Kelly appreciates defense’s progress

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Defense is supposed to be one of the strengths of Notre Dame’s 2018, with 10 returning starters.

So despite surrendering 913 yards on 123 plays in Saturday’s spring game, Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly showed little concern with the progress on that side of the ball.

“They’re going to be attacking the football at the back end of the defense, which at times (last year) was frustrating,” Kelly said.

The defense has a new coordinator for the second straight season.

Clark Lea follows Mike Elko, who left for Texas A&M after one successful season in South Bend. Lea arrived with Elko from Wake Forest last year, and then got a promotion to replace his mentor.

Lea’s linebackers have run everywhere this spring just to keep up with their 36-year-old coach, who seemingly is in motion from the moment he wakes up. Elko’s basic 4-2-5 defense hasn’t changed under Lea, who has been trying to create the depth Kelly feels is needed, particularly at linebacker and on the defensive line.

Three players who decided to forego a chance at NFL money this season have made significant moves. Drue Tranquill goes from rover (a linebacker/safety hybrid) to inside linebacker. Te’von Coney moves from inside linebacker to middle linebacker, where Nyles Morgan led the team in tackles last season.

Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, who had 4¢ sacks last season, is going from playing right over the center to a three-technique defensive tackle spot. “The ‘three’ gives (Tillery) an ability to be a penetrator,” Kelly said. “We want to use his quickness, length and ability to create a new line of scrimmage.”

Saturday, Tranquill had nine stops.