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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season.
Depth chart: Amid a talented and deep cornerback group, Love stands as the top option and the likely starter at the field position, theoretically the more difficult cornerback spot since that defender does not have the luxury of a nearby sideline to limit the area available. With senior Nick Watkins the frontrunner to start at the boundary position, the Irish have three other corners more than capable of filling in with junior Shaun Crawford and sophomores Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride.
Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star prospect, Notre Dame targeted the Chicago-area product early, gaining Love’s commitment more than 10 months before National Signing Day over a number of offers from other Midwestern schools such as Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois. Rivals rated Love the No. 21 cornerback in the class of 2016 and the No. 4 prospect in Illinois.

CAREER TO DATE
Love saw action in all 12 games last season with starts in the final eight games. Including nine tackles in the finale against USC, Love made 45 tackles, two tackles for loss and forced one fumble (out of the hands of Trojans punt returner Adoree’ Jackson), recovered one fumble and made one interception.

QUOTE(S)
As many viable options as the Irish appear to have at cornerback, they have that few proven commodities at safety. With that in mind, it is conceivable, if not even likely, Love seems some time at the center of the defensive backfield this season. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly hinted at that discussion the week before the Blue-Gold Game when acknowledging some of the unease at safety.

“We’ve got some flexibility with maybe another corner giving us down-and-distance work back on the safety positon, as well,” Kelly said, never mentioning Love by name. “If it’s third down, we’ve got five corners and we like our corners. We can insert a corner and maybe one of those corners can go back and play half [the snaps at safety]. Not a run-fit guy, but maybe a half-fit player.

“When we’re talking about those situations, we’re talking about maybe playing two-man and playing half over the top, a ball hawk, a guy that can play the ball in the air, a smart guy. …

“There’s only going to be one guy that we can look to moving back there, and again, it will be in a specialty situation.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“The limited ceiling that comes with modest offers and a three-star ranking likely serves as fuel for a player like Love. That’s a big reason why I don’t think he’ll redshirt. Like [former Notre Dame receiver-turned-linebacker James] Onwualu, who found a way into the starting lineup at receiver, Love will carve out some role on this team.

“The logical one is special teams. Even if he’s a kick-cover guy now instead of a returner, Brian Kelly’s small-school DNA makes him love all-around football players, and while Love certainly isn’t the freakiest athlete of the recruiting cycle, he might be one of the best football players.”

Two quick notes to Keith’s analysis from a year ago: The 2016 A-to-Z entry for Julian Love was published July 14, long before setbacks and injuries ravaged the Irish cornerback depth chart. Hence, Keith’s projection of special teams work was not as inherently inaccurate as it may seem now. Secondly, one has to wonder if Keith meant to make a pun in the second sentence of that last paragraph.

2017 OUTLOOK
The downside of excelling as a freshman is the expectations it sets up for the subsequent sophomore. If Love struggles early in the season, it does not mean 2016 was a blip. It means he is still a college sophomore learning a new defensive system.

Will he struggle? There is no reason to think so. Love played well from the outset last year, and never offered the other cornerbacks much hope this spring at usurping him from the starter’s role. He should start against Temple and every game the rest of the way, barring injury.

If insistent on numbers, a jump to 70-plus tackles and multiple interceptions would be reasonable, but keep in mind tackles from defensive backs are not necessarily good things. As much as they may indicate a nose for the ball, they may also indicate shoddy pass defense. If Love finishes the year with only 25 tackles, but the Irish pass defense held up strong, that is preferable to 75 takedowns and multiple allowed touchdowns.

Kelly’s talk of Love seeing time at safety would further deplete those tackle numbers, but could help the interception totals. Kelly wants an aggressive but proven pass defender at the back of his defense when a pass is certainly coming. Love fits that bill.

DOWN THE ROAD
Pick an adjective: possible, potential, probable.

Thanks to last year’s success, Love is a [insert chosen adjective here] four-year starter. His stature may preclude him from actively considering an early entry into the NFL Draft, though continued rapid development could change that sentiment. Either way, it is getting a bit ahead.

