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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 12 DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-⅜, 192 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Brown has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: A springtime move from cornerback to safety left Brown in the two-deep … for now. Notre Dame has its starters in seniors Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott. Behind them, only Brown and sophomore Derrik Allen were on the roster until freshmen Kyle Hamilton and Litchfield Ajavon arrived in the summer.
Recruiting: Indecision prolonged Brown’s cycle and led to an eventual flip. The consensus three-star prospect had long been committed to Virginia, but he did not put figurative pen to technological paper during the early signing period. That led to the Under Armour All-American cornerback reopening his recruitment and eventually picking the Irish over Cal and Northwestern while holding offers from Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.

CAREER TO DATE
Brown appeared only in the Wake Forest blowout as a freshman. Entering the spring, he was prepped for a shift to safety partly because Irish head coach Brian Kelly considered Brown a safety possibility during his recruitment and partly because Notre Dame expected safety Devin Studstill to transfer. That foresight and Studstill’s departure led to Brown’s cross-training at both defensive backfield positions becoming a safety-specific spring.

Brown finished up the spring with five tackles in the Blue-Gold Game.

QUOTE(S)
The move from cornerback to safety may not seem a complex one, but Brown will have plenty of time to settle into his new position while Gilman and Elliott headline the backline.

“Brown has made a lot of strides since we’ve made him a safety,” Kelly said in mid-March. “He really stands out with his athletic ability. We have to see how the other part of his game comes together when we fit him into our run fits and start to play 11-on-11 football, but when we talk about 7-on-7, 1-on-1, the individual drills, he looks really good, looks fluid.

“… We feel really good about him on the hash as a pass defender. Now we have to see where he fits in the run game when things get to 11-on-11. He has stood out for us.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“It would take a disastrous preseason from junior Donte Vaughn to otherwise vault Brown (or any of the freshmen corners) into a consistent contributing role.

“Brown will inevitably see some time on special teams, the question being if it is in only four games and preserves a year of eligibility or if it is season-long. Only time will tell how Notre Dame handles such situations moving forward with the new possibilities presented by this NCAA change.”

2019 OUTLOOK
In some ways, Brown’s shift to safety lessens his chances of making an immediate impact. Notre Dame has questions at cornerback — who lines up opposite senior Troy Pride; who becomes the starting nickel back — while Gilman and Elliott very much have things stable at safety.

That said, the Irish need support behind the two seniors, support that did not exist a year ago. They played nearly every meaningful snap last season. There simply was no trusted relief. Nick Coleman was needed to work at nickel; Studstill was not seen as viable. Allen, Brown and perhaps Hamilton are expected to change that by Labor Day (48 days).

If Brown can remain a second-stringer this preseason, most notably holding off Hamilton, then those reserve snaps could be his despite moving to a new role in March.

DOWN THE ROAD
Elliott will use up his eligibility this year while Gilman is likely to head to the NFL, as well. That will open up two starting roles for Brown, Allen, Hamilton and Ajavon to compete for beginning next spring. Of the group, Brown was the lowest-rated recruit, but he has a headstart in strength and conditioning on the freshman duo, giving him a chance.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
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. 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. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 210 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Moala has three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: After a springtime move forward from safety, Moala remains neck-and-neck with junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for the leading role at Rover. Both seem likely to play in a two-man rotation.
Recruiting: Moala did not take long to earn his Notre Dame scholarship offer, using a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at an on-campus camp to garner it, and he did not go far from home in choosing the Irish over Iowa, Nebraska and Vanderbilt, being from the neighboring city of Mishawaka, Ind., and Penn High School.

CAREER TO DATE
Moala appeared in eight games as a freshman in a special teams role, quickly undercutting those who viewed him as the weakest prospect in his recruiting class. He made only one tackle, but it was simply notable Notre Dame trusted his physicality only a month into his collegiate career.

He then led all defensive players in the Blue-Gold Game with nine tackles, including two sacks, further staking his claim to the Rover role, though it should be acknowledged Owusu-Koramoah had seven tackles.

QUOTE(S)
Moala made his position switch a few weeks into spring practices, but it was one teammates had long projected for him.

