Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 36 of 63 MAY 2018 37 Hayes was not guaranteed to start due to Kareem's outstanding spring performance. Kareem continued putting his top-level pass rushing ability on dis- play in the spring, but his breakout had more to do with his improve- ments as a run defender. A year older and stronger after more time in the strength program, Kareem did a bet- ter job holding up on the edge and making more plays against the run. Losing Hayes hurts the depth at end, but if Kareem stays healthy and carries his spring performance into the fall the Irish defense will get bet- ter production from the strongside end position. JUNIOR SAFETY ALOHI GILMAN Notre Dame's safety production in 2017 was disappointing, as the unit racked up a measly five passes bro- ken up and failed to intercept any of the 445 passes opponents attempted last season. It was the second season in a row that Notre Dame had aver- age to below average safety play. If Notre Dame wants to upgrade its defense next fall, it must get better play and production from its safeties. Expectations for Navy transfer Alohi Gilman were that he would have a significant role in reversing Notre Dame's fortunes at safety. During spring practice, Gilman displayed why he is being counted on to move the safety position for- ward. He made a name for himself coming down in the box as a top run defender at Navy, finishing second on the team with 76 tackles during the 2016 season. He made a career- high 12 stops in a 28-27 victory over Notre Dame that fall. His physicality and instincts against the run were evident all spring. However, Gilman also possesses a well-rounded game, and his ability to handle man coverage is something the defense lacked much of last sea- son. At times he can get caught peak- ing into the backfield on play-action throws, but when Gilman is locked in he is an effective pass defender who got his hands on a number of passes this spring. That all-around game is something Notre Dame needs at safety, and his emergence at the boundary safety spot allowed the staff to move 2017 starter Jalen Elliott to the field side, where he has shown himself to be most comfortable. If this continues into the fall it means that Gilman's emergence will positively impact both safety positions. JUNIOR CORNERBACK TROY PRIDE JR. Arguably the deepest position on the Irish defense is cornerback. Ju- nior Julian Love had an outstanding 2017 season, setting a school record with 23 passes defended, and senior Nick Watkins has been one of the most steady players on defense dur- ing the spring. Another year of physical and tech- nical maturity helped Troy Pride Jr. improve his game this spring, but the competition at the position seemed to vault the junior to another level. Wat- kins was the early spring standout, and his quality play was a positive from the spring in its own right. With Watkins thriving and senior Shaun Crawford getting some first- team reps early in the spring, Pride was forced to up his game. When that happened, he took over the first- team spot as the field cornerback. The fastest member of the Irish secondary, Pride always ran well enough to handle coverage duties at cornerback. We saw a stronger Pride during the spring, which helped him better handle Notre Dame's bigger receiving corps. In addition, im- proved technique helped him stay with quicker players like Michael Young and Freddy Canteen. Young was the lone receiver that could beat Pride with any regular- ity, but even then the openings were tight and required a well-thrown ball from the quarterbacks. Of course, Pride won his fair share of those bat- tles as well. Pride realizes he must play at just as high of a level in the fall if he wants to maintain his current hold on the starting position. If he does, the Irish will have an impactful cor- nerback duo to complement the qual- ity depth. JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END ADETOKUNBO OGUNDEJI Kareem was not the only junior de- fensive end to put together an uplift- ing spring. Classmate Adetokunbo Ogundeji did as well, and his emer- gence also factored into the decision of Hayes to leave. After missing most of his senior season at Walled Lake (Mich.) Cen- tral, Ogundeji came to Notre Dame in 2016 as a project with a lot of raw tools that would require a lot of time to develop. He flashed at times last season, but the presence of Hayes and Kareem combined with his lack of experience to keep him out of the rotation. His early spring performance was making it increasingly difficult to keep him out of the rotation, and when Hayes left the team, Ogundeji took full advantage and showed he possesses the tools to be a productive player in the defense. Ogundeji is 6-4, 251 pounds and has an impressive wingspan. Dur- ing the spring he showcased an ad- vanced ability to use his length and power to take on blocks, to get off of them and to make plays on the ball. Rushing off the edge has always been a strong suit for Ogundeji, and his run game improvements this spring have helped him develop a more balanced game. He capped the spring by leading the defense with two sacks and two tackles for loss among six total stops in the Blue- Gold Game April 21. Junior Jamir Jones, who had played linebacker, also put together a qual- ity spring playing both the drop and strongside end spots. SENIOR LINEBACKER ASMAR BILAL Bilal has always possessed the ath- letic tools to be a productive player at Notre Dame, but defensive aware- ness and assignment correctness have been issues that kept him off the field for anything but the occasional spot duty. When fifth-year senior Drue Tran- quill moved inside to Buck line- backer, it opened up the rover posi- tion, and Bilal took advantage. The Indianapolis native played sound football this spring and showed him- self capable of handling the snap-to- snap responsibilities of the position. Until he proves it on Saturdays, though, his ability to handle the posi- tion will remain a question. Still, his spring emergence was a noteworthy step in the right direction. Bilal also cross-trained at the Buck spot as the Irish staff looks to shore up its two- deep on the second level. Sophomores Jeremiah Owusu- Koramoah and Isaiah Robertson had some really good moments at rover this spring, but Bilal was able to fend off their charge — for now. ✦

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - May 2018