the schedule and as we recruit talent to play the 3-4 ND will get better and better in shutting down offenses while piling up yardage and points on less sound opponents.
As the average fan watches the Irish this fall, here are a couple of things to look for defensively to measure how sound they are playing. Watch the Nose Tackle and see if he is being single blocked. If the offense can control the Nose Tackle with a single blocker the chances of winning are greatly decreased. If it takes 2 or 3 blockers to neutralize the Nose Tackle, look for Manti Te'o to be a 1st team All-American if he stays healthy.
Another indicator is to watch the defensive guys away from the flow of the ball. If they run up field instead of squeezing down the line of scrimmage with square shoulders, we are less than sound in our approach. If, however, you see that backside Defensive End making tackle after tackle on the other side of the ball then you will know the defense is outstanding.
You can also watch to see what shoulder the inside linebackers use to attack offensive lineman. If they allow their outside shoulder to be blocked Notre Dame will get beat. If they use the proper shoulder, look for that linebacker to make the tackle! One more thing you can observe and like Yogi Berra said, "you can observe a lot just by watching", watch the outside linebacker to the side the ball is on attacking. Is he coming up field with his outside leg up and his shoulders turned in like in previous years? I can't help but see big John Ryan wasted out there with terribly taught technique opening the running lane by vertically separating himself from the defensive end by running up field. A linebacker with half of John's size and talent, properly taught, would make that play 9 out of 10 times.
Putting the FIGHT back into the IRISH is many times just punching with the proper fist in the most efficient way! Had I or anyone else that has the knowledge of proper outside linebacker technique taught John, you would be looking at the next Frank Stams, All-American honors, AND Notre Dame's defense would have enjoyed a much higher ranking just from more sound play from their outside linebackers. Now, when you improve all the position groups that much you can see why I can optimistically assure the readers that Notre Dame will return to defensive respectability in 2010!