With spring practice beginning imminently I took a look at the offense and 5 players to watch last week. Today, I’ll be drilling down for 5 players on defense. Reminder, you can read my super early 2018 depth chart preview from late January with plenty of additional thoughts on the roster.
Jack Lamb, LB
I go back and forth with Lamb. On the one hand, he’s playing a position that is difficult to acclimate to quickly, there’s plenty of other bodies at linebacker to sort through, and he almost assuredly won’t be starting games as a freshman. So why is he on this list?
Well, blue-chip linebackers don’t grow on trees and even if he doesn’t start there’s plenty of evidence that most of the older linebackers may not be offering a ton of resistance. I do think we have to caution against expecting too much here, though. Outside of the guys like Te’o and Jaylon we’re usually waiting excruciatingly long for linebackers to hit their stride at Notre Dame.
For spring, Lamb does have a real chance to solidify himself as the favored choice behind the starters, although the drop off in playing time there may be so steep I’m not sure if it’ll matter all that much who is 3rd, 4th, and 5th on the depth chart at the two inside linebacker positions. Still, having Lamb flashing potential after a strong spring and positioning himself for 50 to 100 snaps in the fall would be a huge deal for the future.
Alohi Gilman, S
Brian Kelly said Gilman would’ve started last year if he were eligible so the pressure is on! If you believe that or not it’s difficult to believe Gilman is going to open up spring taking first-team reps, particularly first-team reps by himself. There’s probably a less than 5% chance that’s happening.
Another wrinkle is that we need to find out which position at safety Gilman is going to battle for and also how new safeties coach Terry Joseph views everyone on the roster. Due to his height (5-10 1/2) Gilman doesn’t have prototypical strong safety size although his game in the brief glimpses from August camp seemed to favor being a quick run-stopper and less of a pass defender in space.
Either way, if Gilman makes a strong move this spring that will mean one of either Coleman or Elliott are going to fall down the depth chart and that would add a lot of intrigue for fall camp.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Rover
JOK highlights what is expected to be a fierce competition at the Rover position. He was the darling of the 2017 late-cycle commitments and someone projected to be a perfect fit for this position. Although he was just a middle-of-the-road 3-star our staff gave him a 87.8 grade overall, one of the larger discrepancies we’ve seen in recent memory.
A lack of size and power at Rover should be one of the storylines of the spring. Tranquill was every bit of 231 pounds and honestly plays like he’s bigger than that on the edge. The backup incumbent (is this a term?) Asmar Bilal weighs 230 but is the opposite of Tranquill in that he doesn’t always play to that size.
Spring practice is just around the corner & we have 5 players on offense to watch: https://t.co/Ta0kToN35W
— 18 Stripes (@18stripes) March 2, 2018
In the last updated roster JOK weighed 204 pounds, D.J. Morgan weighs 209 pounds, and if he’s moved here Jordan Genmark Heath weighs 220 pounds. JGH actually showed he can be effective near the line of scrimmage during the bowl win over LSU, the other two are basically safety-sized and would bring some question marks about holding up against strong running teams.
Houston Griffith, DB
Our second true freshman graces the list as Notre Dame has the benefit of their highest rated recruit already on campus. Despite that, many question marks surround Griffith. For one, our staff wasn’t buying him as the top recruit in the class. He picked up a 91 grade–highly rated for sure–but we’re not totally sure he’s going to be an elite defender and surely expecting anything close to that in his first semester of college is ludicrous.
Additionally, some believe Griffith will start out at safety although he played corner and was rated as such coming out of high school. Standing a reported 6-1 and 192 pounds he’s above average for a corner but not quite a physically imposing safety.
For a defense that is largely set at most positions with nearly all of the two-deep returning the position and placement of Griffith is interesting to me. With only 5 other corners–as opposed to 7 other safeties–available for the spring there would seem to be a lot more reps in practice at corner for the IMG product.
Darnell Ewell, DT
During the February National Signing Day defensive line coach Mike Elston made it a point to say they’re switching Jerry Tillery to 3-tech and flip-flopping Jonathan Bonner to nose guard. For Tillery, it makes a lot of sense. His penetrating ability remains his greatest asset and he’s coming off a season where he led all defensive linemen in tackles for loss. For Bonner, I’m not sure. Part of me believes in combination with his attempt to move on from the school only to return that he’s both not really trusted to be a starter anymore and was never much of a difference maker to begin with anyway.
Therefore, reps at nose guard are there for the taking. It was a really weird first season for Darnell Ewell who went from being voted by many as the most likely freshman to have an impact on defense to being quickly on the track to redshirt last August.
Ewell was the 10th ranked defensive tackle for 2017 although our staff gave him a 90.3 grade we all expected him to be featured on the team immediately upon arrival. This will be his first spring with the team, he’s been on campus for 9 full months, and let’s hope his stamina is improved because Ewell could be an important piece to nose guard for the Irish in 2018.