CULVER, Ind. -- Notre Dame opened practice Saturday looking to shore up a defense that was shaky at times last season.The Irish lost six of the top eight tacklers on a defense that ranked 45th in the nation in total defense, allowing 372.7 yards a game.The biggest challenge is replacing linebackers Jaylon Smith, who led the Irish with 114 tackles, and Joe Schmidt, the teams vocal leader. While three players will compete to replace Smith at weakside linebacker, the Irish know junior Nyles Morgan will take over for Schmidt in the middle.Coach Brian Kelly said Morgan, a former top recruit who struggled at first to learn the Irish defense, has gained the trust of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.The middle linebacker position is the most difficult position to get down and hes got it cold. He knows what hes doing, Kelly said.Morgan started the last four games of his freshman season after Schmidt went down with an injury, but played sparingly as a sophomore, finishing with 17 tackles. Morgan said he knew he needed to stay patient and remain hungry.I couldnt give up. That wasnt a question, he said.Up front, the Irish are hoping defensive tackle Jarron Jones can be a force again after missing all of last season with a torn MCL in his right knee. It was an injury he sustained when Schmidt fell into him during a practice last August. Jones, who practiced with the second team most of Saturday, admitted he played tentatively this past spring out of fear of another freak injury.The 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior said hes determined to prove himself, saying he has to show he can outwork his teammates.Just show I can be a dependable player because this past spring I didnt show that, he said. I did a horrible job at that. I did a horrible job of being in shape. I let my injuries get the best of me.Kelly said the Irish hope Jones can contribute.I think 25 to 35 plays is a pretty good for a big guy like that, if he can give us explosive plays, he said.The Irish also need some young players to step up in the defensive backfield and safety Max Redfield, another former top recruit, to play more consistently. Redfield was sent home before the Fiesta Bowl last season for being late to meetings.What we want to see is just that guy that does the basic things right, Kelly said. He was a guy that was up and down. Wed see great flashes and then we didnt see him for a couple of weeks. I think if we just get consistent play from him, were going to get really good play.Thats a challenge for an Irish defense overall that gave up too many big plays last season.Morgan said he believes this year the Irish will be better on defense because they are nastier.I can feel it. I can see it up front with the D-line, linebackers, safeties. Its just an attitude. 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With the amount of money given to players by their clubs these days, it is a wonder that so many of those teams allow the sport to continue to take away many of their assets so they can play for a different team in the middle of their season. TORONTO -- The speed and skill of Team North America has captured the imagination of fans watching the World Cup of Hockey.The methodical, self-proclaimed boring play of Team Europe has just captured two victories.Three days into the World Cup of Hockey, Europe is the first team to four points and has shown it belongs in this tournament. By beating the United States and the Czech Republic, the European all-star group of players from Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Denmark, Austria, Norway and France sent a message that its not an underdog.Coming in here at 33-1 longshot, the Las Vegas bookies, its a lot of fun, coach Ralph Krueger said. I just never believed those numbers. Weve never used any negative motivators in our process. Its always been about us finding our potential, and the belief that we could match with anybody here at this tournament.Europe has found its potential. Offensive production has come from Germanys Leon Draisaitl, Slovakias Zdeno Chara, Slovenias Anze Kopitar and more.But no one expected even this collection of European stars from non-power countries to come together like this and play like a national team.Theres just complete buy-in on this group, Krueger said. Ive never experienced anything quite like this as a coach in 25 years of head coaching, where a group just bought in so quickly and sacrificed for each other.Players have their native flags stitched on their shoulders, but the NHL-created Team Europe crest isnt something they dreamt of playing for. North Americas Johnny Gaudreau even scoffed at a question about the crest on his jersey on Sunday, because its not something that existed even a year ago.Thats what makes Europes impressive showing at the World Cup even moree impressive.ddddddddddddIts 33-to-1 odds were the longest of any team on the board, and Draisaitls overtime goal against the Czech Republic on Monday put Europe on the verge of a spot in the semifinals.Im just so proud of the way the players have come together in this short period of time, how theyre representing their countries on their arms and as a group how weve come together, Krueger said. This is really not luck, guys.Its not luck. Its talent.Slovak goaltender Jaroslav Halak has stopped 63 of 65 shots in his first meaningful games since March because of a groin injury, Chara is doing his job on defense and Kopitar and Marian Hossa are supplying strong play up front. Those players are all NHL stars and together theyve fared better than any one of their national teams would have against this level of competition.Were certainly very excited at what we did so far with the two games, Kopitar said. Were staying in the moment. Weve certainly realized that we have a pretty special thing going here.After winning two games, Krueger proclaimed Europe is not done. A win by Canada in its game against the United States puts Europe into the semifinals, but dont expect this sewn-together all-star team to suddenly think its not a 33-to-1 shot to win the World Cup.Favored Canada awaits Wednesday.Definitely thats going to be a different animal, Hossa said. Its going to be a great measurement of where were at. Obviously theyre huge favorites at home, so well try to surprise them.Just like Europe has surprised everyone so far.---Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno . ' ' '