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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Position Battles | Linebacker

June 12, 2020
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Notre Dame enters this season with 11 scholarship linebackers on the roster. 10 of them have two or more years of eligibility remaining.

Having that many with years left to contribute makes it easier to see why Notre Dame chose not to sign a linebacker in the 2020 recruiting cycle and with only one definitely leaving after this season, they aren’t offering many in the 2021 cycle either.

11 linebackers on the roster with at least one year with the program means plenty of competition this fall. Two starters return, but four more players with playing experience return as well. Clark Lea’s position group might be the deepest and most talented group on the entire roster.

Mike

Drew White returns at Mike linebacker after a strong season as a first-year starter. He tied for the team lead in tackles and showed the instincts to succeed against the inside running game.

We know that White can be a player Notre Dame can count on in a two-down role, but can he do more than that? Can he become a more effective blitzer? Will he be an option to play in sub-packages? It’s safe to assume someone would have to take the job away from White, but what he shows early in the season could be an indication of how close he is to already reaching his ceiling as a player.

Bo Bauer has developed into a special teams terror. His energy and physicality would be welcome on any team. He never made any ground to take snaps away from White in the base defense, though, despite being the flashier player.

Everything needs to be more consistent with Bauer’s game if he is going to make an impact outside of special teams. He needs to be better at defeating blocks. He needs to make better reads. He needs to be perfect with his coverage recognition to make up for some deficiencies as an athlete.

He’s going to have JD Bertrand trying to leap frog him on the depth chart this season. Bertrand impressed with his ability to find the football through the trash, similar to White, and looked like he has a bright future as an eventual starter. Making a move to crack the two-deep this year would be a good sign of things to come.

Osita Ekwonu was one of the most physically impressive freshman last year, but looked a half-step slow with recognizing things as a linebacker in camp. We’ve heard he made good progress during the season and he’s one of the better athletes Notre Dame has at the position. His future could be at Mike or Buck.

Buck

This is the spot that should be wide open in camp. Even early in the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot “OR” on the depth chart Notre Dame hands out every Tuesday.

Jordan Genmark Heath is a senior and this would presumably be his time to shine, but he took a step back in 2019 after being Drue Tranquill’s backup in 2018. As the season progressed, he seemed to get passed by Shayne Simon and Jack Lamb before both were lost for the season due to injury.

It has never fully clicked for JGH at linebacker even though he has the physical tools to be an NFL player. Maybe he can be this year’s Asmar Bilal, but it’s worth noting that Bilal took incremental steps to improve every year before last season.

The expectations for Simon as a freshman were too high considering he was making a big transition from a hybrid safety to an inside linebacker. After a year at Buck, things started to come together and he started playing faster and thinking less.

This is a huge year for him. He needs to make a move this season to at least split at the position. He has taken reps at Mike as well so that could be a possibility for him too.

Lamb had season-ending surgery, but is expected to be ready to go for this season. He established himself last year in sub-packages with his abilities in coverage and at the very least should be used in a similar role this season.

Now he’ll get a chance to earn some reps in the base defense. Because of his abilities in coverage, his ceiling might be higher than the other two Buck candidates with playing experience.

Those are three intriguing options and that’s without mentioning Jack Kiser or Marist Liufau. These two came in as underrated recruits and showed right away that Notre Dame did a great job of evaluating them as prospects.

Kiser worked at Rover and already looks the part as an athlete. Liufau still has some physical development to do, but his instincts and the energy he plays with immediately stood out on the practice field.

It would not be a surprise if any one of these five was the starting Buck linebacker by the end of 2020 and having Kiser and Liufau as a future tandem inside isn’t out of the question.

Rover

It was a breakout season for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah who showed his tremendous speed and athleticism while leading the team in tackles for loss (13.5) and Havoc plays (19.5). And he didn’t even play on 3rd downs last season.

If he makes the kind of progress that is expected in 2020, All-American status is a real possibility.

It’s going to be tough to take JOK off the field, but Paul Moala certainly showed he has the potential to play at a high level as well. He flashed with his play against Navy and also consistently found the football whenever we watched him in practice.

Moala is a quality backup behind JOK, but there isn’t a clear number three at Rover. This could mean that Kiser and Liufau could cross train there or we could see a safety move to help with depth.

 
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