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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 229 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season.
Depth chart: For the time being, Bilal slots in behind senior Drue Tranquill as the second option at the rover position in defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s system. Despite that backup status, Bilal should see plenty of action against run-oriented opponents.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Bilal chose Notre Dame over Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska, among many other offers. A U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rated Bilal the No. 17 linebacker in the class of 2015, the No. 4 prospect in Indiana and the No. 246 overall player in the country.

CAREER TO DATE
Bilal preserved a year of eligibility in 2015 before seeing action in all 12 games last season. In the first third of the season, that action was largely, nearly entirely, on special teams, but after defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s dismissal, Bilal earned a more active role on defense, highlighted by making five tackles against Stanford.

2015: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2016: 12 games, 29 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack (v. Miami).

QUOTE(S)
Throughout spring practice, the role of the rover gained more definition, and with that, Bilal’s projection became more clear as the physical counterpart there in a rotation with Tranquill. Specifically, Irish coach Brian Kelly noted the rushing tendencies of Notre Dame’s first four opponents, possibly necessitating an influx of Bilal in September.

“We think Asmar is a guy that physically can run with most detached tight ends or backs coming out in the role we’re going to ask the rover to match up,” Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “We’re not going to ask him to run vertically or play corner routes. We think he’s a physical guy at the point of attack, a guy that is agile enough to play in space, yet not put him in a position where he’d have to play more of a safety in that position right now.”

If the Irish safeties struggle to start the season, it is within the realm of possibility Tranquill could move back to that role to provide some veteran leadership on the defense’s back-end, though that is not Notre Dame’s preference. If that were to happen, Bilal’s skill set should hold up just fine at rover, per Kelly.

“We started top-down teaching because we wanted to get Asmar on the field at the rover position,” Kelly said later in March. “We felt like his skill set was such that he could manage handling the position from a skill standpoint.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Bilal looks like a four-unit coverage contributor on special teams from game one. He also has the type of speed and skill that could find a role in a sub-package (remember those?) for VanGorder, if the defense is able to keep enough guys healthy to play multiple schemes.

“The redshirt was the best thing to happen to Bilal in that he’s essentially starting his college career now. We’ve seen too often the difficulties that come with using talented defenders in bit roles, robbing years of eligibility from guys like [former defensive lineman, 2010-13] Kona Schenwke and [former defensive end, 2012-15] Romeo Okwara, removing a fifth-year opportunity that could have really helped all parties involved.

“Positional depth helped save Bilal in 2015. Now he’s going to need to be part of the solution in 2016, when a new cast of characters needs to step forward and lead with captains Joe Schmidt and [Jaylon] Smith long gone.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Bilal has all the physical tools to demand playing time this season, provided a grasp of Elko’s playbook — that disclaimer is not Bilal-specific, simply a reality of bringing in a new coordinator. The biggest reason he may not be a primary contributor on defense in 2017 is the three starting linebackers (when lumping the rover in with the linebackers) are all established senior captains in Tranquill, Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.

Simply due to the need to understand the rover’s duties, Bilal will not be the first option considered to spell Morgan or Martini. He will, however, step in for Tranquill whenever necessary. That should be the bare minimum of expectations of Bilal this fall.

The opposite end of that spectrum begins with Bilal excelling against the ground attacks of Temple and, even more so, Georgia. If he plays a vital part of shutting down the Bulldogs imposing and heralded duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel while also showing more than competence in the passing game, Bilal could make it imperative he become the top option at rover.

The reality will likely be somewhere between those two extremes, perhaps something along the lines of 45 tackles, highlighted by seven or eight against Georgia and Stanford each.

DOWN THE ROAD
Tranquill has two years of eligibility remaining, including the 2017 season. By the time 2019 rolls around, current freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah should be ready to take over at the position he was recruited specifically for. By no means, though, does that leave Bilal as an odd man out.

