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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: An incoming freshman, Ekwonu has all four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: While Ekwonu will arrive to an ever-evolving puzzle at linebacker, but it is a puzzle he likely will not be a part of this season. Either junior Jordan Genmark Heath or sophomore Jack Lamb should handle nearly every snap at Buck linebacker, where Ekwonu presumably projects, meaning Ekwonu and classmate J.D. Bertrand will work either on the scout team or on the third-string.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Ekwonu earned offers from Alabama, Auburn and Michigan, but the No. 15 inside linebacker in the country, per rivals.com, committed to Notre Dame just two months after his official visit, a commitment not surprising many.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN EKWONU’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“With athleticism to spare, Ekwonu could be a candidate at rover early in his career. Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea can never have enough of those, but it is more likely Ekwonu stays inside to utilize his physicality, even if still needing a bit of weight to emphasize that.

“Notre Dame is about to lose two multi-year starters at inside linebacker, but it is hard to envision a freshman filling that role in 2019. Ekwonu may contribute, a la Bo Bauer this season, but much more than that would be a surprise.”

2019 OUTLOOK
When Bauer was mentioned in the previous paragraph, it points to special teams possibilities. Ekwonu could readily fill in on coverage units, perhaps even matching Bauer’s 10 tackles from a year ago. Some may deem such a foolish way to use up a season of eligibility, but that is to underrate special teams’ impacts as a whole. Ekwonu’s length and general athleticism may make him an even more natural fit in the duty than Bauer was.

DOWN THE ROAD
The springtime shuffling and reshuffling at linebacker puts the futures of the incoming freshmen, as well. Ekwonu fits the profile of someone who will make his presence felt at some point, it is just difficult to predict that will occur at Buck, where Lamb has four years remaining, or Mike, where Bauer and sophomore Shayne Simon each have three seasons of eligibility left.

To default to what little is known of any incoming freshman, the No. 232 recruit in his class has too strong a pedigree to expect to wait out three years. In Ekwonu’s case, his long frame and quick hips make him suited to both keeping blockers off him, and thus filling run gaps, as well as to working in coverage. He may not yet be mentally ready to cover collegiate routes, but the skill set should be there, part of why he projects at Buck more than Mike.

WHY NO. 34?
For little other reason than the dozen incoming freshmen reported to campus this week and it seems fitting to squeeze one into the first half of the week. Many Notre Dame linebackers have taken to wearing numbers in the 30s these days, including Lamb and junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 50: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 34 Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 207 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Smith has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after appearing in only two games last year.
Depth chart: Smith turned a strong spring showing into a third-team standing at running back, behind junior Jafar Armstrong and senior Tony Jones, though the gap between the duo and Smith is much larger than the gap between him and sophomore C’Bo Flemister and early-enrolled freshman Kyren Williams.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Smith was chased by both coasts, including offers from his homestate North Carolina and from Cal and USC. The No. 20 running back in the class, per rivals.com, Smith committed to Notre Dame the July before his senior year, at the time the only running back in the class (joined by Flemister on National Signing Day) and one of only three offensive skill position players.

CAREER TO DATE
Smith appeared in two games as a freshman, at Wake Forest while Dexter Williams was still suspended and against Stanford when Armstrong was out with a knee infection. Between the two games, he took six rushes for 28 yards and caught one pass for 14 yards.

To a decent extent, Smith shined in his second Blue-Gold game, taking eight carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns while adding 37 yards on three catches. Aside from Armstrong, it was the best day seen from an Irish back. Simply given the nature of the spring finale, of getting a look at the reserves and discerning where there is quality, this space named Smith its Player of the Game:

“For someone Kelly described as a ‘truck,’ Smith showed enough speed and agility to serve as Notre Dame’s needed third running back, distancing himself from C’Bo Flemister and Kyren Williams, despite Williams, in particular, putting together a solid afternoon for someone who should be worrying about a U.S. History exam with his high school classmates right about now.”

QUOTE(S)
That truck quote from Kelly will get a lot of run in this space, partly because it is very much on-point, but it should also be remembered it was followed by some criticism of areas Smith needs to improve upon.

“Well, Jahmir’s a truck,” Kelly said. “He’d just as soon run over you than miss you, which is fine. We know what his style is.

