Earlier this week we previewed the Notre Dame offense ahead of the opening of spring practice. Today, we turn our attention to the Irish defense coming off an impressive No. 10 national finish in defensive S&P during Clark Lea’s first season as coordinator. The young coach will face an important spring replacing several key veterans from the 2018 squad.

This side of the ball will have 38 players available for the spring, although injuries have hit the defense a lot worse than the offense for these upcoming practices. The (*) denotes a returning starter.

The Players for Spring

DT Kurt Hinish, JR
DT Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, r-SO
DT Jayson Ademilola, SO
DT Jacob Lacey, FR
DT Darnell Ewell, r-SO
DT Jamion Franklin, r-FR
DT Hunter Spears, FR

DE Khalid Kareem, SR*
DE Julian Okwara, SR*
DE Daelin Hayes, SR
DE Ade Ogundeji, r-JR
DE Justin Ademilola, r-FR
DE Jamir Jones, SR
DE Kofi Wardlow, r-SO
DE Ovie Oghoufo, r-FR
DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah, FR

LB Asmar Bilal, 5th SR*
LB Jonathan Jones, r-JR
LB Shayne Simon, SO
LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, r-SO
LB Jordan Genmark-Heath, JR
LB Bo Bauer, SO
LB Drew White, r-SO
LB Jack Lamb, r-FR
LB JD Bertrand, FR
LB Jack Kiser, FR

CB Troy Pride, SR*
CB Tariq Bracy, SO
CB Shaun Crawford, 5th SR
CB Noah Boykin, r-FR
CB D.J. Brown, r-FR
CB Donte Vaughn, SR

S Jalen Elliott, SR*
S Alohi Gilman, r-JR*
S Houston Griffith, SO
S Devin Studstill, SR
S Paul Moala, SO
S Derrik Allen, r-FR

It’s not unusual for depth to be an issue during the spring but for Notre Dame a couple of positions will struggle in the upcoming practices on defense. If you want to look on the bright side being able to get Jacob Lacey’s feet wet during spring without many bodies in his way is likely important for his future development. Then again, the fact that he may hold down the 4th option on the interior by default from the very first spring practice isn’t the best sign in the world, either.

Notre Dame should take this spring to really cultivate leadership from their top interior players because the loss of Jerry Tillery–who blossomed into that role as a senior–could be massive for as much as his talent on the field contributed to the 2018 success. The team really doesn’t have many options with a pair of young players out injured and Ewell still a non-factor transitioning back to defense. They really need to feel good about their top 4 coming out of spring and I think that’s a realistic outlook.


This is probably the top starting duo at defensive end for the Kelly era, right? I’m not sure what there is interesting to say about either Kareem or Okwara other than don’t get hurt this spring and try to become consensus All-Americans in the fall? Thanks, now go get ’em!

It’s too bad this will be Daelin Hayes’ final year as he seems to be getting slowly better each year and could really be an asset for 2020 if he could stick around. One of the more quiet things to happen last year was Hayes losing his starting position. As we’ve detailed in recent scholarship discussions this is kind of the final hurrah at defensive end  for this trio before the program moves on to new blood.

Everyone seems to be pleased with the growth of Ogundeji and Ademilola on the edge. This spring we could begin to see if they’re going to develop into starting-level pass-rushers or maybe hit a ceiling as quality backups. I’m super high on NaNa and wouldn’t be shocked if he blew past a few guys during the spring and settled as the 5th option at defensive end.


One of the more interesting stories of spring won’t happen as Jack Kiser had surgery for a partially torn labrum and will miss these workouts. He should be back for summer though as he didn’t have a serious injury but more of a clean up job on his shoulder.

If things open up the way we think the spring lineup should be Buck linebacker Asmar Bilal backed up by Jordan Genmark Heath, Mike linebacker Jonathan Jones backed up by Bo Bauer, and Rover linebacker Shayne Simon backed up by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

I still feel like Simon and JOK have the potential to be difference makers compared to the other guys in that group which would be a shame if they continue to play the same position. This is why I like Simon to move inside–it seems like the defense is never going to be short of Rover-type players and will take that position off the field a lot anyway for a nickel defender.

Either way, unless something drastic happens this is probably the top 6 linebackers for spring (if not the fall) it’s just a matter of shuffling the players around to what works best for the defense as a whole.


We’ll need an update on Shaun Crawford as he’ll be just over 6 months past an ACL injury. I would imagine even if he’s participating it will be limited and non-contact. We do know Donte Vaughn had surgery for a torn labrum on January 10th and won’t be available for spring practice, and potentially putting his fall camp in doubt.

So, maybe only 4 healthy corners for spring!