“A lot of the other players thought I could transfer to linebacker,” he said after the spring finale. “I don’t know if it was for my skill set, but a lot of them thought it was for my weight.”

Indeed, standing sub-six-feet, Moala’s 210 pounds are more compact than the usual safety’s body type, especially if he gets up to 220 pounds by the fall as he wants to. But bringing that coverage ability to Rover, Moala can better utilize his knack for contact.

“He’s a sure tackler,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in late March, shortly after the position change. “He plays with good leverage, the things that you’re looking for in a guy that controls the perimeter of your defense. He doesn’t get out of leverage on the ball and he’s a sure tackler. He has some things he has to continue to work on, too, but he has some pretty good things going for him right out of the gates.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“It would be a shock to see Moala break into the two-deep on the defensive depth chart this season. Four veterans are most likely to fill that much with Moala’s classmates — early-enrolled Houston Griffith and incoming Derrik Allen — nipping at their heels.

“Instead, Moala may become a great test case for learning how Notre Dame handles the new freshman eligibility rules as they pertain to special teams focus. An obvious parallel would be now-senior Nicco Fertitta, also a hard-hitting, compact safety. As a freshman in 2015, Fertitta appeared in 11 games and made one tackle. If not for the change in eligibility options, Moala would seem to be on that path this season. Now, though, it could make sense to trot him out on special teams in only four games.

“There are a multitude of questions about how each school and respective coaching staff will handle this newfound eligibility and no two cases will be exactly alike, but a few Irish freshmen are devoted to special teams every year. Seeing Moala’s usage could set a precedent for these instances at Notre Dame in the future.”

2019 OUTLOOK
The concept of a rotation at Rover introduces a new set of questions when pondering what to expect. In two years with the Rover as a prime piece of the defensive scheme, the Irish have relied on one player at a time. Neither Drue Tranquill nor Asmar Bilal shared action with anyone else, though the latter seemed a ripe possibility for such considering his concerns in coverage.

Neither Moala nor Owusu-Koramoah has a distinct hole in his game a la Bilal’s unproven coverage abilities a year ago. Any job-share would thus be based on keeping their legs fresh more than anything else. While a necessary reason, it is an abstract enough one to leave open the door for one of the two to take over the job.

As a whole, the Rover position should contribute at least 50 tackles (Bilal’s total from a year ago) and a few pass breakups. If those numbers come from Moala and Owusu-Koramoah combined or largely from one of the two will depend on how devoted defensive coordinator Clark Lea is to the idea of splitting reps. It would be a distinct deviation from Notre Dame’s habit, but two years is not much of a sample size.

DOWN THE ROAD
Moala proved last season he belongs at this level, even if he did so only in special teams coverages. He has a combination of speed and power that will get him on the field eventually, even if Owusu-Koramoah takes over at Rover during the preseason.

The Irish have restocked linebacker depth in the last two recruiting cycles, but Rover has remained a bit of a question mark. Owusu-Koramoah broke a foot early last year, early-enrolled freshman Jack Kiser missed spring practices with a shoulder injury, and while freshman Marist Liufau is clearly a talented prospect, he is a raw one, at that.

The Rover depth chart may be in flux for another season or two, and Moala may become its source of reliability. It is, quite frankly, his best bet at playing time given the depth of young (inexperienced) talent at the other two linebacker spots.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
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. 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. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 13 Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10 ⅜, 172 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Keys has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after taking a traditional redshirt last year.
Depth chart: Keys should both enter and exit preseason practices as the No. 2 slot receiver behind fifth-year Chris Finke.
Recruiting: The consensus three-star prospect chose Notre Dame over Texas on National Signing Day, also pondering SMU while the likes of Georgia, LSU and Michigan all offered him a scholarship.

CAREER TO DATE
Keys did not take the field in 2018, but reportedly nearly did against Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. That may seem a hollow distinction, but if the Irish offensive line had held up long enough for plays to develop, Keys very well may have had a wrinkle of a role. Head coach Brian Kelly had that possibility in mind as soon as the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup was announced.

“There are some things we think we need against the competition that we’re playing, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next few weeks,” Kelly said in December. “We think there’s a couple guys who could help us in a few areas. … If you look at your offense, there’s some areas that I think from a speed area that I think could help us out.”

