Irish confident Councell, Smith can fill Spond's shoes

Irish confident Councell, Smith can fill Spond's shoes
August 25, 2013, 3:15 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ben Councell and Jaylon Smith are different players, each bringing a different skillset to Notre Dame's efforts to replace Danny Spond at 'dog' outside linebacker.

Both are facing increased roles this fall, with Spond announcing the end of his football career earlier this month. Both are expected to play, since as defensive coordinator Bob Diaco sees it, each has their own specific fit in the Irish defense.

"You know if you have a toolbox you are going to need a Phillips head screwdriver and a flathead screwdriver," Diaco analogized. "One (Councell/Smith) is going to be a flathead screwdriver and one is going to be a Phillips head screwdriver. So when you have a screw that needs to be screwed in and it needs a Phillips head screwdriver you better grab a Phillips head screwdriver."

[More: Spond explains decision to end Irish football career]

Coach Brian Kelly spoke in far less abstract terms about how he expects Councell and Smith to be deployed.

Councell's a bigger guy than Smith, and Kelly expects him to play against more physical sets -- more of the run-it-down-your-throat offenses. Kelly likes Smith's ability to play in space, and expects to see him on the field against faster, more spread-type offenses with three wide receivers.

While Councell appears in line to play an important role in Notre Dame's defense this fall, most of the focus is on Smith. The five-star Fort Wayne, Ind. native came to South Bend with plenty of hype, but his teammates have seen him back it up by picking up the defense quickly.

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Middle linebacker Dan Fox relayed an observation he made while watching film with Smith over the summer.

"We get in the film room and he’s saying some things that took me a little while to pick up on and he knew it right away, so I was impressed by his knowledge of the game," Fox said. "Being so young as a freshman and he knows certain things about the game that really impressed me."

Cornerback Bennett Jackson praised Smith as well, but gave a caution that comes with any freshman.

"He's not a fish out of water at all," Jackson said. "He fits in with the defense well, he blends in. But there's still certain things that every person has to clean up when you first get acquainted to those situations."

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Still, Smith ran with the No. 1 defense during last Thursday's practice and looked the part of an elite linebacker in the making. And while losing Spond was a blow, Kelly sees having Smith -- as well as Councell -- as a nice way to soften it.

"We're very, very lucky, in losing a player like Danny Spond, to have those two guys," Kelly said. "They've done very, very well."