“And he’ll also trip over lines when you swing him out of the backfield, so we have to clean that up. But he’s a physical kid.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“He will be needed. Running backs get hurt, especially it would seem Jones and Williams. When a victory becomes a blowout, the Irish will not want to continue to expose Jones’ ankles or Williams’ quads. Smith (and/or incoming freshman C’Bo Flemister) will get the carries, possibly racking up stats a la (Deon) McIntosh last year. McIntosh’s 368 yards and five touchdowns were primarily the result of running behind the country’s best offensive line, but that line should be solid again this year, putting Smith in position for 200 yards and three touchdowns, perhaps.

“Armstrong and (Avery) Davis may keep Smith from an excess of competitive carries, as they will offer changes of pace to Jones’ bruising that Smith will not.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Third running backs are needed. Smith’s minimal time last season came as a result of Armstrong giving Notre Dame a top trio of himself, Williams and Jones, not as a result of Smith stumbling.

That does not inherently mean Smith will get an abundance of chances this year; the Irish may have three third backs, each with different skills. Smith is the, let’s use it once more today, truck, while Flemister is the shifty option and Williams is a speedster with a low center of gravity. For these purposes, it seems logical to think Williams is limited to four games and preserves a year of eligibility.

At that point, Smith and Flemister are most likely to split the reserve carries. If either Armstrong or Jones is injured, which one will determine which sophomore sees an uptick in action. Smith and Jones bring parallel strengths, as do Flemister and Armstrong, though to a lesser extent.

DOWN THE ROAD
Jones will have another season of eligibility remaining after this year, and one could argue he is more likely to return than Armstrong, who could turn a strong and healthy fall into an NFL draft entry. If Jones is indeed back in 2020, that will put a limit on Smith’s exposure.

But, if by professional aspirations or by a graduate transfer, Jones is not at Notre Dame in 2020, Smith could become the bruising back who can slip out into the passing game that Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long so enjoys. Smith’s pass-catching abilities will bolster or hinder his chances at a significant impact, as Long all-but insists his workhorse backs have that capacity. While Smith seems more natural in the running game than either Flemister or Williams, they have shown the advantage on routes in limited viewings.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 50: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback

REPORT: Notre Dame reaches 85 scholarships with Ewell medical hardship

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Let the annual summer parlor game end: Notre Dame has fallen to the NCAA maximum number of scholarships of 85. Per Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune’s ND Insider, Irish junior defensive tackle Darnell Ewell will take a medical hardship, remaining on scholarship at Notre Dame but no longer a member of the football program.

“He’s had some issues relative to the stress of the game and academics and managing all that’s going on,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly told Hansen. “I can’t get into the specifics of it. He’s staying in school. He’s going to get his degree.”

A consensus four-star prospect out of Virginia, Ewell never appeared in a game for Notre Dame, instead flipping from defensive tackle to offensive guard in October and then back to defensive tackle this spring. A few weeks into that latest move, Kelly perhaps foreshadowed this present issue, acknowledging an injury had kept Ewell from making an impact through three weeks of spring practice.

“We moved Darnell back over there as a big, strong, physical kid, but he was slowed with an injury earlier in spring ball,” Kelly said.

Ewell moving to a medical hardship eliminates any concern of the Irish roster reaching 85 scholarships by Labor Day, but otherwise it should have little effect. Ewell had not forced the coaching staff to consider playing him. To pull from his 99-to-2 entry

“Injuries would put Ewell on the field this season, but little else might do so. (Early-enrolled freshman Jacob) Lacey is firmly ahead of him, and that gap may expand before Labor Day. As (sophomore Ja’Mion) Franklin returns to health, he will also return to a spot above Ewell in the pecking order, just as he was a year ago upon first arriving at Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame’s trenches recruiting continues with four-star Carmody’s commitment

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If Notre Dame opts to limit offensive line recruiting in a tight class, landing two consensus four-star tackles is hardly a bad way to do it. The Irish have exactly that thanks to Michael Carmody (Mars High School; Pa.) committing Sunday evening and joining Tosh Baker (Pinnacle H.S.; Phoenix) in the class of now 13 recruits.

Carmody had considered Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State at length, also holding offers from Auburn, Miami and Stanford.

