Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Spring Ball Post-Mortem | Linebacker

April 21, 2019
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Every Notre Dame fan was hoping for answers at linebacker this spring knowing the players that are no longer around in 2019. Some answers were provided, but there are still many more that need to be answered.

There is no defined starter at any of the three linebacker positions heading out of the spring. There are contenders and things have narrowed down in terms of the starting candidates, but the competition is still going to be heated heading into the summer and possibly into the season.

It seems unlikely that there will be a scenario like last season where Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill pretty much never left the field.

One thing we know is that the group won’t lack in athleticism. There will be speed on the field at all three positions. Will there be production at the same level we saw in 2018? That’s to be determined.

Mike

On the first day of spring, Drew White came out with the first team at Mike linebacker. His spring ended with a shoulder injury, though, and after he was out, an interesting competition started.

Asmar Bilal and Shayne Simon, both former Rovers, ended up taking the bulk of reps with the ones and twos when the Irish went 11 on 11.

The most experienced linebacker on the roster, Bilal is going to be in the mix this fall. He didn’t show enough consistency after his move inside for him to lock down a starting job at Mike or Buck, though. He had days where his play looked strong and other days where he wasn’t that noticeable on the field. He’ll need to be a consistent physical presence versus the inside run, improve his recognition both versus the run and pass, and finish plays more often.

Can that be expected out a player going into his fifth year or is this just who Bilal is as a player? That answer will determine whether or not Bilal sticks at a starter all season.

Simon’s best day came in the spring game where he was diagnosing things quickly and flying to make tackles. In previous practices he had looked half a beat slow where he came close to making a great play, but didn’t finish.

If the Blue-Gold game proves to be a breakthrough, then Simon’s role will continue to grow.

Bo Bauer seemed to be the odd man out at Mike for most of the spring with Bilal and Simon getting more reps. He did play more in the B-G game with Jack Lamb out with an injury, but I don’t know how much can be read into that.

He shouldn’t be counted out in the competition going forward, but whether it’s the other options being faster or adept in coverage, Bauer needs to have a great summer and make a move early in fall camp to get into the two-deep if Bilal and Simon remain at Mike.

Jonathan Jones has become a bit of a fan favorite with his inspired play during mop-up situations, but he seems far away from contributing in the base defense. He was the fourth option at Mike this spring and that’s after White was injured.

White is the biggest wild card because his shoulder injury should keep him out for at least another couple of months, but he may be ready in time for camp. If that’s the case, none of the others distinguished themselves enough for White to be left out of the competition.

His biggest problem since he’s been at Notre Dame is staying healthy. They said that about Tranquill at one time too so it’s best to wait and see what happens with White.

True freshmen Ositadinma Ekwonu‍ and J.D. Bertrand‍ will be thrown into the pool when they arrive in June. It seems like they have a lot of players to jump in order to play, but if they show Clark Lea enough during the summer, who knows where they’ll fit in the fall.

Buck

Jordan Genmark Heath had the difficult task of transitioning from safety to Buck last spring. After one year at the position, he’s clearly made progress with his game.

But like the others competing inside, it’s about consistency. He’s fantastic chasing down things on the perimeter, but is still learning how to be better at working through the trash against the inside run.

JGH was with the ones in the base defense for much of the spring and Jack Lamb also had reps there. When the Irish went to their 3rd down package, Lamb was Lea’s guy and he really stood out. His athleticism, length, and awareness in coverage separates him from the other linebackers.

He’s going to have a role in Notre Dame’s defense this season and was one of the pleasant surprises all spring. The future looks very bright for him.

Those two are likely to battle it out for the number one job, but could also end up splitting the position. It’s not out of the question that Bilal are Simon end up at Buck either, which shows how uncertain things are.

Needless to say, it’s could be a very fluid situation.

Freshman Marist Liufau‍ is likely going to start at Buck or Rover when he arrives at Notre Dame. He still has some physical development to do before he’ll be ready to compete at a high level in my opinion, but I thought the same about Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa as a freshman and he handled himself pretty well after putting on weight.

Rover

The hype for the inside spots might be a bit lukewarm at the moment, but the good news is that there should be heat coming from the Rover spot. Both Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and converted safety Paul Moala made a splash this spring.

The competition to start should be pretty fierce in camp with JOK having a slight edge as of right now. His speed and the edge he plays with pop every time he’s on the field.

Moala continued to make plays whenever given an opportunity. He’s an explosive blitzer and has very good instincts.

If they continue to progress like they have, it would be difficult to see both of them not playing this season and making an impact.

Early enrollee Jack Kiser‍ sat out the spring after shoulder surgery, but he’ll be given an opportunity when he’s healthy. He seemed to make an impression on the staff during winter workouts.

Overall Outlook

Talent is not the issue with this group. It’s consistency and inexperience. Who’s going to be good every day? Will someone, or multiple players, make a leap over the summer?

It’s all unknown after the spring, but this could very well be a situation where several players are getting chances early in the season before Lea settles on a core group at inside linebacker.

Coney didn’t emerge as a dominant player at Buck until halfway through the 2017 season. During that spring he was not close to the great player he would later become. We might see that again from a player or two in 2019.

The sooner it happens the better it would be for the defense and the best case scenario would be for everything to get settled before they travel to play Georgia for the third game.

 
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