Notre Dame's Sheldon Day has slimmed down for new scheme

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Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was rather lavish in his praise of defensive lineman Sheldon Day during the spring, and it appears Day is trying to do everything he can to make that praise come true.

Day is the only returning starter along the Irish defensive line after end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Louis Nix III turned pro early, and he knows a lot is riding on his performance this season. He has both bulked up and also lost weight.

Day, who is 6-foot-2, plans to play at 285 pounds this season, five fewer than last season. But along with the weight loss came 30-pound gains in his bench press and squat lift.

Day told irishillustrated.com -- a Notre Dame-centric website -- that he is "a lot quicker, a lot more explosive. I just feel great out there." Part of that is the weight loss and part his return to full health; he was bothered by a nagging ankle injury last season, which caused him to miss two games. A healthy Day should be able to wreak some havoc.

Notre Dame played mostly a 3-4 set last season under then-coordinator Bob Diaco -- now head coach at Connecticut -- but seems likely to play much more 4-3 this season under new coordinator Brian VanGorder. That means that instead of trying to hold his ground and opening things up for linebackers to make plays, Day is going to be asked to be more aggressive.

"With the 3-4, we kind of caught the O-linemen instead of attacking them," Day told irishillustrated.com. "With this 4-3, we're kind of getting off the ball and getting in the offensive lineman's chest."

In addition to being the most experienced player on a rebuilt line, Day has taken on a leadership role.

"Our defensive line is a 180 in terms of where they are this year compared to last year, as how they work as a group," Kelly said before the start of fall camp, seemingly taking at least a small short at Nix and Tuitt. "They have been outstanding and that's led by Sheldon Day. Sheldon Day has been a great leader for us with that group."

Day lacks ideal height for a defensive lineman, but his versatility -- he is expected to see time at end and tackle this season -- and his pass-rush skills mean added value.

"He has incredible ability to rush the passer for an interior defensive lineman," Kelly said during the spring.

Day will get to show off his skills against a plethora of top-ranked offensive linemen this fall. He and the Irish play Syracuse, which features star tackle Sean Hockey, on Sept. 27. On Oct. 4, Stanford -- which features stud tackle Andrus Peat -- will be the opponent. Day will line up opposite Florida State stars Cameron Erving (tackle) and Tre Jackson (guard) on Oct. 18. And Day will go against Arizona State tackle Jamil Douglas on Nov. 8.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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