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How we got here: The Defense

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The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 

 

Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.

 

HIRING VANGORDER

When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.

 

HINTS OF CHAOS

The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]

 

WHERE IT WENT WRONG

Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.

 

THE END

Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”

 

THE AFTERMATH

While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: (reportedly) No. 35 David Adams, linebacker

Rivals.com
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-½, 222 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll; four years of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: With a duo of veterans manning one linebacker spot (senior captain Greer Martini and junior Te’von Coney) and stalwart senior Nyles Morgan at the other, any youth in the Irish linebacker corps will likely have to wait out this season to see many defensive snaps. Adams is no exception, though there will be an opportunity to prove himself as Morgan’s primary backup, not that Morgan will come off the field much, barring injury.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star recruit, Adams chose Notre Dame over offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and Michigan State, among others. An Under Armour All-American, Rivals rated Adams the No. 18 linebacker in the country and the No. 8 prospect in Pennsylvania.

QUOTE(S)
Irish coach Brian Kelly used the usual array of buzzwords to describe Adams and fellow incoming linebacker Drew White on National Signing Day.

“We have two that are instinctive, tough, smart,” Kelly said. “Those are the three things that stand out with David Adams and Drew White.

“… Competitive, smart, instinctive linebackers. It just adds to what we’re looking for from a defensive perspective. Really, really excited in having them on our football team.”

Kelly also specifically included Adams as one of the driving forces of what Kelly dubbed the “core 15,” the 15 prospects who kept the Notre Dame class of 2017 together despite last year’s dismal record and subsequent coaching staff turnover.

“More than anything else, it was a group that weathered a season that is one nobody was proud of and excited about,” Kelly said. “But they knew they wanted to come to Notre Dame.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN ADAMS’ NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
Adams brings excellent size to Notre Dame, a big reason he was as sought after as he was in this recruiting cycle. Yet, he never really wavered from his Irish commitment, along with teammate defensive lineman Kurt Hinish. With good vision, Adams should be able to shoot the gaps readily-present with the intended [four]-down front of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Like White, Adams should not expect to seem much playing time on defense this season. More of a run-stopping linebacker than one ready to drop into coverage, he fits more into the role currently filled by Morgan than anywhere else. Backing up Morgan is not a position that will lead to much, if any, playing time. (The 99-to-2 entry for No. 45 Jonathan Jones set the over/under on defensive snaps missed by a healthy Morgan in a competitive game at 5.5. Yes, that is for the entire season.)

For that matter, Adams underwent surgery on a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow following the Under Armour All-America Game. Taking an additional few months recovery hardly seems like a poor decision. Even if Morgan were to suffer an injury, the odds are Coney would slide into that starting role, continuing to limit the number of available snaps.

DOWN THE ROAD
The Irish linebacker corps is only a season away from lacking much experience. Both Martini and Morgan will be out of eligibility, leaving Coney as the only veteran. By next season, it seems likely sophomore Jamir Jones will have moved to the defensive line, leaving only Adams, White and sophomore Jonathan Jones (no relation) to compete for a starting spot alongside Coney, plus whatever current high school seniors join their ranks down the line.

All this is to say, Adams will have a prime chance to start as a sophomore. His instincts indicate he will fit the Morgan role. The only question will be if he fits it better than Jones or White. Even if one of those two earns the starting nod, Adams will be a primary backup.

This season may or may not be spent preserving eligibility. If it isn’t, that will probably mean he spends time on special teams, accumulating few statistics. In 2018, however, even a backup inside linebacker could tally 15-20 tackles, if not more.


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet confirmed for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But thanks to social media and the technologies of 2017, those numbers have slowly come to be known.

By those mediums, it appears David Adams will wear No. 35, moving sophomore cornerback Donte Vaughn to a single-digit jersey.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 38 Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver

UND.com
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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ½, 190 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: McIntosh provides depth at the running back position, but, as is always the case with depth, the Irish hope not to need it. In this instance, that hope is not based on doubts about McIntosh. Instead, it simply reflects the quality of the running backs ahead of McIntosh, in order from starter to third-string: junior Josh Adams, junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, rivals.com listed McIntosh as the No. 18 back in the country and the No. 95 prospect in Florida. He chose Notre Dame over the likes of Miami, Tennessee and West Virginia.

CAREER TO DATE
McIntosh preserved a year of eligibility in 2016 while working with the receivers. This spring he moved to running back, partly due to freshman C.J. Holmes’ shoulder injury.

QUOTE(S)
If running backs are divided into groups of power, speed and a combination thereof, McIntosh fits firmly into the speed category. He may, in fact, offer the most speed on the Irish offense, even more than Williams. Combined with the overall effectiveness of Adams and Jones, McIntosh’s speed could provide Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long a multitude of options.

“You want to start with a guy like [Adams], there’s no doubt about it,” Long said in April. “Then you’ve got [Williams] and Tony Jones and [McIntosh], guys who can come out there, change the pace of play.

