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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Deep at Linebacker

August 9, 2021
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Notre Dame may have the deepest linebacker corps in the country. You may have read that a time or two during the Brian Kelly era, but once again, the Fighting Irish enter a season with one of the deepest and talented second-level groups in the nation. 

The fact Notre Dame isn’t overly concerned about replacing Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah might speak the loudest. JOK would have been welcomed back with open arms, but there is plenty of experience and hungry players to make up for his departure. 

Graduate student Drew White leads the group as the Florida native returns for his third year as the starter at Mike. The 6-foot, 228-pounder has tallied 136 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in the last two seasons and it would likely be more if not for senior Bo Bauer. 

Bauer has split time with White and saw his game explode last year as he focused on playing with a little less emotion. The Erie (Pa.) native has recorded 64 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack during his first three years.

At Will, Marist Liufau and Shayne Simon split time a year ago and have a combined 48 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks returning. 

The Rover position does lack experience, but Jack Kiser flashed in limited time last year while Paul Moala proved he can play at a high level before his Achilles injury last season. Graduate student Isaiah Pryor and freshman Prince Kollie as x-factors here. Both have all athletic tools you could ever want, but Pryor hasn't quite put it together at Ohio State or Notre Dame, while Kollie is entering day three of fall camp. 

And yes, Brian Kelly is intrigued to see how his new defensive coordinator will figure out a rotation and use the group of backers this season. 

"You've seen all those linebackers," stated Kelly. "We are so deep at that position. If I've asked Marcus (Freeman) once, I've asked him 10 times, how are we going to get all these guys involved? I should sit next to you guys and we should put Marcus up here because I ask the same questions." 

It's a great problem to have, but one where a coach can also overthink it. Sub-packages are great as they allow players to be on the field in favorable situations, but we've seen too many packages can also be detrimental. 

"We're deep there, so when you're deep at a position, you're trying to be creative," explained Kelly. "You're trying to look at situations where, can somebody play situational, can somebody be in our three-down package, can we maximize them there? We're seeing the same things you guys are seeing from that perspective. 

"When you look at the depth chart and you look at how well JD Bertrand is progressing, and the size and weight that Marist Liufau has put on and you know the guys that have already been in the program. It's an interesting proposition."

Freeman isn't going to shy away from having a large rotation at linebacker as he's demanding his players to play with such effort that playing 70 plays a game isn't realistic. 

The other goal for Freeman's defensive rotations is to wear offenses out. 

"We can't sit these guys on the bench with no role other than special teams," stated Freeman. "They're some of the most elite players in the country. We have a 1A/1B system to make sure that we want to wear teams out. We want to get you the full board and wear you out because we have 22 guys that the level of performance never changes."

Freeman also knows it's a long season. Players will have highs and lows, injuries and COVID is still out there. 

"I would love to be able to go into the Florida State game with one 1As and 1Bs at every position, especially the linebacker position," said Freeman. "I think we're deep there, but it's hard because we've got seven linebackers and then you've got two incoming freshmen that I'm very curious to see who's going to be those top six, seven guys.

"It's a long season. The finish line isn't at Florida State and that's what I'm going to have to remind these guys. The finish line is the end of the season. We're trying to create depth. It's college football. There's going to be guys injured every week. There's going to be something that happens that we didn't foresee that happens every week and then we got to make sure we have depth at all positions."

 
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