This article is a part of our 2013 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating players on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day made 23 tackles while playing in all 13 games last year.
DE Sheldon Day
6-foot-2 | 286 pounds
Experience: Played in all 13 games on defense in 2012
Stats: 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks
Sophomore Sheldon Day’s emergence as a starter was far less conspicuous than the start of his fellow defensive linemen’s careers. Day became a consistent and reliable performer in his rookie season despite flying relatively under the radar as an early enrollee last spring.
Day didn’t have the size or vaunted reputation that some of his counterparts brought with them to campus. He’s undersized at 6-foot-2, but he uses his hands and his head like a crafty veteran to keep himself in position without ceding ground. Notre Dame’s coaching staff has raved about Day’s mental approach and his wise-beyond-his-years maturity consistently for the past year.
“Have you guys been around him? Get around him,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said in the spring. “He’s like the energizer bunny. He plays hard and he’s got leverage and he understands the plays. He’s got a high football intelligence. He’s a special guy.”
Day’s football IQ allowed him to clock minutes in all 13 games last season, adding a layer of depth at the line of scrimmage that Notre Dame didn’t necessarily expect to have. If he had a breakout moment, it came in mid-September in his first true road game at Michigan State. Day sacked the Spartans’ Andrew Maxwell and then batted down one of his passes on back-to-back plays to stop a promising drive. Day’s strength, though, came more from his quiet consistency in all 13 games than from a few highlight plays scattered through the season.
2013 Job Description
Day does not have the explosive power that fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt has or even Cat linebacker Prince Shembo when it comes to making plays in the backfield. Day’s value in 2013 will be in keeping Notre Dame’s run defense among the nation’s best.
Day will step in to a starting role to replace graduated senior Kapron Lewis-Moore along side All-American candidates Louis Nix and Tuitt. With those two drawing plenty of attention, Day should have the space along the line to make a smooth transition to a bigger role. Among the three senior defensive leaders the Irish must replace — linebacker Manti Te’o, safety Zeke Motta and Lewis-Moore — Day should provide the most seamless transition.
Day spoke this spring about wanting to grow quickly into a leadership role despite being one of the youngest players in the starting lineup. Based on his reputation among the coaching staff, that doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. He might be the only part of the starting defensive line on campus a year from now, so 2013 will be a big year for Day to establish himself and develop the confidence he’ll need in the future.
What make a good year?
The depth on Notre Dame’s defensive line took a bit of a hit in the past season. Lewis-Moore graduated. Junior Chase Hounshell will miss the full season with another shoulder injury. Incoming freshman Eddie Vanderdoes is no longer incoming. Day needs to be able to provide the Irish with a lot of snaps to help make up for those losses in the fall.
Opponents will likely try to avoid running into Nix and Tuitt, which means Day should have plently of opportunities to add to the 23 tackles he made as a freshman. He doesn’t need to post big numbers in sacks and tackles for loss. If he can hold his ground and provide the linebackers behind him with clear shots at the ball, Notre Dame’s defensive front has a very good chance of being dominant again this season.
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