Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

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36 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame's breakout unit in 2017 was without question the defense, which made ma- jor leaps in the first year of former coordinator Mike Elko. Prior to Elko's arrival, Notre Dame was coming off a four-year stretch in which the defense ranked 63rd, 58th, 79th and 49th according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index. In Elko's first season, the defense jumped all the way up to 20th — the unit's highest mark since carrying the team to a 12-1 record in 2012. Elko jumped ship to Texas A&M after one season and was replaced by linebackers coach Clark Lea, who plans to run the same scheme. That perceived level of continuity and the return of nine starters from last sea- son's group has raised expectations in South Bend. It is up to Lea to get the defense to build on last season's success, but that will require a surge forward from a number of vital players on all three levels of the defense. Here are our top five players who put together much improved or breakout perfor- mances during the spring: JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END KHALID KAREEM When the spring began there were 10 returning starters — until strong- side end Jay Hayes decided to leave midway through the practice period and ended up at Oklahoma. Hayes' departure leaves a void in the starting lineup, but the spring emergence of junior Khalid Kareem was actually a factor in Hayes' deci- sion to leave. A consensus four-star recruit com- ing out of Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison, Kareem played very little as a freshman in 2016 but emerged as a productive reserve last fall. Despite playing 163 fewer snaps than the vet- eran Hayes, Kareem compiled more tackles for loss (5.5 to 3.5), more sacks (three to one) and more quarterback hurries (six to four). Hayes was the stouter run de- fender, but Kareem brought a better all-around game to the mix. During the spring, Kareem started to flash his big-play potential on a far more consistent basis, so much so that he started to eat away at Hayes' first- team reps. Had he decided to return, TOP SPRING BREAKOUT PLAYERS: DEFENSE The junior class boasts several emerging defenders The emergence of junior Khalid Kareem (53) during the spring should provide the Irish with more consistent big-play potential at strongside end in the fall. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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