Kelly did not mention Keys by name, but that was to whom he was referring.

QUOTE(S)
Notre Dame did not have receiver depth last season. Sure, all the names expected to contribute this season were on the roster then, along with Miles Boykin, now of the Baltimore Ravens, but the Irish coaching staff leaned on only Boykin, Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. By November, the exhaustion showed. Notre Dame needs to avoid that this year, and Keys plays a — look, this pun is inevitable, let’s get it out of the way early today — key role in that.

“It’s (sophomores) Kevin (Austin) and Lawrence and Braden (Lenzy),” Kelly said at the end of March. “Those three guys are certainly adding oto the depth, as well as the tight ends.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“The Irish have a slim top tier of receivers, namely Claypool, Young and senior Miles Boykin. After them, opportunities are up for literal grabs. Of the reserves, only senior Chris Finke brings any collegiate receptions to the table at this point, not factoring in the tight ends. Thus, it was vitally important for Notre Dame to strike big with receivers in the recruiting class of 2018, as it did by signing four.

“Of those four, Keys and Lenzy possess real speed. It seems simplistic to say beating out Lenzy is the key to Keys’ playing time this season, but it is also true. And sorry for the pun, it had to be done somewhere here.

“There are differences to their games, such as Keys being more of a deliberate route runner at this point than the pure burner that Lenzy is. With that in mind, Keys may fit into more roles as the needed backup if he outpaces junior Javon McKinley, as well. While Lenzy’s coverage-breaking speed could be the most-obvious threat right away, crisp route-running and good hands could get Keys into action across the field.

“One way or another, expect Keys to get a chance in a few games this season. How he performs initially (and others’ health) will dictate if Keys plays in more than four games or preserves a season of eligibility.”

2019 OUTLOOK
The fourth Irish receiver last year managed seven catches, now-presumed junior starter Michael Young. Only five receivers caught passes at all, with Austin adding five receptions. Some of that traced to four tight ends catching passes and four more running backs pulling in multiple receptions, but it mostly reflected the state of Notre Dame’s receivers.

Look back at 2017: Nine receivers caught at least one pass. The fourth had 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Four tight ends still caught passes, as did four running backs.

The current quality of the second-unit receivers exceeds that of either year, and that includes Keys. How much he plays will be directly impacted by Finke’s effectiveness and health, but Keys should at least match Finke’s 2017 numbers of six catches for 102 yards.

Given how explosive the Irish offense is expected to be, Keys should exceed those numbers without much trouble.

DOWN THE ROAD
Once Finke finishes up this season, Keys is expected to become the slot receiver of the future. His shiftiness, speed and precise routes are ideal for the interior position, and his current competition comes from sophomore Micah Jones, an unlikely fit there at 6-foot-4 ½, and freshman Kendall Abdur-Rahman, who may take some time to adjust to receiver after playing quarterback throughout high school.

The Notre Dame slot receiver may not put up the massive stats the other two starters might, certainly not while offensive coordinator Chip Long is around, as he enjoys bringing on a second tight end in place of the slot receiver as often as not, but Keys’ speed will give him plenty of chances to make an impact as a starter in 2020 and 2021, if not also 2022.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
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. 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. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3, 185 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A freshman, Hamilton has all four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: Notre Dame has two established starting senior safeties in Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, but behind them is a chance for Hamilton to enter the two-deep in August. Sophomores Derrik Allen and (converted-cornerback) D.J. Brown are the only other safeties awaiting Hamilton and fellow freshman Litchfield Ajavon, and neither of the sophomores earned their way onto the field last year (aside from three plays for Brown at Wake Forest), forcing the starters to play nearly every single defensive snap. Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea will want to avoid that fate again this season, meaning the competition for backup safety roles will be a pertinent one.
Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect, All-American and 2018 USA Today second-team All-American turned down Clemson, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio State to sign with Notre Dame. The No. 7 safety in the country and No. 75 overall recruit in the class, per rivals.com, Hamilton did not become a hyped four-star prospect until relatively late in the cycle, a strong junior season and camp circuit earning him the eventual recognition.

QUOTE(S)
Expectations are not meager for Hamilton. Rare is the freshman defensive back who warrants a springtime question about him specifically before he even arrives on campus, yet at the end of spring practices, Lea was asked if Hamilton could come in and play right away.

