Notre Dame: Jaylon Smith feels ready to handle the pressure

Notre Dame: Jaylon Smith feels ready to handle the pressure
August 7, 2014, 3:30 pm
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CULVER, Ind. -- The expectations for Jaylon Smith are high and extend well beyond the sophomore's on-the-field play.

Just one year and one week ago, Smith opened Notre Dame's 2013 preseason camp third on Bob Diaco's 'dog' outside linebacker depth chart. Now, on the precipice of his second season in South Bend, Smith is being looked to by his head coach as someone who can fill the leadership void on a defense that lost six starters from a year ago.

"He's going to asked to do a lot more not only as a specific player but as a leader in our defense." coach Brian Kelly said. "He's one of the more respected players on our team even though he's a sophomore here."

Smith earned that respect with an outstanding freshman season. He totaled 67 tackles, forced a fumble against Arizona State, picked off a pass against USC and had what might have been a game-saving pass breakup against BYU.

And he did it all with a humility and work ethic that wowed opposing coaches and quickly led a veteran-laden defense to accept him.

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Smith has quite a bit more on his plate this fall. He'll be moved all over the field in an effort to maximize his talent, playing inside and outside while blitzing far more than he did a year ago. But he didn't sound like someone overwhelmed by the work -- Smith said he feels comfortable in his increased role as a player, and added he's ready to take on the leadership task as well.

"A time comes where it's just meant to happen," Smith said. "I'm fortunate enough I'm going to be taking on that role. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a long process."

Smith landed on preseason watch lists for the Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi and Nagurski awards, a nod to his elite talent and upside. The national exposure could be a lot to handle, but Smith said that recognition barely registered on his radar.

"It really doesn't matter," Smith said. "What matters is us as a team and my defense playing together."