“[Adams] has elite speed, but he has size. Then you bring another guy in who might be a little bit different, find out what they do well. That’s hard for the defense. You can’t have enough running backs in this offense. There’s no question.”

Long also said he prefers having these different approaches, not just because of how they can force a defense to adjust, but also because they allow him to utilize different schemes. In discussing candidates to provide those changes of pace, Long seemed to describe McIntosh exactly.

“I like to have a variety,” Long said. “I like to have a big back. I like to have a guy I can put out there with receiver skills and we can put him in the backfield.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I’m struggling to find a way for McIntosh to see the field this season unless he turns some heads during fall camp. Finding carries for Dexter Williams is hard enough. How someone behind Williams, [former Irish running back Tarean] Folston and Adams gets touches is beyond me.

“That said, McIntosh’s time at Notre Dame will be defined by his patience and what he does when he finally gets a chance. Pulling talented football players out of Fort Lauderdale isn’t easy. Neither is keeping them in South Bend if they aren’t seeing the field.

“[Running backs coach Autry] Denson raved about McIntosh’s game on and off the field during Signing Day festivities. We’ll see how the young coach’s first crop of backs perform once they’re on campus.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Finding McIntosh carries in a crowded backfield will be difficult. Adams has proven to be a durable ballcarrier, Williams will be the first change of pace choice, and Jones turned heads repeatedly throughout the spring. No matter how much Long may or may not favor the run, there are only so many handoffs to go around.

Moving back to receiver would not make much sense, either, even with Holmes returning to health. As of now, there are 11 receivers on the depth chart, and no specific spot is inherently thin. Adding a 12th would not serve any purpose.

McIntosh’s speed could, however, be utilized in the return game. Junior receiver C.J. Sanders enjoyed some success in 2016 on punt and kick returns, averaging 12.5 yards per punt return and 25.0 per kick return, including two for touchdowns. He could be in line for more action at receiver this season, though, especially if Long opts for a more-traditional slot receiver instead of sophomore Chase Claypool.

At that point, McIntosh’s wheels could prove to be a dynamic choice on returns. Irish coach Brian Kelly has long favored speedy returners. It was essentially the one area of the game former running back George Atkinson routinely contributed. Placing McIntosh in that role this season could be the best chance to get him some encouraging playing time, and it would allow Sanders to focus on his routes as needed.

DOWN THE ROAD
It may be all McIntosh needs is a chance to show his explosiveness. He is already known as a running back with receiver skills. Kelly has long shown a penchant for finding such players opportunities. See: Theo Riddick, C.J. Prosise and Amir Carlisle.

Time in the return game would not only give McIntosh that initial opportunity, but it would also give him reason to believe in his future in the program. As of now, he is buried on the depth chart at both running back and receiver, and in both instances, playing time is not going to be readily available in 2018, either. Showing McIntosh a path toward making an impact may be crucial moving forward.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: (theoretically) Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 46: (theoretically) Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 40: (theoretically) Drew White, linebacker

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 40 (theoretically) Drew White, linebacker

@Drew_white11
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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1, 220 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll; four years of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: With a duo of veterans manning one linebacker spot (senior captain Greer Martini and junior Te’von Coney) and stalwart senior Nyles Morgan at the other, any youth in the Irish linebacker corps will likely have to wait out this season to see many defensive snaps. White is no exception.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, White chose Notre Dame from a lengthy offer list including the likes of LSU, Michigan and Ohio State.

QUOTE(S)
Irish coach Brian Kelly used the usual array of buzzwords to describe White and fellow incoming linebacker David Adams (on left in above picture, alongside White) on National Signing Day.

“We have two that are instinctive, tough, smart,” Kelly said. “Those are the three things that stand out with David Adams and Drew White.

“Drew, out of St. Thomas Aquinas [in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.], comes from a winning program. He’s a winner … Competitive, smart, instinctive linebackers. It just adds to what we’re looking for from a defensive perspective. Really, really excited in having them on our football team.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN WHITE’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED

Every review of White seems to begin with the cliché football term, ‘tackler.’ At some point, if enough people call you a horse, you should buy a saddle. White finds his way to the ball, makes the tackles and stays involved constantly.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Every tackle White records on defense should register with some amount of surprise. There are simply too many established veterans ahead of him for White to see much, if any, playing time this season on that side of the ball.

But that does not mean a year spent preserving eligibility is on the horizon. It does not even mean White will not log tackles.

Notre Dame’s lack of defensive depth stood out in spring practice whenever the view turned to special teams. Most pertinently, Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian lamented the dearth of available bodies for his kick and punt coverage units. White could be a prime candidate to help out in those regards, and given his penchant for finding the ballcarrier, he could tally as many as 10 tackles, which, given only a smattering of chances, is actually a notable figure.

The transfer of junior Josh Barajas (to FCS-level Illinois State) does open an opportunity for White to see some mop-up duty at linebacker, but sophomores Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones (no relation) would theoretically be ahead of White in those spots.