“Any expectation for any of these guys coming in is going to be overblown and no one is going to be camera ready, so to speak, nor is anybody going to be counted out,” Lea said. “… We look, we anticipate, we think about where someone might come in and help us, might supplement depth, might compete for a starting job. We don’t eliminate any option, there’s no reason for us to.

“Our energy with the incoming guys is spent on how they are preparing themselves for when they get on campus. If they can do that the right way, then they have a higher chance of being effective.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN HAMILTON’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“The praise for Hamilton has become universal, with hardly a hole in his game aside from the slightness that comes from not having spent time in a collegiate strength and conditioning program. Hamilton also excelled at receiver in high school, using his basketball instincts to routinely high-point the ball. He will not play there at Notre Dame, but his ability to track down the ball should still show itself.”

2019 OUTLOOK
It is the usual practice of this space to temper hopes for the highest-rated recruits as they arrive in South Bend. (See: Jurkovec, Phil; a year ago.) That may not be the needed course of action this time around, partly because a 2019 ceiling already exists for Hamilton due to the proven presences of Gilman and Elliott; no one looks at the freshman as a possible starter.

Hamilton’s greatest flaw is compounded by one of his assets. A long frame will help him in years to come, but right now it emphasizes his lack of muscle. If some sticks to him this summer under the direction of Irish strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis, then Hamilton could/should spell Elliott and/or Gilman (more likely the former).

If Hamilton proves adept in coverage in the preseason, his role could expand beyond mere relief. Notre Dame is still looking for an answer at nickel back. Current options include fifth-year Shaun Crawford as he recovers from injury, sophomore cornerbacks Houston Griffith and TaRiq Bracy, and freshman cornerback K.J. Wallace. Not only could Hamilton get a chance to prove himself, but he could also give Elliott a chance, with Hamilton then at safety in situational packages. (Crawford’s health remains a concern, the sophomores will be needed on the outside, and Hamilton should simply be better than Wallace.)

One way or another, Hamilton should be expected to play more than an eligibility-preserving four games. Projecting a tackle count without knowing his precise role becomes difficult, but simply looking at Hamilton’s length, a pass breakup or two should be his minimum. Notching those would indicate Hamilton has a grasp on the defensive system and offer assurance the Irish will have competent safety play in the future. Just two seasons ago, all Notre Dame safeties combined for five pass breakups total; a freshman managing a couple should not be taken for granted.

DOWN THE ROAD
Elliott is out of eligibility after this year. Gilman will have a season remaining, but there is reason to think he will jump to the NFL anyway if 2019 goes well for him. Brown is as new to the position as Hamilton is to college.

That is the long way of saying Hamilton should start alongside Allen, or possibly Ajavon, in 2020. If he does not, that is more a concern for the Irish because of the lack of other projectable options than it is an indictment of recruiting rankings.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
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. 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. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 225 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Jurkovec has four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019, after appearing in only two games last year.
Depth chart: Jurkovec will be one snap away from becoming Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. Senior Ian Book will start while freshman Brendon Clark should split his time between the third-string and the scout team.
Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect, U.S. Army All-American and the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the class, per rivals.com, Jurkovec did not leave much hope for the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson when he committed to Notre Dame in May of his sophomore year. 

CAREER TO DATE
The Irish inability to put away Ball State, Vanderbilt or Pittsburgh kept Jurkovec from seeing more than mop-up duty against Wake Forest and Florida State, attempting two passes in only the former, completing neither. He also rushed twice, once in each game, for nine yards.

An up-and-down spring for Jurkovec, his first spring session, concluded with an abysmal showing in the Blue-Gold Game. Jurkovec completed 15-of-26 passes for 135 yards while getting sacked 12 times.

QUOTE(S)
After Jurkovec’s showing in the spring game, praise became rare and hedged criticism became prevalent. In reality, though, that had somewhat been the modus operandi throughout Notre Dame’s spring. Consider Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s mid-March comments on Jurkovec:

“He’s seeing the field a lot better and there’s a learning curve for him. Consistency in throwing the football — he gets a little bit low with his mechanics. His elbow drops and (he) has a tendency to push the ball. He’s cleaning that up and it’s going to come with repetition.

