Sunday we ran through all of the immediate overreactions on the offensive side of the ball from the 2019 Notre Dame Blue – Gold game. Today we’re moving over to defense where things are starting to settle, but some pretty large questions still remain unanswered – namely the linebackers.
Notre Dame’s defensive end group is one of the best in the nation
Notre Dame is legit seven deep at defensive end. SEVEN! I can’t even believe that I’m typing that considering where the defensive end position was just a few years ago but the following players all flashed in the Blue Gold game and look like they could contribute in the fall.
- Julian Okwara – All-American potential this year
- Khalid Kareem – All-American potential this year
- Daelin Hayes – Would be top line starter for most teams
- Ade Ogundeji – Quality reserve who will be front line starter for Notre Dame next year
- Jamir Jones – Quality reserve who Notre Dame might even try to redshirt this year to save for 2020
- Justin Ademilola – Sophomore just tapping into his potential who was an animal in the Blue Gold game
- Ovie Oghoufo – Sophomore still growing who may be the heir apparent to Okwara.
This group flashed in a major way on Saturday with almost everyone getting in on the action. They made the afternoon a nightmare for freshman Phil Jurkovec who will be better long term for having to face this group in practice. They even got to Ian Book though Notre Dame’s starting QB showed improvement in how he handles pressure.
Notre Dame will lose the top 3 after this year, but even in 2020 this position looks loaded when you add early enrollee Nana Osafo0-Mensah and incoming freshman Isaiah Foskey to the mix.
Interior defensive line looks to be OK
None of Notre Dame’s top four interior linemen really stood out positively or negatively and that’s okay for right now. Notre Dame is replacing a guy in Jerry Tillery who will be a high draft pick along with a two year starter in Jonathan Bonner. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa will be a drop off from Tillery, but he showed enough Saturday to suggest it won’t be a cliff. I continue to think that he’s got All-American potential long-term as well.
What was really encouraging here was the play of Jayson Ademilola and Jacob Lacey. In almost any other year Ademilola would be starting because he’s that good. He and Lord Myron are going to be splitting snaps quite a bit. Lacey did not look overwhelmed for an early enrollee and that is huge. He lost some battles but for the most part he held his own. Notre Dame needs Lacey to play this fall with Jamion Franklin and Hunter Spears both coming off major injuries.
Darnell Ewell even got into the action on Saturday. What if anything Notre Dame can get from him in the fall is still a major question mark.
Mike Elston used some of his bigger ends on the interior on obvious pass rush downs Saturday. That’s an experiment I think we will see in the fall quite a bit.
Linebacker is still a mess, and might be reason for concern
We didn’t learn much about the linebacker positions on Saturday other than it’s still up in the air. Jack Lamb tweaked an ankle in practice and didn’t play so we didn’t get to see Notre Dame’s likely starting BUCK. Asmar Bilal looked OK at times as the MIKE but the drop off between he and Tevon Coney is pretty massive right now. Shayne Simon showed some promise as the backup MIKE but still needs to pack on more weight to be an every down MIKE.
It was interesting to hear the NBC broadcast team talk about how Clark Lea adapted the defense to this group of linebackers. Instead of funneling everything to a pair of stalwart inside backers (Coney & Drue Tranquill), he’s going to let his smaller, faster backers use their speed to track down plays. Will it work? No idea. It’s clear that funneling plays inside right now is not an option though.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom at linebacker though. Both Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Paul Moala really flashed. Moala still looks undersized which is to be expected for a guy who started the spring at safety, but he looks like he has a lot of potential here. JOK’s athleticism off the edge is very exciting as well. He showed a glimpse of what he’s capable of Saturday. If he keeps developing, Notre Dame’s pass rush will have yet another weapon.
Notre Dame still needs a nickel
The battle for the nickel will wage into fall camp and the Irish coaching staff has to be praying that Shaun Crawford can make another comeback because a 90% Crawford is still probably Notre Dame’s best bet here. Avery Davis looked okay for a guy who was playing offense last year, but if he’s the starting nickel Labor Day weekend against Louisville, it wouldn’t be ideal.
Notre Dame’s biggest asset here could be the pass rush. If Notre Dame’s pass rush is as good as it looked like it could be on Saturday, the secondary’s job as a whole gets easier.
Jalen Elliott could be an All-American this year
It’s hard to remember another player whose turned around their career trajectory as much as Elliott has the last 15 months. Heading into spring 2018 he was almost an after thought. Now he’s a top line player, a probably captain, and a potential All-American. Elliott’s forced fumble on Jafar Armstrong was a thing of beauty. He tracked down the play from behind and punch the ball out perfectly. Expect to see more of that from Elliott this year as he’s proven now to be a ball hawk in this defense.
The demise of Derrik Allen appears to have been greatly exaggerated
There’s been a bit of Twitter outrage over the development – or perceived lack of development – from Derrik Allen after he arrived with quite a bit of fanfare last year. On Saturday the current FRESHMAN showed that the reports of his demise appear to have been exaggerated. Allen looked good in coverage and flashed the potential that had people rank him on the fringe of being a 5-star recruit.
There’s still a good possibility that Allen’s best position long term is closer to the line as a ROVER, but he showed that he can play safety and still has a ton of potential there as well. He’s not a starting caliber player – yet – but he showed enough to suggest that is still very much in the cards for him in the future.