Notre Dame hopes to replace graduated defensive stars with depth

One thing Notre Dame and Louisville have in common Monday night? Both schools have fired Brian VanGorder as a defensive coordinator in the last three years.

While we don't know how much Louisville will improve, we know the Irish D has improved dramatically.

Now the question is, can it stay that way?

Last year, the Irish defense was like an Oreo. The best stuff was in the middle. Now, with Tevon Coney and Drue Tranquill gone, there is a giant hole at linebacker that isn't filled easily. In fact, it will take about six people.

"The thing that I'm excited about is we have a talented group that everybody has the ability to have a role in the game," defensive coordinator Clark Lea said.

In fact, Notre Dame's defensive depth is the best it has been in the Kelly era. So, mixing and matching personnel won't just occur at linebacker, it will also occur on the defensive line, where the Irish have an embarrassment of riches at the defensive end slot.

"All of us are very capable of going in and playing a pretty prominent role in this defense," Khalid Kareem said. "So, I mean, that just shows how much we're willing to work. It doesn't matter what your role is, as long as you embrace that and know that you have to do that in order for us to be successful."

The secondary is a veteran group with returning starters in cornerback Troy Pride and safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman. But they admit they were helped by last year's experienced linebackers, so they have to bring the new guys along.

"Within the whole new linebacker corps, you got to see and build that chemistry and find that confidence within each linebacker, and that tough and frustrating, at times," Gilman said. "But to fall camp, I think we've got to a good spot now."

On media day, head coach Brian Kelly said the recipe for success for this defense is very simple.

"We're going to have to play with a physicality, and I really don't see that right now," he said.

The Irish have had 12 days to find it. We'll see if they've filled the Oreo with good stuff or, like the cream filling, they get licked.