“… We’re really high on him. He’s not at a championship level yet, but we can win with him. We’ll get him to the point where he can play at a high level.”

Not exactly applause from Kelly, but not overly harsh, either. Jurkovec was progressing, but had/has much more development ahead of him before he would/will be ready to take over for Notre Dame. Frankly, nothing in that should be shocking. Kelly offered another version of that summary immediately following the Blue-Gold Game.

“[Jurkovec] is still cooking,” Kelly said. “He’s still growing.”

Jurkovec warming up before Notre Dame took on USC in the regular season finale. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

IN JURKOVEC’S OWN WORDS
At the end of his first year of college, the spring game performance left Jurkovec appearing worn down.

“I’m not happy with where I’m at right now,” Jurkovec said. “I need to get a lot better in terms of everything. I was hoping to be further along, and I need to be.”

He at least kept in mind one unique piece of the intrasquad scrimmage, something consistent throughout spring practices, and something that cut in half his natural assets.

“I just felt like I wasn’t playing real football out there with the red jersey and touch,” Jurkovec said. “I guess I got that in my head and I was just playing differently than I usually would going live.”

RELATED READING: Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s tale of two QBs
Where Notre Dame’s QBs were and are

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
The NCAA changed Jurkovec’s immediate future and erased the fine line Kelly would have needed to toe regarding Jurkovec’s 2018 playing time when the governing body granted freshmen four games of playing time before it impacted their eligibility. Kelly no longer needs to debate developing the touted quarterback in game situations; he can do it without pause in preferred situations.

“Thus, fully expect the Irish offense to keep the gas pedal down against Ball State in the season’s second week through the third quarter, looking to build enough of a lead that Jurkovec can lead two or three series in the fourth without worry about the game’s fate. If a similar spot developed a week later against Vanderbilt, or perhaps in October vs. Pittsburgh or November with Syracuse, then Jurkovec could again lead multiple series with upperclassmen at his disposal against genuine Division I defenses. Such development without losing eligibility is literally unprecedented and is something most-obviously applicable to quarterbacks.

“The odds are Jurkovec does not see a fifth game. If (Brandon) Wimbush is starting and Book ably backing him up, Notre Dame does not gain much by playing Jurkovec that often. Furthermore, five blowouts in the season would be a bit of a surprise.

“Nonetheless, Jurkovec could end up with 300 passing yards and four total touchdowns, all while having four more seasons at his disposal if so desired.

2019 OUTLOOK
While those projections a year ago could not have been much further off-target, that was as much a reflection of Jurkovec’s opportunities as it was of him, if not more so. This time around, there is no need to be so complicated. Jurkovec will be the Irish backup, even if his spring did not establish much trust in him in that role.

An argument can be made Clark could leapfrog Jurkovec with a stellar preseason, and that is true in theory, but that is asking a lot of a true freshman in his first days of college practices. How did it work out the last time Notre Dame fans hoped for such?

If Jurkovec makes any progress this preseason, it will both put that Clark possibility to bed and establish an upward trend for the presumed Irish quarterback of the future. The list of improvements begins with — but does not end with — establishing faith in his offensive line so as to keep himself from retreating past the back of the intended pocket, trusting his receivers and putting his passes within their reach, and working through his progressions confidently enough to take a good option rather than continuing to look for a better one.

Is that a lot? Absolutely, but with no reason to limit Jurkovec to four games or fewer, there should be chances to show off such development.

DOWN THE ROAD
Given the last sight of Jurkovec featured him getting sacked three times after his last Blue-Gold completion, it may be difficult to think he is still Notre Dame’s future quarterback, but it should remain the case. Clark or even class of 2020 consensus four-star quarterback Drew Pyne (New Canaan High School; Conn.) could give Jurkovec competition, but until they arrive and show that quality, Jurkovec gets that much of a benefit of the doubt.

That status will not merit more than a vague acquiescence until Book heads to the NFL. That could come as soon as this spring if Book leads the Irish through another strong season with stats reminiscent of 2018. In that scenario, Jurkovec and Clark will go through a position competition in the spring of 2020, one with a redemption opportunity available in the 2020 Blue-Gold Game.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
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. 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. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star