Love, Vaughn and Pride are the future of the Irish secondary, along with sophomore safeties Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott, though the safety duo is not anywhere near as far along. Love will lead the group both on and off the field, and in doing so, lead the defense.

Projecting his career totals and draft positioning are fool’s errands, but it seems quite certain to predict Love will start all four of his collegiate years and serve at least the last one as a Notre Dame captain.


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. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
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. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9, 179 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: The week of the Blue-Gold Game, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Fertitta is the second boundary safety, behind only sophomore Jalen Elliott. Early enrolled-freshman Isaiah Robertson could soon continue on a trajectory to supplant Fertitta one slot further.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Fertitta joined high school classmate and teammate Alizé Jones (né Mack) in choosing Notre Dame. A U.S. Army All-American, Fertitta also had offers from Arizona, Houston and Utah, among others. Rivals.com rated him the No. 54 safety in the class of 2015 and the No. 4 prospect in Nevada.

CAREER TO DATE
Fertitta has seen action in 23 of 25 possible games, including all 12 last season.

2015: 11 games, largely seeing action on special teams, making one tackle and forcing a fumble with it against Massachusetts.
2016: 12 games, 17 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss (against Navy), two pass break-ups.

QUOTE(S)
In addition to evaluating the safety depth chart before the spring finale, Kelly insisted Fertitta would play in the publicized practice despite having a cast protecting his left wrist.

“You couldn’t keep him out,” Kelly said. “He’d do a Ronnie Lott. He’d probably chop it off.”

For those unfamiliar with the reference, NFL Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott once opted to amputate his broken pinkie finger rather than spend the time necessary to go through surgery and rehab.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I expect Fertitta to play in all 13 games, but only take snaps on defense in mop-up duty. Unless injuries hit, [current senior rover Drue] Tranquill should be in the starting lineup with Avery Sebastian supplementing him. At free safety, [Max] Redfield will be competing with [current sophomore] Devin Studstill, with a very large hole behind those two players.

“If Fertitta looked and played the game like a centerfielder, that’s where I’d have him penciled in. But he’s a mini-Tranquill, with physical limitations also hindering his ability to be a single-high safety, making him a better fit at strong safety.

“As long as there’s a hole in the depth chart at safety, you’ve got to give Fertitta a chance to see the field. And as long as there are multiple sub-packages and schemes being deployed by [former Irish defensive coordinator] Brian VanGorder, there’s always a chance that a sure tackler like Fertitta can find a role. But it just feels like there are other options available that’ll better suit what VanGorder and [defensive backs coach] Todd Lyght want from their secondary, leaving coverage teams the likely home for Fertitta in 2016 and beyond.

2017 OUTLOOK
More than speed or physicality, it is Fertitta’s height, or lack thereof, which limits him in pass defense. Opponents can throw over him. Kick and punt returners do not have that option, and they are thus forced to encounter Fertitta’s preference for hitting and hitting hard.

If nothing else, he will continue to rack up coverage tackles while helping special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s short-handed units. Anything more than that role will come from wrinkles deployed by defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

Fertitta understands the game and is happy to remind bigger opponents he may be just as strong as them. In run-specific situations, there is certainly a fit for such a mentality. It was that approach which led to Fertitta injuring USC running back Ada’Cedric Ware in the 2016 season finale. The fumble forced on the play was nullified by a targeting call, but Fertitta’s impact was noticed.

That targeting call, since it occurred in the second half of the last game of the season, will keep Fertitta out for the first half of this year’s season-opener against Temple.

DOWN THE ROAD
Don’t be surprised to see Fertitta exceed 50 tackles over the next two seasons combined. The vast majority of those will admittedly come on special teams, but stopping an opponent three yards sooner than a teammate could is three yards of field position preserved whether it is on special teams or defense.

Robertson and classmate Jordan Genmark-Heath only add to the depth chart which will likely cap Fertitta’s defensive opportunities both this year and in 2018.


