NOTRE DAME — An instant sound-bite magnet like Louis Nix? No.
A sideline-to-sideline tackle machine like Jarrett Grace? Hardly.
A gifted physical specimen like Stephon Tuitt? Not even close.
But when Notre Dame hits the field on Aug. 31 and opens the 2013 season at home with Temple, it’s become clearer that the MVP on the Irish defense could end up being Matthias Farley.
He’s that valuable.
A year ago, he needed to be steered into place within the Irish secondary. At Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, he was doing a lot of the mental and structural heavy lifting for a talented, but unseasoned, set of newcomers. And he seems to relish the on-field leadership role and being held to a higher standard, a mantle left by the graduation of All-American Manti Te’o.
“That comes with having some expereince. It’s a different position of helping people line up,” the junior safety said. “Last year, I had to make sure I knew what I was doing. Now I can help out on a play. If they’re not lined up right, I can see it now as opposed to last year when I was usually the guy not lined up correctly.”
Indeed, it’s a new year.
Whether or not Farley executed his new role Saturday will be up to coaches and their keen-eye scrutiny. It only took head coach Brian Kelly 60 seconds into his post-game comments to reference the “we’ll have to check the film” to analyze Saturday’s plus-minus evaluations.
Hopefully Farley, for the sake of the Irish, graded well. He certainly looked the part. The Charlotte, N.C., native had a collection of enthusiastic linebackers in front of him, all poised to join veterans like Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Danny Fox in a potentially deep lineup.
Farley had a new partner at safety in Elijah Shumate, and with Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood out because of injuries, he had to help keep an eye on Josh Atkinson and KeiVarae Russell at corner.
It was a full afternoon.
“They competed well I thought. If they initially weren’t in the right position, they hustled to the ball,” Farley said.
Grace, Ben Councell and Ishaq Williams, a trio of juniors looking to step into more significant roles, showed how aggressive they were as backers. All made plays against the run. All found themselves out of position in pass coverages.
Young heads on a swivel. It’s going to happen.
But Kelly is counting on them right away and all, he said, will be prepared to play “championship football.”
“I don’t know that there’s going to be a separation. I think they are all going to play. I think they are all going to play significant roles,” Kelly said. “I thought Jarrett did a nice job today. Carlo and then when Danny Fox is in there ... those are the three guys that obviously you’re going to get a lot of the work inside.
“I think they will all fit in. There’s not going to be enough reps for everybody, but we’ll have very good depth at that position. If we lose a guy, they are going to step in and do a nice job for us.”
Remember, it’s spring football, though the 40-degree temperatures didn’t leave any of the 31,652 fans in a warm and fuzzy mood.
There’s a wealth of talent on the Irish defense. Much of that talent is battle-tested, yet parts remain untapped.
Run-stoppers are everywhere. That’s not the immediate wart. Linebackers in pass coverage will need to improve when team drills reconvene in August. The Irish simply can’t let teams exploit routes with a high degree of responsibility on the second tier.
Farley says he won’t let that happen and he certainly liked what he saw from his angle.
“It was very encouraging, very exciting,” Farley said. “Last year, it was so new and (the game) was so fast, I wouldn’t catch those things.”
It was easy to detect Farley’s demonstrative arm-waving, his way of arranging the defense. He revels in the challenge.
Big and small, loud and soft-spoken, leaders come in all dimensions.
Right now, at least on defense, that leader is Matthias Farley.
Bill Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org