Rather, Bilal could use this season’s exposure as a foundation to work his way into the mix at middle or boundary linebacker following the departure of both Morgan and Martini following this season. The Irish currently lack depth at linebacker—aside from Morgan and Martini, only junior Te’von Coney presents much experience before getting to sophomore Jonathan Jones and freshmen David Adams and Drew White.

Provided Morgan’s and Martini’s careers of relative health, that dearth of depth is not an overwhelming concern in the short-term, but it will spark worry moving forward. If Bilal is able to step into Morgan’s role in a year, allowing Coney to fill in for Martini just as he will when necessary this season, that stressor may be readily reduced.


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. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
No. 26: Ashton White, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety
No. 23: Drue Tranquill, rover

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. 23 Drue Tranquill, rover

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 230 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Senior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season. Tranquill is eligible for a fifth year because his season-ending injury in 2015 occurred in only the third game of the year, making that season eligible for a medical redshirt by NCAA standards.
Depth chart: Tranquill will take the majority of the snaps at the rover position, the preferred wrinkle of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. Despite that status, it is possible Tranquill does not start against Temple in 55 days. Irish coach Brian Kelly has indicated the defense may utilize junior Asmar Bilal’s size against the Owls and other run-dominant opponents in the season’s first month.
Recruiting: Tranquill flipped his commitment from Purdue to Notre Dame after Kelly assured him the rivals.com three-star prospect would have a chance at playing safety in South Bend. The No. 32 safety in the country and No. 6 recruit in Indiana, per Rivals, Tranquill also held offers from the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

CAREER TO DATE
Two season-ending ACL tears may be the most notable moments of Tranquill’s career, but he did make it through 2016 unscathed, starting all 12 games while making 79 tackles, good for second on the team behind now-senior linebacker Nyles Morgan.

2014: 11 games, three starts, 33 tackles, one tackle for loss, ½ sack, one forced fumble, one blocked punt, one interception v. Louisville, one interception celebration resulting in a fluke knee injury.
2015: three games, nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, one knee injury following an end zone pass breakup against Georgia Tech.
2016: 12 games, 12 starts, 79 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception.

QUOTE(S)
As the spring progressed and a better understanding of Elko’s rover was gained, it was clear Tranquill both fits the position and enjoys it.

“I love the rover position,” he said following the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s a versatile position that allows you to come off the edge, allows you to play the run, play the pass and do a lot of different things.”

Kelly had a similar sentiment following Tranquill’s four-tackle, two-tackles for loss performance.

“It’s been a good fit all spring,” Kelly said. “He’s a plus player there for us. He can really impact what’s happening from snap to snap. He’s a physical player and playing low to the ball is really where he can do a lot of really good things for us.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
If he can stay healthy, I expect Tranquill to be one of the most productive players on the Irish defense Think of him as a super-sized version of Matthias Farley from 2014. He will fill up the stat sheet.

“Knock on wood that he stays healthy, because if he does I expect Tranquill to be the most productive safety of [former defensive coordinator Brian] VanGorder era at Notre Dame. He’s going to be one of the team’s leading tackler[s] in front of and behind the line of scrimmage.

“Does that mean he’ll be great in coverage? No. But if he’s able to wreak havoc as a guy running the alley and crashing towards the line of scrimmage, he’s got a chance to be a real difference maker.”

It is worth noting a piece of what Keith predicted for Tranquill’s career back in the 2014 A-to-Z entry, a very prescient prediction: “… the Irish landed a unique athlete that’ll start his career at safety but looks to have the ability to grow into a linebacker.”

2017 OUTLOOK
Tranquill’s greatest struggles as a safety came in covering deep. For all his athletic traits — strong, solidly built, quick first step — he is not exceptionally fleet of foot. At rover, that should not be as much of a concern, at least not in theory.

The rover won’t be covering deep. It should be as simple as that. Sure, an occasional unexpected go route here or there is always possible, but by and large, Tranquill will have two safeties behind him providing both support and speed, rather than him being one of those two safeties.

