What We’ve Learned After 6 Practices About the Notre Dame Defense

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.

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7 Comments

  1. The Linebacker by committe could be a huge deal. Not much on the big guys Jones and Bauer! Love the thought of a solid 4-6 player rotation that would mess with opposing QBs. With speed and skill these guys will be awesome. I will miss 5 and 23 but 5 or 6 studs isn’t bad. Lea will coach them all up, he is the best D coach in the game.

  2. Troy pride I think you mean, lets not forget last year was basically his freshman year at corner, and I dont think it was so much he was always a step late, but if he would of just turned his head to look for the ball once in awhile. Thats what always bothered me with julian love there were so many times he could of gotten both hands on the ball when he was shattering the record for pass deflections, I swear there were times the ball would bounce off his upper shoulder.

    1. Troy pride I think you mean, lets not forget last year was basically his freshman year at corner, and I dont think it was so much he was always a step late, but if he would of just turned his head to look for the ball once in awhile. Thats what always bothered me with julian love there were so many times he could of gotten both hands on the ball when he was shattering the record for pass deflections, I swear there were times the ball would bounce off his upper shoulder.

    1. Greg,
      I am not sure that @Louisville will be a “breather” for us. Yes, their program has been dropping off since their Heisman Trophy winning year…but there is a new regime there and it is an opening game on the road. I expect to win, and possibly see a number of guys get in and play at some positions, but I doubt that “breather” will describe it.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Bilal playing middle? Wow! Dude put on some size or are we just not confident in the other guys coming up?

    I’m all for playing quicker, “undersized” linebackers as long as they can prove they will stick their noses in their and fill the holes all out. It’s beneficial to have speed, even at the middle position, but that hasn’t been what ND has typically done with their middle guy. Coney ran like a 4.9 or something but his strength and instincts made up for that lack of speed to gain all those tackles. But you wouldn’t want this guy covering anyone running routes. Maybe we are rethinking our strategy here.

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