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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Fall Camp Preview | Linebacker

July 17, 2022
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The last decade has seen some of the best linebacker play ever at Notre Dame. Three Butkus Award winners is more than any program in the country (Alabama and Georgia had two each) and with the way they’re recruiting the position, they could very well add to the trophy room in the near future.

Could that be as soon as this season? There isn’t anyone projecting that this summer, but maybe that changes as we move along.

Before any of that happens, it will be about the internal competition in fall camp. There’s a lot of young talent mixed in with some players who have plenty of experience.

The Mike linebacker position should be one of the more interesting battles in camp. After being a backup for the last four years, Bo Bauer has to see this as a golden opportunity to expand his role to be more than a sub-package defender.

Bauer is going to play in this defense in some capacity. He’ll have to earn a starting job and I don’t believe he came out of the spring with the job being anything close to locked up. He’s been so good in his role that hasn’t asked him to do things he hasn’t proven to be especially good at. He’s an effective pass rusher and has played well in man to man covering backs out of the backfield.

We know his floor. How high is his ceiling? We’ll have a better idea after camp.

His main competition looks to be JD Bertrand, who put up triple digits in total tackles last season filling in at Will linebacker. That isn’t Bertrand’s best spot and he certainly was exposed at times in coverage and when asked to be an overhang defender. Mike suits him better.

We didn’t get to see that firsthand in the spring, though. He was recovering from a wrist injury he played through last season and we only saw him in non-contact drills. He needs to tackle better and hopefully a healthy wrist solves some of those issues. He needs to be better in coverage too and he may just be who he is in that department.

I think him and Bauer have similar strengths in many ways so it will be interesting to see who differentiates themselves from the pack.

I don’t believe that anyone can count out JR Tuihalamaka either. Yes, he’s a true freshman, but he showed he belonged in the conversation already in the spring as an early enrollee. If he takes a leap this August, then maybe he can get to a point where he splits the job with one of Bauer or Bertrand or possibly wins the gig outright.

There isn’t expected to be as heated of a competition at Will where everyone and their mother is anxiously waiting to see Marist Liufau become the starter and be the player he was promised to be last summer before suffering a season-ending injury. Liufau was back healthy in the spring and making plays again.

With his game it’s going to be more about him staying disciplined when he needs to without losing any of the instincts that make him so unique. It would be considered a surprise if he doesn’t have people buzzing by the time the season starts.

Prince Kollie had an uneventful first season at Notre Dame with a late position switch from Rover to Will mixed in. This spring he looked much more like the player he was in high school. He was playing fast and confident. The future looks bright for him.

Can he shine bright enough to see him earn a bigger role this September? It’s not out of the question with a great camp. He’ll be one of the more intriguing defenders to watch.

Nolan Ziegler was more of a safety/Rover in high school, but it always felt likely he would be making a similar transition to the one Drue Tranquill made at Notre Dame where Ziegler would end up at inside linebacker. That’s where he was working at the end of the spring and it’s good for him to get a head start there and get comfortable.

It made sense to move him away from Rover because they have plenty of bodies already. Returning starter Jack Kiser is back and he’s someone who appears on the verge of a breakout season.

Is this his best position? At the moment it’s an unanswerable question because we haven’t seen enough of him at another spot. I do wonder if we’ll see him work at inside linebacker a bit in camp.

Part of that could be determined by how Jordan Botelho looks at Rover. The Blue-Gold game was the best we’ve seen from him at any position. He played with controlled violence and made plays. If he can carry that over into this summer, then maybe that gives Al Golden and Marcus Freeman the freedom to look at other linebacker combinations.

Like Botelho, Will Schweitzer is another Vyper who moved to linebacker. It’s what Schweitzer played in high school and he didn’t look out of place at Rover. I don’t think anyone has high expectations for him making noise in camp, but there is always a surprise or two from someone making a position switch. Maybe that surprise comes from Schweitzer.

I know a lot of fans were hoping for more of a splash from Jaylen Sneed in the spring given his lofty ranking as a recruit. Athletically he more than looked the part. He also looked like he was learning how to play within the system at Notre Dame and it can’t be ignored that in the last three seasons he played wherever his high school needed him. He went from off the ball linebacker to an end in a three down front to playing as a free safety.

How he has developed physically over the summer will be important, but his knowledge of his role within the scheme will be equally as critical for him and any freshman if he wants to get into the mix in camp.

The biggest question for the linebacker position is whether or not things will stay how it looks right now with Mike, Will, and Rover or if the staff will decide to shuffle the deck a bit with players geting work at other spots than they are projected to now. If they choose the latter, things could get very interesting.

This is a very talented group and there will be plenty of competition to see who sees the field on 3rd downs as well. If the defensive line is the strength of the defense, the linebackers aren’t that far off from making that claim as well. Men’s Under Armour Practice Hoodie

 
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