Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2022

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

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18 AUGUST 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame's senior class has al- ready accomplished a feat not done by the five that preceded it. The Irish's 2019 haul pro- duced two three-and-done NFL Draft picks, safety Kyle Hamilton (first round) and running back Kyren Williams (fifth). Not since the 2013 group (line- backer Jaylon Smith and wide receiver Will Fuller V) had a Notre Dame signing class yielded multiple early entrants. That's the 2019 class' most impres- sive achievement so far. Its impact as seniors and graduate students, though, should still be substantial. Seven players from Notre Dame's 22- man 2019 signing class are projected starters in 2022. Five from that group started multiple games last year. Two others are stepping into first-string roles for the first time. All told, it's likely more than half the players from the class will be starters at some point in their career. Three (Hamilton, Williams and punter Jay Bramblett) were starters last year but departed to go pro or transfer. Defensive tackle Howard Cross III is a starting- caliber player now whose chance must wait another year after Jayson Ademi- lola returned as a "super senior." Producing double-digit starters is a strong yield for any class, but especially one that had just 22 signees and was ranked no higher than 14th by any of the four major recruiting services. It is not spared from transfers — eight play- ers have entered the portal — but nearly all those who have reached their senior year have already made an impact on some level or have that chance in 2022. Overall, the class is a glowing example of Notre Dame's player development, even with a couple highly ranked recruits who didn't meet their billing. Those are found in any cycle. More frequent, though, are the examples of less-her- alded prospects that turned into start- ers and linchpins. Six of Notre Dame's 10 lowest-ranked 2019 signees are re- turning starters, projected to start or de- parted after starting. (Cross, a likely 2023 starter, is one of the four exceptions). Notre Dame could afford to ease the class into action. Just three of the 22 signees avoided a redshirt year as fresh- men. Six players made at least one start in 2020. Seven were primary starters in 2021. Now, as seniors, they will have plenty of influence on the outcome of Notre Dame's 2022 season. Here's an in-depth look at the class' first three years and the expectations for its fourth. STARS AND STEADY HANDS Defensive end Isaiah Foskey could have been the third draft early entrant of the class. He had a Day 2 grade from the NFL College Advisory Committee, an 11-sack season on the résumé and obvious pro physical tools. He turned it down for one more year of college. He wanted a shot at the first round. A shot at a national title. A shot at eclips- ing Justin Tuck's school-record 24.5 career sacks, which he can do with 9.5 this season. Foskey is the senior class' headliner with Hamilton and Williams in the NFL, but hardly its only important figure for 2022. Six classmates will likely join him in the starting lineup — with five of them on defense. It's possible all 14 se- niors appear on the Week 1 depth chart. Like Foskey, cornerback Cam Hart and rover Jack Kiser enter their second seasons as starters. Each was a reliable piece in 2021. Notre Dame hopes they're cornerstones in 2022. Hart's quest didn't start until summer workouts due to shoulder surgery that sidelined him for spring practices. He ensured he re- mained productive in a different way, though. "I really dove into the mental game of football," Hart said. "I think I've grown a lot." Kiser, though, spent the spring learn- ing all three linebacker positions as part of defensive coordinator Al Gold- en's cross-training emphasis. He was a starter but not quite an every-down player in 2021, often exiting in obvious passing situations and pass-rush pack- ages. His 83.0 Pro Football Focus run de- fense grade was the highest on the team. He missed just 3 tackles all year, per PFF. Kiser is one of four linebacker sign- ees in the 2019 class. The three who re- mained there are the likely starters in 2022. Marist Liufau locked up the Will linebacker spot in 2021 fall camp before fracturing his ankle in late August, side- swiping a seemingly imminent breakout year. He returned for spring practice and re-ignited the buzz. "There are a lot of people in this build- ing who hold him in high regard for the way he attacked his rehab and put him- self in position," Golden said of Liufau. Liufau's injury allowed JD Bertrand to start and post a team-high 101 tackles. Coverage and blitz struggles, though, were common themes and why an ad- mirable effort in a bind generated mixed reviews. Bertrand accommodated Li- ufau's return by sliding over to Mike linebacker this spring, where he and graduate student Bo Bauer will share time. How those snaps are distributed remains unclear. But it's hard to fathom Bertrand going from leading tackler to backup, especially now that he's at his most comfortable position. THE TIME HAS ARRIVED Jacob Lacey established himself as a likely future starter three years ago when he was one of three freshmen to dodge a redshirt. Sure enough, he assumed first- team nose tackle duties this spring. His trajectory has hardly been linear, though. A promising start to his career turned into a frustrating middle. Injuries gripped him for two years, not severe enough to knock him out for extended time but annoying enough to persist. First, a shoulder issue that surfaced in 2019 nagged for all of 2020, reducing his workload to just 149 snaps in 11 games that year. An ankle sprain cost him two games in 2021. He was the No. 3 three- technique tackle for much of last season. Senior Strut The impact of Notre Dame's 2019 class will be significant even without Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams

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