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Notre Dame Football

Kiser is at a Different Level in Year Six

April 10, 2024
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Jack Kiser’s first spring ball at Notre Dame was back in 2019. He enrolled early that semester with others like Kyren Williams, Jay Bramblett, Jacob Lacey, and Zeke Correll.

He’s only the player left on the roster from that first spring ball. He’s now competing in his sixth version of spring practice and it’s not just the players who are gone. There isn’t a single coach left from that spring either. Williams is about to enter his third season in the NFL.

To call him a veteran doesn’t properly describe Kiser’s experience level at Notre Dame. He’s played for three defensive coordinators during his career and is in his third season playing in Al Golden’s defense. He’s played Rover, Will, and Mike in games. Xaviers Watts called him a “computer machine” because of his knowledge of the defense and his ability to command everything.

Kiser is also the “old man” in a room of talented young linebackers and his teammates appreciate that he’s always there with an answer if needed.

“It’s been awesome,” Drayk Bowen said when asked about playing alongside Kiser. “Any question that maybe I have on a call or anything like that, he’s right there. Me and him talk a lot, so when we’re out there it’s easy to communicate.

“Sometimes we don’t even have to talk. It’s been awesome, because he also has been here a while, so he knows a lot about football, college offenses. A lot of times, he maybe knows what’s coming next. It helps me to be alongside somebody that smart.”

Kiser has been repping with Bowen at inside linebacker frequently, but they’ve put a lot of different linebackers together this spring. With so much rotation, the need for versatility is greater than ever at the position for Notre Dame. Kiser has mostly been repping at Will linebacker, but his ability to play any position means he’s comfortable playing with any of the other ‘backers.

”Yeah. There’s been a big emphasis within the room, like there always has been, about being able to play with different guys, especially when there are a lot of guys trying to get on the field,” Kiser stated. “Fortunately, I’m able to flip flop and go back and forth and be able to play with (Jaylen) Sneed or Kygnstonn (Villiamu-Asa) or Jaiden (Ausberry) or Drayk. I’m able to play with them and just put them at whatever spot they’re most comfortable with.”

That versatility is a big part of Kiser’s value to the defense. Him being able to move around is one thing that has allowed different players to work in with the starters. That has benefited everyone as they try to replace JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau this season.

”I think competition really drives success. It makes you better,” declared Kiser. “We’ve seen that this spring. Everybody has gotten so much better. A lot of experience. These guys are young, so they need the reps and they need the reps with the ones. That’s where you see the real speed. You see the real physicality. It’s important to get those guys in there and we’ve done that. It’s exciting to see.”

It’s also been exciting to see Kiser take that next step with his game. He finished as the highest graded player on Notre Dame’s defense in 2023 according to PFF. Only one linebacker who played 350+ snaps in the entire FBS, Texas A&M’s Edgerrin Cooper, had a higher grade than him overall.

For the Notre Dame coaching staff, it was during bowl prep when things started clicking for Kiser at a higher level.

“I thought Jack's December was incredible,” said defensive coordinator Al Golden. “I thought Jack really focused on some things in December, and then if you look at him now, he's 235 pounds and just strong.

“Jack could always run, but now he's strong. He's playing bigger in the box but still has the catch-up speed that you need to cover and do all those things. So, I'm really excited about Jack, and he's really had a good spring.”

It might seem atypical for a sixth year player to make a physical jump this late in his career, but the addition of Loren Landow as Director of Football Performance has been a catalyst for it. Linebackers coach Max Bullough has noticed the difference and seen how much it has helped Kiser while playing in the box.

“First of all, he's bigger than he's ever been. He's 232 or something today. He's bigger than he's ever been, and he looks great doing it,” Bullough asserted. “So, that's a huge part. Don't take that lightly because that allows you to absorb contact throughout the season.”

The challenge for Kiser will be maintaining and we’ll see how much of a greater workload he can handle with presumably more reps at linebacker. Bullough also pointed out how much Kiser plays on special teams. He played over 200 snaps there last season.

“Those are, quite frankly, a lot harder than a play at linebacker,” Bullough said. “So, I don't expect any drop-off in terms of that. I expect him to be ready to go as much as we need him.”

Kiser has already proven he is ready to step up whenever he is called upon. He’s stepped up this spring in terms of having a more active role in quarterbacking the defense and being able to provide answers to any questions the younger linebackers might have.

This is his last spring practice at Notre Dame. He’s come a long way since his first one. Kiser is the best version he’s ever been at linebacker for the Irish and all signs point to it being his best season.

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