Notre Dame’s run to the College Football Playoffs this year was fueled in large part by the return of the trio of Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, and Tevon Coney. All three contemplated a move to the NFL but all three returned to lead the Irish defense. ON New Year’s Eve the first domino for 2019 fell Notre Dame’s way again with the announcement from Khalid Kareem that he will bet returning for his senior season.
— Khalid A. Kareem (@khalid_kareem53) January 1, 2019
As a first time starter in 2018, Khalid Kareem burst on to the scene in week one with a dominating performance that overshadowed the vaunted Michigan defense in their first visit to Notre Dame Stadium in four years. Kareem led the Notre Dame defensive linemen with 42 tackles and was tied for second on the team overall with 10.5 tackles for loss. His 4.5 sacks were good for third behind Julian Okwara and Jerry Tillery who tied for the team lead with 8.0. He added 5 pass breakups, 8 hurries, and a forced fumble as well.
Kareem’s best game of the season was easily his first. He spent most of that September night in the Michigan backfield collecting a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. He and Jerry Tillery often were competing with each other to get to Shea Patterson first as neither was blockable for the Michigan offensive line.
Notre Dame loses both Jonathan Bonner and Jerry Tillery next season as the two exhausted their eligibility in 2018. Kareem’s return means that Notre Dame will have at least one returning starter from its resurgent defensive line on the field on Labor Day when the Irish start the season against Louisville. They could make that two depending on the decision of Julian Okwara who is also believed to have submitted his name for a NFL evaluation.
With Kareem’s announcement that he will be returning, Notre Dame’s staff must focus its attention on “re-recruiting” Okwara and a handful of other players – most notably Julian Love. It is believed that it is likely right now that Okwara will end up joining Kareem in returning, but at this point nothing is official. Getting back Okwara’s 8.0 sacks along with Kareem and Daelin Hayes will make Notre Dame extremely dangerous on the edges.
One of the few bright spots in the Cotton Bowl was the play of senior to be defensive end Ade Ogundeji. Should Notre Dame get Okwara to join Kareem in returning, the Irish will be three deep at both end positions. Getting both back would also help the Irish overcome the loss of both of their interior linemen.
On the offensive side of the ball, wide receivers Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin are also believed to have submitted their names for NFL Evaluations. It’s hard to imagine either of them being overly high draft picks at this point though so logic would suggest that the likelihood of them return being high as well.
Love is undoubtedly the biggest question mark and also undoubtedly the most impactful potentially should he return. We all saw just how important Julian Love was to the Notre Dame defense in the Cotton Bowl when Clemson blitzed the Irish in the quarter and a half that he was out. When Love was off the field, the entire Notre Dame defense changed and Clark Lea couldn’t scheme around his loss in time. If, and it’s a big if Love returns, Notre Dame’s defense will be very strong both upfront and on the backend.
For now though, the return of Khalid Kareem is a very positive first domino to fall for Notre Dame. If the Notre Dame staff is as successful in their re-recruitment of their players as they were a year ago, the Irish will be in prime position to build off of the momentum built from this year’s run to the playoffs.