Jaylon Smith, for all he accomplished in 2013, is still a freshman. This is the first spring practice he's gone through at the college level. But after starting all 13 games for Notre Dame last fall, the linebacker laughed that "I feel like I'm 30."
"I'm just talking, but I feel like I'm more experienced," he elaborated. "I feel like I've been here forever. Time goes by so fast."
[MORE: Notre Dame OL Christian Lombard out for spring practice]
When Danny Spond had to end his playing career due to a recurrence of hemiplagic migraines last August, Smith took over the difficult 'dog' outside linebacker position, one which required him to juggle a number of pass and run-related defensive responsibilities as a true freshman. He finished the season with 6 1/2 tackles for a loss, second-most on Notre Dame, and also had an interception, three pass break-ups and one forced fumble.
It was a fine start — but coach Brian Kelly is looking for different ways to deploy Smith in his sophomore season.
"We don't want offenses to know where he is," Kelly said. "We're going to play him in a number of different positions. He could be inside, outside — but we're moving him all over the place."
Notre Dame kept Smith outside last season, trying to not overload the freshmen with additional responsibilities. But with that experience under his belt and loads of talent, moving Smith around a field is an exercise in maximizing his impact.
[RELATED: Well-adjusted Greg Bryant primed to break out for Notre Dame]
Smith said he's never played inside linebacker before, so he's adjusting to a different view of the field. But he's getting an early start on it under first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, and if 2013 was any indication has the athletic ability to make up for any deficiencies that come with inexperience.
While Notre Dame has to replace five of its front seven starters from 2013 as well as cornerback Bennett Jackson, Smith is confident in what he and his defensive teammates can do.
"Critics, that's always gonna be something negative to say," Smith said "… We're just looking forward to learning this defense and actually grasping the concepts and really just being better, if we're all on the same page it's definitely gonna work, and I have no doubt in my mind that (we'll be good) this year."