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. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, 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. 29 Kevin Stepherson, receiver

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 180 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: Based on spring practice, Stepherson is third on the depth chart at the X, or field, position behind juniors Equanimeous St. Brown and Chris Finke. In some respects, the emergence of junior Miles Boykin at the W, or boundary, position threatened Stepherson’s playing time as much as any other development, as it created an opportunity for St. Brown to move to the field rather than have to run the boundary routes more likely to draw double coverage.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Stepherson became a valued target once the Irish coaching staff saw his speed in person. Despite his low ratings — rivals.com slotted Stepherson as the No. 66 receiver in the class of 2016 and the No. 58 prospect in Florida — he received offers from the big programs throughout the south, including his homestate Florida, Miami and LSU.

CAREER TO DATE
After enrolling early, Stepherson’s speed made it clear he would see playing time as a freshman, and he did indeed despite being involved in the late-August arrests which led to the dismissal of safety Max Redfield. Perhaps most notably, Stepherson caught three passes for 72 yards and a score against Duke and five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown versus Army.

2016: 12 games, 25 receptions for 462 yards and five trips to pay dirt.

Behind St. Brown and then-senior, now-playing-minor-league-baseball Torii Hunter, Stepherson was Notre Dame’s third-leading receiver last year.

QUOTE(S)
Cue the speculation. Stepherson’s performance last season would seem to dictate he spend this spring running with the starters, yet he was most often seen with the third-string. Some of that may be attributable to new offensive coordinator Chip Long apparently having a predilection for large receivers, such as the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Boykin and 6-foot-4 ½, 224-pound sophomore Chase Claypool (at the Z, or slot, position) to go along with the 6-foot-5, 204-pound St. Brown. Some of that drop down the depth chart may also be tied to unconfirmed off-field items.

After the very first spring practice, Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated Stepherson was simply yielding snaps to players who needed more opportunities to learn the positions.

“It’s really too early to read into first-, second-, third-[team] because we’re moving some guys around,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to put Kevin in a position where he’s got to learn a couple of different positions. It’s by virtue of moving other guys to that X position and giving them reps that Kevin already knows the X position. It’s not that he’s the third. We’re trying to get some other guys work over there.”

Toward the end of spring practice, Kelly also acknowledged Stepherson was struggling with a hamstring injury.

“It’s been a lingering hamstring that has not responded quite well,” Kelly said. “It was pulled again. We’re treating it pretty aggressively with anti-inflammatories. He has not needed PRP but he just hasn’t been right, he hasn’t been 100 percent.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
This is the part where I remind you that even [former Notre Dame receiver] Will Fuller wasn’t Will Fuller during his freshman season. He was a gangly kid who caught a couple deep balls among his six grabs as a rookie.

“Stepherson is going to eclipse those numbers. He might even challenge for a starting job. But it’s just too much of a leap to predict a monster season from Stepherson, even if the entire starting receiving corps is being replaced and the Florida native seems primed for a key role.

“I’m setting the standard for Stepherson high — but only to a point. If Stepherson is going to share time in the lot, he’s got a chance to put up numbers at least equal to the last true freshman who jumped into an unproven depth chart — TJ Jones.

“Jones had 23 grabs and three touchdowns as a rookie. I think Stepherson is going to eclipse that, but maybe not by much.”

2017 OUTLOOK
For this exercise, let’s presume whatever item or items plaguing Stepherson this spring are history come Sept. 2 (60 days from now, by the way). If they aren’t, the outlook for this season is simple: sporadic playing time, if any, leading to widespread frustration.

The Irish are surprisingly deep at receiver. Aside from the three large targets projected to start, Finke has proven to be a shifty threat, junior C.J. Sanders has speed that may not quite exceed Stepherson’s but still should be noted, and sophomore Javon McKinley received praise throughout the spring. With Stepherson, that is seven viable contributors before even acknowledging the two incoming graduate transfers, Freddy Canteen from Michigan and Cam Smith from Arizona State. Both undoubtedly expect chances to play — that is why they transferred, after all — and both are known for speed.

