Notre Dame fans have received many blessings the last two football seasons, the latest being the amount of full coverage allotted to the media for spring practice. Normally we are treated to four or five full and open practices for the media to attend. This spring Brian Kelly has touched us with eight of the last 10 practices being fully open to the media, the spring game being the last which of course is televised on NBCSN.
Open practices are the best way to find out how the team is progressing, what players are performing well/not so well, and it comes from the point of view of multiple reporters. No coaching spin to parse through afterwards. We did also got a little of coachspeak from Kelly on Saturday after practice though as well.
As you would expect, there has been a ton of coverage over the last couple of days, with Thursday and Saturday’s practice being open. With that coverage, some general themes have emerged.
Here is what we have learned about the defense after six practices. Meanwhile, we’ve covered the evolving storylines on the offensive side of the ball yesterday.
Jacob Lacy And Ovie Oghoufo Look Good
One of these is nice to see and another is vital.
Oghoufo moved to drop end this spring and has looked good in his new spot. We always knew he was athletic, it was just a matter of getting the size to compete. He has done that and it has paid dividends. This is less of a need for 2019, Notre Dame has four quality defensive ends already, but with the departure of Julian Okwara next season, Oghoufo will be needed in 2020. He looks to be on that path.
Lacy on the other hand will need to play a key role in 2019. He is currently a backup at one of the defensive tackle spots, and if we know anything about the Irish defensive line it’s that they rotate all of the time. That he looks good this early in his career as an early enrollee freshman, is a very good sign that the backup role won’t be too much for him come the fall.[Also Read: Position Battles to Watch as Notre Dame Spring Football Heats Up]
Linebacker Is Very Much In Flux
When I say it is in flux I mean we don’t even know who is competing at what position, let alone who is ahead of who on an imaginary depth chart that Clark Lea doesn’t want to have.
Saturday, Asmar Bilal, the presumptive starter at Buck, was playing the Mike, with Shayne Simon, the presumptive starter at Rover, was playing the Buck, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah (JOK) was playing the Rover spot. And by all accounts, JOK took advantage of that role, making several plays today. There have been different variations throughout the spring and there won’t be clarity here for a long time, probably not until week 1 of the 2019 season.
The good news is there is a lot of talent to work with for this unit, and the leader of the defense, Clark Lea, is the one in charge of sorting it all out. Have to figure with this much to work with, he’ll come up with a good solution.
Houston Griffith Looks Strong At Corner
The biggest role to fill in the secondary is Julian Love’s boundary corner spot. In somewhat of a surprise, Griffith was moved from safety back to corner, where he started out last spring before being moved to safety half way through. Most observers were not impressed with him last season at corner, and less so at nickel. That said, Kelly lauded him for his work in January and February, and sounded very optimistic about his prospects. Turns out, at least for now, that he was right.
Griffith has played with a lot of confidence, looks more comfortable in coverage, and has used his big body on the boundary to his advantage, while repping against Chase Claypool quite a bit.
At least amongst the starters, Griffith’s spot is the one question mark, with his opposite Troy Pride looking good, and Jalen Elliott pairing with Alohi Gilman for a formidable safety duo. If Griffith can step in and bring strong play, that will mitigate the loss of one of Notre Dame’s best overall players.