NOTRE DAME — The on-field and inspirational leaders were everywhere last fall for Notre Dame.
Te’o, Lewis-Moore and Motta on defense — gone.
Riddick, Cave, Golic on offense — gone.
The 2½-month window since the BCS Championship loss to Alabama must have seemed like a blur for the Fighting Irish, but one thing is clear — if you haven’t internally moved on, it’s time to now.
New leaders are needed each year. Nothing new there. How leaders develop is another.
Three weeks of spring practice may not make or break the leadership foundation for the 2013 Irish, but putting the building blocks in place is essential.
Bennett Jackson says in his eyes, he’s going to step up even more. And don’t let his offseason shoulder surgery fool you.
“I look at myself as being a leader for sure. A lot of the seniors are stepping up,” Jackson said Friday, March 22, the first time N.D. players met the media since drills began Wednesday.
“Right now I’m on the sidelines, but I’m helping guys, trying to look at myself,” said Jackson, a senior defensive back. “I hope to be a leader ... I plan to be a leader. (Dan) Fox, Carlo (Calabrese), and even Mathias (Farley) who’s a younger guy ... they’re stepping forward. On offense you’ve got guys like Zach Martin, Chris Watt, TJ (Jones), guys who’ve been around who know the deal.”
Head coach Brian Kelly already likes the landscape for next fall’s squad and he’s especially taken by the work ethic he’s already observed from many players, including Jackson.
The senior won’t participate in spring practices or the Blue-Gold Game in April, but he’s been far from idle.
“Really pleased with Bennett Jackson and the strength he’s been able to put on,” Kelly said Friday. “I think when you look at an injury, sometimes it puts them back a number of weeks in the weight training, conditioning process. It is an injured body part ... it’s not a player that can’t work out. I think that’s an important distinction to make in that Bennett Jackson is stronger, more physical.’’
Kelly pointed that a player like Jackson can be a leader by keeping in shape — working hard to develop his mind and body.
It also means holding others — and yourself — to a high standard in practices, in film sessions, in training table and in the weight room.
“You can say leadership all you want, but what does that mean? It means holding others accountable,” Kelly said. “It’s still a work in progress for us, but I like what I’m starting to hear out there. We’re hearing people speak up, taking that level of accountability and running with it.”
For a player like sophomore Sheldon Day, his role can become two-fold.
Day, who showed quickness off the edge as a defensive end in 2012, now has the chance to fill in for Kapron Lewis-Moore, one of the most reliable — and popular — Irish players in many years.
The Indianapolis native can not only take what he absorbed from Lewis-Moore, he can share the wealth with teammates.
“Not having him is kind of a struggle. He took me under his wing. If I had a question, I’d come to him,’’ Day said. “It’s been great growing on my own as an individual leader. He’s shown me a lot of great things.
“Everybody has their own leadership qualities. Everybody picks up a little of what Kap left. He was always a positive, vocal leader.”
Kelly noted the leadership of senior cornerback Lo Wood, junior linebacker Jarrett Grace and senior offensive lineman Tyler Stockton, who saw limited playing time last season.
A collective drive and passion, rather than definitive star-power leadership, could end up being a big part of what shapes the new Irish.
“2012, the personality of that team is gone,” Kelly said. “We’re in the process of not only developing our football players physically and skill wise, but we’re developing leaders within our group, we’re developing position groups and depth within the ranks, and developing an identity of the football team.
“It would be easy for me to talk a lot about the individuals today and the progress they’ve made in this first stage, and we will. But for me it is about developing the identity of this football team, developing the leadership within the group.”