One has to wonder what consequence follows removing that concern from Tranquill’s mind. Already an instinctual player, he should have no encumbrance remaining as he flies to the ball. Lining him up next to Morgan will put two physical, proven tacklers in the middle of the defense. If nothing else, it will be intriguing to see which finishes the season as the Irish leading tackler, a title without reward but a notable one, nonetheless.

DOWN THE ROAD
Tranquill is in position to be a two-time captain for Notre Dame, with him one of six already for this coming season. That will presumably be true whether the rover position fits him as well as expected or not. The Indiana native has worked through two season-ending knee injuries/surgeries without ever complaining, remaining a valued locker room presence throughout. Some may write that off as mindless praises, but it is more than that, and it is certainly viable claim to a captainship.

On the field, 2018 should bring more of 2017 from Tranquill, presuming health, as one always has to when looking at a player with Tranquill’s injury past.


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. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
No. 26: Ashton White, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety

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. 24 Nick Coleman, safety

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 187 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: In switching from cornerback to safety this offseason, Coleman went from buried on the depth chart to the top of the ranks. Among the field safeties, Coleman leads sophomore Devin Studstill and junior Ashton White, in that order. Freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath could join their ranks, but it is unlikely he challenges Coleman for the starting nod.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit as a cornerback even though he excelled at running back throughout high school, Coleman chose Notre Dame over the likes of Michigan State, Boston College and Indiana.

CAREER TO DATE
Coleman gained notice quickly, making two tackles against Texas in the season-opener of his freshman season. A year later, he started against Texas before a rough September in coverage quickly relegated him to special teams duties and otherwise the bench.

2015: 13 games, five tackles, two passes defended against Massachusetts in an Irish rout.
2016: 11 games, two starts, 17 tackles, one tackle for loss.

QUOTE(S)
When it came to discussing Coleman’s switch from cornerback to safety, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s comments progressed through the spring. In mid-March, Kelly praised Coleman’s ball skills and athleticism, but expressed a need for better tackling from the junior. By early April, Kelly’s primary concern was Coleman’s overall comprehension of the defense. One could argue a learning curve should be expected from any player making a position switch as well as any player working under a new defensive coordinator. Coleman fit both those billings.

Between those two broad assessments, Kelly went a bit more in-depth.

“Our evaluation of Nick Coleman is that he’s going to be a dynamic player at the position,” he said. “We all know that he possesses the athletic ability. We want to see if he can translate the other skills at the safety position, i.e. tackling, picking up the scheme in terms of how you play off the hash.

“Based upon what we’ve seen through seven practices, he won’t be moving to another position. For me to tell you today that he’s our starter, he’s our guy, we need more body of work, but he won’t be moving anywhere else. He’ll be at safety.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman enters camp as a name Brian Kelly points to as an ascending player. That might be a motivational tactic to help boost Coleman’s confidence (or send a message to the others competing for time at that position), but it also could point to a breakout season for a young player that has the ability to be an impact player.

“Avoiding the big mistake is job one for Coleman. In his most expansive playing time, Coleman was on the wrong end of a long touchdown against UMass. Nobody cares if you play the slant aggressively if you’re getting beat for six points over the top.

“Coleman also needs to stay in the mix as talented true freshmen like Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn arrive, along with redshirt Ashton White. He also should look to find a niche, there’s nickel and dime work available even if he’s playing behind [then-sophomore] Shaun Crawford and [then-junior] Nick Watkins.

“Ultimately, Notre Dame needs at least three good cornerbacks to be a competent secondary. Coleman already seems comfortably in the top four, and I think he’ll establish himself as a solid rotational player during his sophomore season.”

2017 OUTLOOK
The position switch will not remedy Coleman’s struggles from 2016. Then again, it probably doesn’t need to. A pessimist would say Coleman was exposed in coverage. An optimist would say a rash of defensive back injuries forced a young player into situations he was not ready for. A realist might point out Coleman struggled a year ago, but has had plenty of time to learn from that experience.

