SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jaylon Smith's much-anticipated Notre Dame debut neither exceeded nor failed to meet the expectations of his coaches.
While Smith only notched one tackle -- which came on Temple's first play from scrimmage -- he handled the duties of the 'dog' outside linebacker position well given his experience level, coach Brian Kelly said.
"He was a little out of place at times, but in some instances he obviously has great athletic ability and closes very well," Kelly elaborated. "But it's probably what we expected from him. I thought he played like a freshman today, played with some great energy."
As Smith grows into his starting role, Notre Dame may have to trade the five-star freshman being rough around the edges in his understanding of the position for the raw athleticism and energy he brings to the defense. It's been 18 years since Notre Dame last had a true freshman open a season starting at linebacker (Kory Minor, 1995) -- not even Manti Te'o did that, albeit at a much different position on the inside.
Smith, along with inside linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, struggled a bit in passing situations, especially in the first half. The goal for the Irish defense was to allow for "dink and dunk" plays, as Kelly put it, but they came a little too easy for the Owls in the first 35 or so minutes.
Eventually, Smith will have to marry his athleticism with the technical aspects of the 'dog' position, which demands more than any role in Notre Dame's 3-4 front seven. Still, Temple coach Matt Rhule lauded Smith's play and said the linebacker's presence took away a few pieces of his team's playbook.
"Jaylon (Smith) for them was the real deal, now," Rhule said. "Some of the things we wanted to do, he took out of the game right away. So he's the real deal."