SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame's offense feels ready for anything thanks to what it saw during preseason camp.
While Brian VanGorder's defense is a question mark heading into the 2014 season, all the sub packages and blitzes utilized in it have prepared the Irish offense well for what they'll see from opposing defenses this fall.
"They throw almost everything at you but the kitchen sink," offensive lineman Christian Lombard said.
In past years, Notre Dame's offense prepped for the season against Bob Diaco's conservative scheme, one that emphasized preventing big plays over blitzing and forcing turnovers. Quarterback Everett Golson talked a lot about the "clean sweep" of players over the last two years, but replacing Diaco with VanGorder has provided him with an entirely different dynamic in practice. Now, he's facing things offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said Golson "never saw in 2012."
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Golson said facing all those different blitzes and fronts with players rotating in and out has helped him feel comfortable heading into his first game in 600 days on Saturday against Rice.
"What has helped my confidence is having such a great defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder," Golson said. "We've seen a lot of different disguises and different blitzes and everything from this spring to now. I think me seeing those types of looks and now I'm able to protect myself against them and things like that, I think that's where the confidence comes from."
A moment that stood out to Golson earlier this month came during some two-minute drill work, a situation in which defenses generally play conservative. But VanGorder threw a few different blitzes at Golson, forcing him to be even sharper with his decision-making.
That decisiveness is an aspect of Golson's game coach Brian Kelly said has improved between 2012 and now. Golson was bound to grow more comfortable in Notre Dame's offense as he matured, but VanGorder's defense appears to have helped force the issue.
"I think he's been as a quarterback much more decisive," Kelly said. "(A) quarterback has to believe what he sees and react accordingly."
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Golson isn't the only one who's appreciated going against VanGorder's defense in practice. Wide receiver Chris Brown said the blitz-heavy scheme forces him and his fellow receivers to run sharper, quicker routes since the quarterback doesn't have as much time to throw.
"That just makes you become a better players because you have to get out of your breaks faster, you have to expect the ball to come without you even looking and then you turn around and have to adjust and react to the ball," Brown said. "It's just helped us get so much better."
All the different looks and blitzes have created a symbiotic relationship between Notre Dame's offense and defense. With such a young defense, Notre Dame's offense likely will need to carry the team this fall — but thanks to the kind of defense VanGorder is running, offensive players and coaches feel like they're in better position to do just that.