Thus, Stepherson falling down the depth chart could be entirely football-related in the long-term. A perk of that depth, though, is even the second- and third-stringers should get chances. Cycling in fresh legs furthers Long’s hopes of an up-tempo approach.

The best-case scenario for Stepherson individually would be he forces his way into playing time, perhaps to Boykin’s detriment, perhaps Claypool’s. He will almost certainly not play often in the boundary position. Stepherson’s speed is best-utilized to take the top off the secondary. Allowing a safety to simply play over the top toward the sideline compromises that approach. If able to cut loose in the field, however, Stepherson could quickly build on last year’s numbers, perhaps finishing with 35 catches and 600 yards.

The worst-case scenario for Stepherson would be Long’s big-body tactic takes hold and the sophomore speedster is called upon only infrequently. Even then, he will need to outpace the likes of Sanders and Smith to claim the deep threat priority.

DOWN THE ROAD
The depth at receiver is a luxury to be enjoyed while it lasts. Perhaps St. Brown heads to the NFL after this season — it is not an outlandish prospect. Smith will be out of eligibility. That could be it for natural attrition. When factoring in the freshmen joining the group, Notre Dame will still have more receivers than logical chances.

If Stepherson finds chances to contribute this season, then that disparity in years to come may rise to the chagrin of other options. If he does not, he may be the disgruntled one.

Retaining dynamic talents from Florida has long been a perilous task for the Irish. This is by no means to say Stepherson will head that direction. It is to say, such could be a distinct possibility.

But a few long touchdowns this year could quickly convince Stepherson and all other involved parties his floor moving forward is similar to former Notre Dame receiver Chris Brown’s ceiling. Brown was always incorporated into the offensive plan, even if it did not always result in piles of stats. The threat of Brown’s speed alone was enough to worry defenses, and in that way he was a consistent contributor.


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. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
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. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Freshman; four years of eligibility remaining
Depth chart: Owusu-Koramoah’s late recruitment was largely a symptom of new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko identifying him as a potential rover for the coming years. This season, senior captain Drue Tranquill will likely take most of the snaps at rover with junior Asmar Bilal filling in against more physical, run-based opponents. Owusu-Koramoah would theoretically be the next option, especially after junior linebacker Josh Barajas’ transfer to FCS-level Illinois State.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Owusu-Koramoah originally committed to Virginia before shifting to a decision between Notre Dame and Michigan State. The No. 40 linebacker in the class, per rivals.com, and No. 18 recruit in Virginia, he chose the Irish the afternoon of National Signing Day, quite literally calling coach Brian Kelly to inform him of such while Kelly was meeting with the media.

QUOTE(S)
The National Signing Day call was certainly pre-arranged to some extent, but Kelly’s relief in announcing Owusu-Koramoah’s commitment was still palpable, especially considering he could play at safety if needed, and Notre Dame was troublesomely light in defensive back recruits in the 2017 haul. Owusu-Koramoah’s late inclusion doubled the total in the Irish class.

“Another one of those guys that really fit what we were looking for, especially in coach Elko’s defense,” Kelly said. “That safety position that can come down close to the line of scrimmage, plays physical.

“We hosted [Owusu-Koramoah] with [now-senior linebacker] Nyles Morgan. When you host somebody, you want them to see Notre Dame and see the social aspects. These guys didn’t leave the film room. I mean it, it was like they were joined at the hip for six hours just talking football. That’s the kind of kid he is. He loves football. He’s going to be a great addition to the Notre Dame football family.”

WHAT WE SAID WHEN OWUSU-KORAMOAH’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
Owusu-Koramoah not only picked Notre Dame over Michigan State, but also de-committed from Virginia to focus on the two Midwestern schools. He fills what had been a huge hole in this recruiting class. Prior to his commitment, only Jordan Genmark-Heath represented the defensive backfield in the class of 2017. Really, another would have been preferable — perhaps a cornerback to complement the two safeties — but bringing in two this cycle is acceptable, rather than an intimidating shortcoming.