DOWN THE ROAD
The upside of the slim chance of seeing genuine action in 2017 due to starting upperclassmen is those veterans will not be around for long. Coney will presumably start next year, but a spot will be open alongside of him, and then his position will be up for grabs in 2019.

White joins a depth chart lacking a frontrunner for those duties. If his tackling habits of the past continue in college — and special teams would give White an excellent chance to showcase them early — White could quickly find himself at least in a linebacker rotation next year, especially after considering the increasing likelihood Jamir Jones moves to the defensive line in a year, when the Irish coaches are more comfortable with White and Adams providing necessary depth at linebacker.


Aside from the five early enrollees, the numbers are not yet confirmed for the Irish freshmen class. That is one of the admitted drawbacks to organizing this summer-long series numerically. But a little bit of educated guessing can garner estimates for those numbers, and those estimates can allow the series to proceed without pause.

How are those estimates crafted? The first step is to take a look at certain NCAA rules, but the NCAA does not put recommendations on defensive players, broadening White’s options. Looking at the Irish roster, slotting White in shortly after Nos. 44 and 45, Jamir and Jonathan Jones, respectively, seems fitting.

Drew White very well may not wear No. 40, but it is possible.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: (theoretically) Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 46: (theoretically) Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 235 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Okwara fills in behind classmate Daelin Hayes at defensive end, providing the Irish an additional pass-rush threat should Hayes ever need a breather. A third sophomore, Ade Ogundeji, keeps the pressure on Okwara to perform.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, Okwara chose Notre Dame over offers from Clemson, Georgia and his homestate North Carolina. Rivals listed Okwara as the No. 18 defensive end in the class of 2016 and No. 17 recruit in North Carolina.

CAREER TO DATE
Okwara made four tackles over 11 games in his freshman season, not seeing action in only the season finale against USC.

QUOTE(S)
Throughout spring practice, Irish coach Brian Kelly insisted the defensive line had more depth and talent than most outside the program believed. He pointed to Okwara and his continued development as a prime example of that disparity in perception.

“I haven’t changed the way that I feel about the guys that we have up front that can do some things and disrupt the quarterback,” Kelly said. “… Julian Okwara is coming on and giving us the kind of edge presence that we expected.”

Though Okwara finished the Blue-Gold Game with only one tackle, Kelly’s initial impressions of the sophomore’s performance were positive.

“I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge,” Kelly said immediately after the spring finale.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Will an Okwara be able to redshirt in South Bend? I say yes. That would’ve been helpful for Romeo, who played as a 17-year-old freshman still learning the game. It will be helpful for Julian as well, though he could help chase down the quarterbacks if he’s able to specialize in certain packages.

“But for Okwara to do that, he’ll need to move ahead of fellow classmate Daelin Hayes and find playing time over veteran options like Andrew Trumbetti. The better move would be to spend the season getting bigger with Paul Longo and then see what the defensive front looks like with Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell graduated.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Hayes was the talk of spring practice, and deservedly so. The flipside of that hype is it diminishes Okwara’s likelihood of impact this season. That said, Hayes will not man the edge for every snap. Keeping fresh pass-rushers is a luxury Notre Dame can enjoy thanks to the triumvirate of sophomore rush ends — a quartet when including Khalid Kareem on the other side of the line — and Okwara is a vital piece of that.

Knowing he will have those opportunities, Okwara will also know if he makes the most of them, more will be afforded to him. He may not surpass Hayes this year in snaps or production, but providing a tangible complement would mean the Irish pass rush really has improved immensely, something perhaps most notable if it results in exceeding last year’s disappointing total of 14 sacks.

DOWN THE ROAD
When Okwara’s older brother, Romeo, first arrived at Notre Dame, his lack of time playing football was both apparent and something of a hindrance. While he did contribute early in his collegiate career, it was clear by the end he was nowhere near his ceiling. That additional development has been only more obvious with Romeo’s NFL success.

Julian entered college not as far behind a typical trajectory, having moved to the United States in third grade, gaining three years of gridiron exposure his brother did not have. Thus, a season spent preserving eligibility is not as vital to Julian’s trajectory as it could have been for Romeo’s.

A year from now, Trumbetti will be out of eligibility and senior Jay Hayes will have only one season remaining, and he has yet to fortify a claim based on seniority, anyway. If Okwara performs when spelling Daelin Hayes (no relation to Jay) this season, he could be in prime position to start on the opposite side of the line in 2018.

In that scenario, the Irish could suddenly have two dynamic, speedy and athletic ends chasing the quarterback at one time. That may seem an outlandish concept, but a notable step forward from Okwara this fall would indicate such an idyllic possibility may be coming down the line.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95 (theoretically): Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 94 (theoretically): Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92 (theoretically): Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90 (theoretically): Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87 (theoretically): Jafar Armstrong, receiver
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84 (theoretically): Michael Young, receiver
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 73: (theoretically) Josh Lugg, offensive tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 65: (theoretically) Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 52: (theoretically) Jonathan Doerer, kicker
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: (theoretically) Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 46: (theoretically) Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship