Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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22 JUNE/JULY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n the evolution of football, of- fensive and defensive linemen are larger than ever, receivers are taller and rangier … yet lineback- ers have been downsized. Just seven years ago during a 12-0 Notre Dame regular season in which the Fighting Irish defense was sta- tistically the best at the school in the past 39 years, the linebacker corps featured unanimous All-American and Butkus Award winner Manti Te'o in the middle at 255 pounds, the tag-team combo of 245-pound Carlo Calabrese and 240-pound Dan Fox next to him, and even on the outside was 248-pound Danny Spond. In today's world of spread of- fenses, however, the linebacker posi- tion has had to adjust accordingly. Second-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea, who is also in his third season instructing the line- backer corps, has a massive make- over on his hands that still needs plenty of fine tuning after graduating the dynamic inside tandem of Mike/ middle linebacker Te'von Coney and Buck linebacker Drue Tranquill — a former safety (2016) and rover (2017) — resulting in the move of 2018 rover Asmar Bilal to the middle. • The drop end position seems set personnel wise with 215-pound ju- nior starter Jeremiah Owusu-Kora- moah and 210-pound sophomore converted safety Paul Moala as a potential tag-team tandem. Joining the fray in August will be 212-pound freshman Jack Kiser, who was side- lined this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. • The front-runner at Tranquill's spot is another former safety — ju- nior Jordan Genmark Heath — who at 231 pounds is the most "massive" of the current linebacker prospects. Vying for snaps behind him are soph- omores Jack Lamb (227 pounds) and Shayne Simon (230). • In the middle is fifth-year senior Bilal at 227 pounds, with Simon, fel- low sophomore Bo Bauer (230), se- nior Jonathan Jones (227) and junior Drew White (225), who missed the final 13 spring practices because of shoulder surgery. On paper, there isn't the "thumper" figure yet like the 240-pound Coney, or even Tranquill at 235. That is why Simon — who played primarily at rover last season while also cross- training at Buck — was moved to the inside this spring by the proactive Lea. "As much as we liked what he was doing to the field [at rover], his phy- sique, his body type, just when you look at him physically and how he's grown. … That frame will continue to grow," Lea explained. "Tightened spaces allow him to play physically and play the flat pass. We see him as a factor in the box right now. … His experience even last year play- ing a little Buck will help if we need to slide him over [to middle line- backer]." In the Blue-Gold Game April 13, Simon recorded six solo tackles (two for lost yardage), and began display- ing the flashes that made him one of the nation's top linebacker recruits in 2018 and earned him a spot on spe- cial teams last season as a freshman. He also was a basketball standout at New Jersey's St. Peter's Prep, further demonstrating his athletic wares. "The game is so fast nowadays, it's so wide open … whatever Coach Lea feels is best to play that position, it will figure out itself," Simon said of the linebacker positions that have been in flux with myriad personnel changes. "There's no prototypical linebacker, I guess. I think we're all very athletic. We all can move, we all can flow. "If we can bring that hunger, bring that intensity, we can do very well." The shift from rover to potentially the middle provides Simon more of an opportunity to be in the center of the action rather than away from it. "It's an opportunity to make plays, it's an opportunity to hunt the ball and be a ball player," Simon said. "That's what I've been trying to do." Meanwhile, classmate Lamb is maybe the most likely among the sophomore linebackers to rotate in if he can overcome some past health setbacks. This spring Lea turned up the heat on the nation's No. 77-ranked overall prospect from 2018 (by Rivals) because of the potential he sees in him, especially in pass cov- erage with his 6-4 frame. "I don't treat Jack like a first-year player because he enrolled early [in 2018]," Lea said. "He's smart, too, he knows it cold in the meetings. We're going to have some urgency with him to see where we can get him so that we're not limiting him to just GROWTH PHASE Sophomore linebackers will attempt to work their way into rotations

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