“Owusu-Koramoah may project as a ‘rover,’ a crucial piece in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Tranquill will lead the Irish defense this year from the rover position. The discussion of playing Bilal against teams such as Georgia, Michigan State and Stanford is valid in theory, but don’t be surprised to see Tranquill still taking the majority of the snaps in those games.

Owusu-Koramoah will not be in the conversation, barring injury. But as a freshman learning the keystone duties in Elko’s defense, a season’s delay is both understandable and productive in its own right.

He could, however, be involved in special teams. Coordinator Brian Polian would be thrilled to have a physical athlete with good speed to send after kick and punt returners. This may seem a small role to use up a season of eligibility, but the Irish special team units have needed to improve the last few seasons. Using what tools you have to do such is an easy choice to make.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Owusu-Koramoah takes to the rover position in the long-term, Elko’s first Notre Dame recruiting cycle—only a few weeks of one, at that—will have been a grand success. Owusu-Koramoah was brought in specifically to serve as the linebacker/safety hybrid Elko relies on. Even with Tranquill holding those duties through the 2018 season, Owusu-Koramoah will have his chance once he has a grip on the scheme as a whole.


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 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will wear No. 30.


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. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
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. 32 D.J. Morgan, safety

Rivals.com
7 Comments

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 208 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Morgan stands behind three other options at the boundary safety position, one of which had only this spring to make impression enough to move up the depth chart. Sophomore Jalen Elliott is the likely starter, backed up by early-enrolled freshman Isaiah Robertson and junior Nicco Feritta.

Recruiting: A rivals.com four-star recruit, Morgan committed to Notre Dame rather than Arizona State, Cal or Colorado, among others. His primary Sun Devil recruiter was Del Alexander, now the Irish receivers coach. Rivals rated Morgan the No. 23 safety in the class of 2016 and the No. 47 prospect in California.

CAREER TO DATE
Morgan preserved a year of eligibility in 2016.

QUOTE(S)
The only recent mention of Morgan came in a quick discussion of the safety depth chart from Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly the week of the Blue-Gold Game. Kelly indicated Morgan was on the same level as Robertson in regards to deserving playing time.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
If the Irish need special teamers, Morgan is an immediate plug-and-play option. If they want to spend a year developing him as an understudy, a redshirt makes sense. If Morgan catches on to the position like [current sophomore] Devin Studstill did, he can compete for time behind [current senior] Drue Tranquill. If he doesn’t, saving the year makes sense.

“Expecting a major impact by Morgan is setting the bar too high. But if he can be part of Scott Booker’s special teams core and help provide depth behind Tranquill and sixth-year safety Avery Sebastian, Morgan will join classmates Spencer Perry and Jalen Elliott as first-year lettermen right away.”

2017 OUTLOOK
An inability to climb this particular safety depth chart puts a rather staunch ceiling on Morgan’s short-term future. Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko is desperate for a contributor on the defensive backline. The opportunity is there, and was all spring, yet Morgan did not force himself into the conversation.

With that in mind, Notre Dame special teams coordinator Brian Polian will undoubtedly be happy to have a physical player at his disposal. Morgan should contribute on special teams this year. That is not necessarily a sentence to irrelevance. If he makes some plays in that third of the game, Elko and Kelly will have to take notice.

DOWN THE ROAD
Of the three safeties ahead of him on the boundary side of the depth chart, it should be noted Elliott has three more years of eligibility and Robertson has as much eligibility as Morgan does. Not moving up the ranks this spring bodes poorly for Morgan’s chances in the coming years, especially as more players join the ranks.

If Morgan shines on special teams this year, making plays in games will lead to conversations among the coaches about giving him a chance to do such with the defense. If he does not, however, Morgan may need to make a position change in order to find playing time.

With that in mind, he projects as a possible candidate at rover. Tranquill has two years of eligibility remaining, but no particular backup has distanced himself from the rest. Junior Asmar Bilal is touted as the run-stopping option at rover, but that is both a small niche and an unproven aspect. In seasons to come, Morgan could find playing time at rover an easier commodity to make a reality than it is for him at safety.


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. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
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