As much as anything else, moving to safety was about giving Coleman a chance at playing time. The Irish have plenty of talented cornerbacks. Coleman was not at the top of that ranking, but the coaching staff has envisioned ways to utilize his athleticism for three years now. They were not going to let it waste away on the sidelines. Instead, it should plug in well on the back-end of the defense.

In the end, Coleman may not start. He appears to have the lead on Studstill, but those things can be fluid. That is before even factoring in the possible, if unlikely, eligibility of sophomore Navy transfer Alohi Gilman.

If Coleman does start, and gets through September without being beat deep too many times, he should provide stability at a position sorely lacking it. As much as Notre Dame’s defensive line has been questioned over the last eight months, its safety grouping is as much a concern. Coleman finding success there would do wonders for reducing those worries.

DOWN THE ROAD
One way or another, Gilman will be eligible in 2018. At that point, he will have about as much playing experience as whoever starts at safety this year, even without playing in 2017. With that in mind, Coleman should not feel comfortable about his future even if he starts and succeeds in 14 games this season.

That said, Coleman’s athleticism is not a mere buzzword. For a high school running back to be trusted as a cornerback to start a season is an accomplishment, no matter what injuries led to the occurrence or what resulted shortly thereafter. Coleman showed enough to earn that gig, just like this spring he showed enough to take the pole position at field safety. That athleticism will keep Coleman in the mix.


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. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
No. 26: Ashton White, 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

Friday at 4: Kelly’s ‘most-potent offense yet’

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Let’s conclude the Phil Steele preview portion of the summer with a look at Notre Dame’s offense. It should not take too long.

Why not? Well, for one thing, football season is still eight weeks away. Time in July may be better spent pondering how San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills secured a $50 million contract in an NBA enjoying an influx of point guards. Let’s all take confidence from that deal — ceilings are reachable, peaks attainable, unexpected successes achievable.

For that matter, Steele’s projection for the Irish offense hinges almost entirely on one particular player reaching his individual ceiling for the season. That may have seemed to be a forced transition, but it genuinely did develop organically,

When Steele claims this could be Brian Kelly’s “most-potent offense yet,” he stakes that claim on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush successfully utilizing the talent around him. In ranking individual position groupings, Steele puts every Notre Dame offensive group in the country’s top-10 except for the quarterback, landing at No. 53. If Wimbush can take advantage of those surroundings, Steele fully expects the Irish to exceed 2015’s Kelly-era high of 34.2 points per game.

“He could be a breakout player this year,” Steele said. “I like the surrounding talent around him. A lot of times, that’s a key indicator for a quarterback.

“You take a look at Deondre Francois for Florida State last year. He probably would have had a fantastic year if he hadn’t been running for his life half the game and taking all those hits.”

Wimbush certainly should not be running for his life, playing behind an offensive line Steele considers the country’s No. 6 front, strengthened by projected first-team All-American senior left guard Quenton Nelson and projected second-team All-American fifth-year senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey. With that protection, Wimbush will throw to a receiving corps only bettered by two others in Steele’s eyes (Oklahoma State and Colorado), led by a projected fourth-team All-American in junior Equanimeous St. Brown.

RELATED READING: Friday at 4: ‘They can only get better’ (June 30)
Friday at 4: Under the radar notes on Notre Dame’s opponents (June 23)

If that’s not enough, Steele sees the running back trio of juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones, Jr., as the country’s 10th best set of ballcarriers, largely led by Adams.

“As long as he stays healthy, Adams will easily break 1,000 yards this season.”

Yet it all comes back to Wimbush, a junior who has not started a collegiate game and has thrown a total of five career passes, completing three for 17 yards. Shouldn’t that lack of experience diminish Steele’s high expectations? Won’t growing pains hamper Notre Dame’s attempt to match Steele’s computers’ estimates of 34.3 points per game?

Here, Steele takes a step back, approaching from a macro view to make a valid point.

