Notre Dame freshman linebacker and former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith is coming off his most impressive game this season.
Smith had a team-high nine tackles, 1 ½ for loss, recovered a fumble, and even though it went down as a team sack, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder pressured Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly into a slide on third down in the opening half.
Coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that Smith's football recognition has grown since he opened the season as one of Notre Dame's starting outside linebackers.
"That position is being constantly probed and attacked on a game-to-game basis," Kelly said. "If you've watched the games, teams are in three and four open against us because they can't run the ball inside, primarily because we have got the best nose guard (Louis Nix III) in the country.
"So they are attacking Jaylon Smith, so it's been his recognition and awareness week in and week out; he's learning. He learned a lot this week. They ran some play-action boots to his side that we had not seen before, and you know, he's got to learn how to level off on flooding his zones. I think the biggest improvement is that he's learning football and how he's being attacked at his position week in and week out."
Smith is fifth on the team in tackles with 27, and he has 2 ½ tackles for loss and has broken up two passes.
While Smith will continue to grow, Kelly said he will not consider using the freshman to replace inside linebacker Jarrett Grace, who is lost for the season because of a broken right leg, in certain packages on the inside.
"There are so many different packages that we can discuss in terms of where we can move him. But you know, one of the things we won't do is we will not change his eyes in terms of where he's going to play," Kelly said. "He's going to play on the perimeter of our defense, so how he looks at the football game will be outside-in, not inside-out."