Consistency Matching Athleticism for Notre Dame’s Jaylen Sneed

Exploring Jaylen Sneed's journey from raw talent to defensive stalwart, his quest for consistency defines his rise as a key player for Notre Dame's football program.

Notre Dame junior linebacker Jaylen Sneed has always been one of the most athletically gifted players on the Notre Dame football roster since the day he arrived on campus. Consistency, however, has kept Sneed from turning his freakish athleticism into consistent production on the football field. This spring, that consistency is starting to match his athleticism, making the sky the limit for the former 5-star recruit.

“He’s always been a talented football player, but that’s a word that can mean unfilled potential at times,” head coach Marcus Freeman said over the weekend after Notre Dame’s jersey scrimmage. “He is committed to it. He’s showing up every day, really being obsessed with how do I get better.”

Unfilled potential is precisely how most Notre Dame fans would describe Sneed to this point in his career. Sneed, a coveted 5-star recruit on the On3 composite rankings, stood out nationally as a top linebacker and South Carolina’s premier player. His accolades included being named 2021 South Carolina Mr. Football and a semifinalist for the Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Defensive Player of the Year Award.

To this point in his career though, he has mainly flashed potential. Sneed’s sophomore year showcased his defensive prowess, starting with a standout performance against Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Throughout the season, he notched just 14 tackles but did have a key sack on USC’s Caleb Williams, disrupting the Heisman Trophy winner for an eight-yard loss. Notable contributions included a pass breakup against Ohio State and two assisted tackles versus Wake Forest. The season concluded triumphantly in the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl, where Sneed pressured the quarterback, securing a crucial quarterback hurry in the victory over Oregon State.

As a freshman, he appeared in just four games while tallying seven tackles with just one solo.

That all could change for Sneed as he enters his third season on campus.

“I’ve been really pleased with how he’s performed consistently through 10 practices,” Freeman said on Saturday. “As you look at the last two years, Sneed’s a guy that would show up. He would flash like, ‘Man, he’s a freak.’ Now he’s consistently doing his job, which is more important than anything.”

Defensive coordinator Al Golden referenced Sneed’s consistency last week as well. “Mature, settling in, fun to be around. Much more consistent,” is how Golden described him. “It’s slowing down for him. And again, starting to just see him do a lot of things well, whether it’s in the box, in the apex, third down, special teams — he’s talented.

Sneed enters Saturday’s Blue & Gold game as an odds-on favorite to be one of Notre Dame’s starting ROVER with Jack Kiser sliding over to the WILL role as a rare 6th-year senior for the Irish. Could a third-year breakout similar to former Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah be in the cards for Sneed? It’s certainly possible and would surprise no one if that is precisely what happens this fall. Owusu Koramoah did not have a huge impact over his first two seasons before starting all 13 games in 2019 and eventually being a 2nd round pick of the Cleveland Browns.

Notre Dame is asking Sneed to do a lot in Al Golden’s defense this year. “He’s got length. He’s sudden. He can cover in space. But if you just think he’s out there to cover, then you can bring him. He can blitz. On third down, he can move around. Is he covering the back? Is he rushing the quarterback? Is he a spy? Can he drop from wherever he’s aligned? Like, what I’m describing is hard. If one person can do that, that’s pretty good. And he can,” said Golden last week when asked about Sneed.

Notre Dame’s linebacking corps is in a state of transition in 2024 with just Kiser returning from last year’s starting trio of Kiser, JD Bertrand, and Marist Liufau. That starting group was solid but not spectacular for the Irish over the last few years. If Sneed is able to find the consistency that he’s been lacking over the last two years, he has the ability to be an improvement for the Irish at ROVER with Kiser playing his more natural WILL position this fall.

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