“People underrate teams with first-year starting quarterbacks,” he said. “After three or four games, you’re experienced. We see first-year quarterbacks have a great deal of success.”

If a quarterback were to start all four years and reach — let’s make this math easy for everyone’s sake—two bowl games during that span, he would play 50 career games. By the end of September, that quarterback would have played 10 percent of his career. The experience does accumulate quickly. (more…)

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 26 Ashton White, safety

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ½, 197 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with three years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: After switching from cornerback to safety, White did not move up the depth chart much, if at all. He is currently the third option at the field safety position, behind junior Nick Coleman and sophomore Devin Studstill with freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath getting ready to possibly pass him next month.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, White originally committed to Virginia Tech before switching his decision to Notre Dame. A Washington, D.C., product, nearby schools who saw White seemed to offer him scholarships quickly, much as the Irish coaches did after seeing White on campus in camp. White chose Notre Dame over the likes of Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio State.

CAREER TO DATE
After preserving a year of eligibility in 2015, White played in six games last season, making two tackles. He played in the year’s first five games, and then only one (Miami) of the final seven.

QUOTE(S)
When defensive coordinator Mike Elko came to join Irish coach Brian Kelly’s staff, the most-frequently asked question hinged around Elko’s rover position, a linchpin of his scheme. Balancing the duties of a linebacker stopping the run and a safety defending the pass, the player lining up at rover could change based on the opponent’s tendencies. With that in mind, Elko included White as a possible option in certain scenarios.

“A lot of that is dictated by who that guy is lined up [against] and what we’re trying to do,” Elko said the day before the Blue-Gold Game. “We’re going to see a lot of really talented slot receivers. We’re going to have to match up and cover them well. There’s names other than the big linebacker/safety bodies to put at that position.

“Nick Coleman has done that some this spring. Ashton White has done that some this spring. … That is all-encompassing in that position.”

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
(Note: White’s 2016 A-to-Z entry came the week immediately following White’s arrest, along with four teammates, in Fulton County, Ind. Safety Max Redfield was quickly dismissed from the team. The discipline of the other four, including White, would be handled within the team, Kelly said.)

I expect White and the other three guys in the car to serve a suspension that’s give-or-take two games And from there, I expect him to fight his way back into the rotation — starting outside the two-deep at cornerback but immediately in the mix on special teams game.

“White plays with a brashness and confidence that you have to appreciate. If he can survive the boneheaded decision he made, I think he’ll take advantage of the second chance and become a situation contributor. But it’s certainly a black mark on his record, and one that makes you wonder about his decision-making skills.”

2017 OUTLOOK
White did not exactly impress last season at cornerback, and the same can largely be said for his spring at safety. Admittedly, that latter half is partly due to Coleman’s surge at safety, repeatedly earning Kelly’s praise — in fact, whenever a question was asked about the two cornerbacks who made the switch, Kelly would spend so much time discussing Coleman’s success, the White portion of the query would be forgotten. It is also partly due to White’s own struggles.

The obvious piece for him this fall would be to aid special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s units. Other than that and a litany of injuries, though, it is hard to see him finding much playing time. If Notre Dame desperately needs a rover against a pass-heavy attack, it will likely switch to a pseudo-nickel or –dime package, allowing sophomore cornerback Julian Love to roam the middle of the field and perhaps Coleman or boundary safety sophomore Jalen Elliott the chance to man the middle at rover. In that hypothetical, White remains the odd man out.

DOWN THE ROAD
White arrived on campus with Coleman and junior cornerback Shaun Crawford. A year later, six more defensive backs showed up, five of whom saw playing time as freshmen. Someone was inevitably going to fall to the back of the pack, and it appears to have been White and sophomore safety D.J. Morgan.

The switch to safety was an attempt to see if White’s skillset better served there. It may yet still, but until that revelation occurs, it is hard to project White moving up a depth chart already filled with players his age and younger ahead of him.


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. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
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