I haven’t been shy in saying this is the biggest weakness on the team right now for 2019. I think it’s likely Troy Pride struggles (relatively speaking I suppose) without Julian Love on the other side of the field and even if he’s roughly the same player as last year it won’t necessarily feel like it all the time. I can’t think of anything more important than one corner opposite Pride turning into a solid, reliable starter-level starter after spring. Check that box and I think it could be worth an extra win during the season.


What a difference a year makes for the safety position. Remember even during fall camp back in August it wasn’t super clear what the rotation at safety would look like or who would be the starters. Slowly, Alohi Gilman started to distance himself and then Jalen Elliott also did the same.

Now, they are unquestioned anchors of the 2019 defense. Safety is now kind of fun (finally!) because Gilman and Elliott are so reliable.


Pleasant Surprise of Spring: Jordan Genmark-Heath

Virtually no other linebackers played last year outside of the starters. Was that because the staff didn’t trust the backups or because the likes of Coney and Tranquill were so good? That’s difficult to figure out since the defensive line rotated so liberally last year, and yet, I think linebacker is a different beast that really preferred to rely on its senior leaders and knew those players could handle the work load.

We have seen very brief flashes of JGH in the past and he’s about 10 pounds and improved strength from really becoming a very good linebacker. What could frustrate him is that he may never be big enough to play Mike linebacker and could be stuck behind Bilal for this upcoming season. Either way, I can see him becoming the 4th best linebacker and adding much needed quality depth.

Sneaky Important Player: Jayson Ademilola

I think most would agree Hinish and MTA provide a solid one-two punch on the interior. Maybe not difference makers yet but also not players who will be responsible for the defense getting run over by an opponent. For as much worry out there that the team really isn’t going to find a solid 5th option on the interior for better depth what the defense really needs is for Jayson Ademilola to develop quickly into a player just as good as the upperclassmen ahead of him on the depth chart.

More Concern, Corner or Linebacker: Corner

This is mostly just based on numbers and to-date known talent. Linebacker has a lot to figure out but they have bodies and players who I think can grow into important roles this off-season. I also like Clark Lea being in charge of this group.

I’ve read in multiple places that corner has plenty of young talent. I. Do. Not. Get. That. True, you can get away with only 3 players logging 95% of the snaps, and even then you could get away with just 2 players if you’re not counting a nickel as a real corner. Nonetheless, I don’t know how much they will be able to rely on Crawford or Vaughn coming off injuries. If you can, things are probably fine at worst. If you can’t, we will need to learn a lot more about Tariq Bracy and a couple others who are participating in their first spring.

Get a Big Sophomore Jump: Houston Griffith

Things would be so much better at corner if Griffith were able to move back there, become a starter, and turn into a rising star. The Irish Illustrated podcast recently mentioned Troy Pride is switching from field to boundary corner because they’ll need his physicality on that side which the diminutive Bracy can’t provide. That probably means Griffith isn’t moving back to corner to back up Pride, although I guess it’s still possible.

It’s likely Griffith remains at nickel and hopefully he gets better in his second season. It’ll be his second spring too which is potentially massive for his development. There’s also a chance he’s moving back to a traditional safety although you wouldn’t think there will be a ton of reps there during the season. During the spring, sure they could rest the starters but I’m not sure that’s the best utilization for him in 2019.

Give Us Something: Derrik Allen

Right now, Allen is the biggest enigma of the 2018 recruiting class. He could offer so much potential and yet we’re still waiting to hear the first peep about his progress. Normally, a player’s first spring isn’t very important in the grand scheme. For Allen though, it could be an early tipping point.

For one, both starting safeties could be gone after 2019 so if Allen is going to challenge for that spot he won’t want to fall back too deep this spring, especially with the talented Kyle Hamilton coming in June. Last year, it seemed like Allen was completely buried on the depth chart because that was the reality. This spring, he’s right in the mix for a two-deep position. The team could really use him reaching his potential beginning right now.

2019 Spring Practice Schedule
Friday  3/1 12:00pm Kelly Presser
Saturday 3/2 10:00am – 12:20pm First 45 mins. Kelly/Players
Tuesday 3/5 7:45am – 10:00am
Thursday 3/7 7:45am- 10:00am Coordinators
Tuesday 3/19 7:45am – 10:00am Kelly
Thursday 3/21 7:45am – 10:00am Open
Saturday 3/23 10:00am – 12:20pm Open Kelly/Players
Tuesday 3/26 7:45am – 10:00 am Open
Thursday 3/28 7:45am – 10:00am
Saturday 3/30 10:00am – 12:20pm Open Kelly/Players
Tuesday 4/2 7:45am – 10:00am
Thursday 4/4 7:45am – 10:00am Open
Saturday 4/6 10:00am – 12:15pm Open Kelly/Players
Tuesday 4/9 7:45am – 10:00am Open
Thursday 4/11 7:45am – 10:00am Coordinators
Saturday 4/13 Blue-Gold Game – 12:30pm Kelly/Players