When reading that note from Carmody announcing his commitment, notice the brief reference to Robby. That is Carmody’s older brother, a sophomore guard on Notre Dame’s men’s basketball team, undoubtedly an advantage in the football recruiting.

Michael also plays basketball, though that will not continue at the next level. Standing 6-foot-8, one can see the footwork he uses on the basketball court already helping him on the edge of the line on the football field. At the prep level, he is able to rely on his power more often than not, but even in those moments, Carmody’s feet never stop moving.

The Irish recruiting class of 2020 is not expected to much exceed 20 prospects. That, along with the year-old ability to recruit more fervently in the spring, has Notre Dame not far from wrapping up this class before the fall.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 35 TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10, 172 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Bracy has three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: The Irish have two starting defensive back positions up for grabs, at boundary corner opposite senior Troy Pride and at nickelback. It is not a sure thing Bracy ends up in one of them, but it is very much a possibility.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, the San Jose, Calif., native chose Notre Dame over West Coast options like Cal, Utah and Washington State.

CAREER TO DATE
Bracy appeared in 12 games (not playing against Navy’s triple-option attack) as a freshman, making 18 tackles and forcing one fumble. It was an up-and-down debut season, making seven tackles and defending well against Pittsburgh in injury relief for Pride (sprained ankle), but also getting repeatedly burned at USC, almost to the extent of predictable comedy.

Bracy’s technical skills were apparent, but his undersized frame had nowhere near the strength needed to hold up against physical receivers.

QUOTE(S)
Any elongated discussion of Bracy this spring focused on the wonderings at cornerback, including the uncertainty at nickel back where fifth-year Shaun Crawford would be the presumed starter if healthy instead of recovering from a torn ACL.

Both Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea and head coach Brian Kelly lumped Bracy into the discussion at both boundary and nickel.

“It could be some combination of TaRiq Bracy coming onto the field and moving a corner into the slot,” Lea said in mid-April.

“Bracy is going to get a chance,” Kelly said following the Blue-Gold Game. “There’s a long list there.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Bracy’s experience in the return game adds a wrinkle to his playing possibilities this fall. It is most likely he dabbles in special teams coverages and sees defensive mop-up duties in up to four games, preserving a year of eligibility. There is a chance, however, of Bracy taking over the punt and kickoff return duties, albeit not inherently a great chance.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Bracy and classmate Houston Griffith will be needed this fall. The injuries to Crawford and senior Donte Vaughn (shoulder) guaranteed that, but it was probable, anyway. Griffith’s ceiling at corner may be the highest of the group, and Bracy’s agility may match Vaughn’s length.

Projecting any of their upcoming seasons hinges on those pieces of health and the long-term detrimental effects of the respective injuries. If Vaughn is not 100 percent at the start of preseason, Griffith has the best chance at starting at boundary on Labor Day (79 days). That will leave Bracy in the mix with Crawford, a question mark, for nickel duties.

One way or another, Bracy will see considerable playing time this year. He showed enough last season to warrant that good faith. In his good moments, Bracy provided excellent coverage; when he was exposed, it was clearly his inexperience costing him. The Trojans clearly scouted that, targeting Bracy in one-on-one situations early and often to get out to a quick start. Before Notre Dame made a change, Bracy’s liability was so obvious, the press box would, en masse, point out his mismatches long before a play’s snap, and that was inevitably where USC quarterback J.T. Daniels then looked.

A spring practice and the upcoming preseason will combat that issue, reducing any reason to sideline him. At the absolute least, Bracy could end up the fourth cornerback, backing up all three positions (or two of the three, if Vaughn genuinely returns to the two-deep). A second-team cornerback will play at some point, given the odds of injury and the concern of fatigue.

If nothing else, Bracy will also get to boost his tackle stats with work on the special teams coverage units.

DOWN THE ROAD
Pride will be out of eligibility following this season, as will be Vaughn. Crawford’s status may be more up in the air, given his injury history. With or without him, Bracy will be well-positioned for playing time as a junior and senior.

Of course, the incoming freshman pair will challenge Bracy, but his work last year showed enough to presume further growth. The easiest reason to doubt it would be Bracy’s low recruiting profile, but that has long been traced to the low exposure of his hometown and area, not inherently to Bracy himself.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 50: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker