Of the two units on the Notre Dame football team, the one with the most questions resides with the defense. The offense had been largely intact entering spring practice; most of those who follow the team closely could have predicted the starting unit, save for center and Jarrett Patterson.
The defense has had to replace several key starters, with an entire position group–linebacker–in flux. 11 weeks into spring practice we have a pretty good idea how the team will look heading into fall camp and presumably week 1 against Louisville. Here is a group by group update of where things stand as we head into spring ball’s final week.
Holy Defensive Ends
If forced to list the best things about the Notre Dame football team top to bottom, you’d start with either Ian Book at quarterback or Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara at defensive end. Having a good quarterback and being able to sack the quarterback are needs 1 and 1a for a team with playoff aspirations. The best thing we can say about the duo at defensive end so far this spring is they have so far gotten through it healthy. Those two have nothing to prove in spring drills, their major tests will come in the fall.
The major news on this front however is the depth that resides behind them, and it is substantial. Daelin Hayes has looked very good all spring, which is no surprise, while Ade Ogundeji and hard charging freshman Ovie Oghoufo have shined in recent practices. Dare I say, Notre Dame goes at least four deep at defensive end and if Oghoufo continues his ascent, it’ll be five deep when the Irish to play real games in the fall.
Generally when Notre Dame has an advantage at a certain position, for example linebacker last season, they are susceptible to things like injury. When Drue Tranquill injured his ankle against Navy, it wasn’t just the fear of losing Tranquill, but the discomfort of what was behind him. This is not the case at defensive end, and while the backups there don’t have the ceiling of the two all-american candidates, they can play winning football for Clark Lea and the defense.
Jack Lamb and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah Have Made Their Move
The unit with the biggest questions on the entire team appears to have found some answers. If the current trends continue the linebacker trio will be Jack Lamb at Buck, Asmar Bilal at Mike, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK) heading into the fall as the first team linebackers.
Lamb has been impressive from the start, especially during passing drills, and has brought a good level of physicality since bulking up and overcoming injuries in the fall. At 6-4, 227, with more room to grow in the summer, he brings nice size and athleticism to the position. Perhaps not quite Drue Tranquill athleticism, but in that ball park.
Owusu-Koramoah looked good at Rover last spring, and moved onto the first team when Shayne Simon was moved to the Buck position following a couple spring practices. JOK is a lights out athlete, who can run with receivers out of the slot, and has enough size at 6-2, 215 to hold up against the run. He’s a playmaker who has been out of position at times, but appears to be playing at a high enough level to make up for some of those errors, and at the moment has a clear path to the starting spot, given his quality of play.
Bilal in many ways is the biggest question mark, even given his 5th year senior status. The move from Rover to Mike seems to be an odd jump; he’s never really projected to play in the middle. He’s also much lighter than the last two Mike linebackers to man the position in Clark Lea’s defense. Both Nyles Morgan and Te’Von Coney played in the 240’s, while Bilal is currently sitting at 227. He is, however, the only one who has played real snaps in meaningful games for the defense, and there is comfort to that. Plus, it isn’t as though there is an obvious alternative behind him.
If this is the trio that leads the way for the linebacking core, one thing is certain: they will not be slow.
Questions Remain Beyond The Top Two At Corner
At the very least, we know who the four starters will be: Troy Pride, Houston Griffith, Alohi Gilman, and Jalen Elliott. That’s a good quartet, one they can win with. Beyond that, it depends on what day you’re asking. TaRiq Bracy has looked good at times, other times not. Noah Boykin hasn’t really flashed at corner, where he is running with the third team, and converted quarterback/wide receiver Avery Davis has been getting lots of reps at nickel, which is intriguing, but also hard to see sticking. Remember, Notre Dame had top 100 defensive back Houston Griffith playing their last season and that didn’t go so hot.
This is all wonderful news for injured corners Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn, and incoming freshman Kyle Hamilton. There is an opening for Crawford and Hamilton to earn the nickel spot, and Vaughn will have the chance to earn his place as the third team corner and make up for his lack luster Cotton Bowl.