Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4, 270 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Kareem played well enough in the spring to apparently usurp fifth-year end Jay Hayes as the starter, leading in part to Hayes’ transfer to Georgia.
Recruiting: Kareem’s recruitment included commitments to Michigan State, Alabama and Notre Dame, in that order. A consensus four-star prospect and the No. 8 recruit in Michigan, per rivals.com, both Kareem and Alabama wanted to go separate ways, leading to the No. 237-ranked player in the country to enroll early at Notre Dame. He also held offers from Ohio State and Stanford.
CAREER TO DATE
Kareem rising to a starting role as a junior supports his playing in four games as a freshman, even though he recorded no statistics. Top-level defensive linemen rarely stay five years, so the Irish getting a few early snaps from an early-enrolled Kareem will probably have no long-term cost.
Last year, he split time with Hayes as a strong-side end, playing in all 13 games, highlighted by a pair of sacks against USC.
2016: Four games.
2017: 13 games; 21 tackles including 5.5 for loss with three sacks and one fumble recovery.
Upon Hayes’ transfer halfway through spring practices, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made it clear: Kareem was the likely starter at strong-side end.
“We felt like [Kareem] had earned the starting position there based upon his work both in the weight room and on the football field,” Kelly said April 7. “He was going to be the starter at that position. We believe that based upon his production.”
That does not mean Kareem did not have room to improve. Hayes has a much bigger frame, occasionally considered for situational work at defensive tackle. That size made Hayes well-suited for the grind of setting the edge against the running game. Kareem is not yet necessarily ready for that wear-and-tear.
“For [Kareem], it’s workload,” Kelly said. “He’s got real good length. He has a knack for pass rushing, just has a knack of being there and getting to the quarterback. For him, the next step becomes how do we get him up to 60 plays. He was a 20-play guy for us.
“How do we get him up to 60? Fatigue, strength, all those things coming together. But he has some really innate ability to find the quarterback.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“[Former Irish end Andrew] Trumbetti has shown the ability to contribute when healthy, and Jay Hayes impressed this spring. Switching to compete with [classmates] Daelin Hayes, Okwara and Ogundeji may remove the upperclassmen’s experience to compete with, but those three all present large amounts of potential. Someone will see a slim number of snaps this fall, and Kareem seems most likely to suffer that fate at this point.
“The fact of the matter, though, is the Notre Dame defensive line needs playmakers. If Kareem forces the issue, [former] defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive line coach Mike Elston will find him playing time, even if it means moving Kareem inside to supplement the shallow depths at tackle. That may be outside the box, but the Irish interior may need some innovative thinking.”
Jay Hayes’ transfer puts some unexpected pressure on Kareem. If he does not excel as a starter, losing a veteran defensive lineman will stand out as a step backward that likely could have been avoided.
Kareem should be up for most of the duties, however. His presence will be most felt in the pass rush, just like it was last season. Ogundeji can offer some of that role, as well, so Kareem’s apparently-limited snap count may be relieved at times in pass-specific situations, letting Ogundeji use his speed and length in an uninhibited moment and keeping Kareem a bit fresher for those edge-setting challenges.
Kareem reaching 60 snaps each week would leave about 20 for Ogundeji. It would not be a terrible thing for that split to become less drastic, even if only to 55-25. Each snap Ogundeji can take off Kareem’s hands should increase the latter’s effectiveness. It would also indicate the Notre Dame defense has put opponents in desperate positions with some frequency.
All this is to say, Kareem should build on last year’s personal totals, but he will not single-handedly make up the loss of the 55 tackles, 7.5 for loss with 1.5 sacks provided last year by Trumbetti and Hayes. If Kareem were to finish 2018 with 50 tackles, it would be comparable to Isaac Rochell’s 2016, which put Rochell onto the NFL radar. He managed only one sack in that campaign, along with seven tackles for loss; Kareem should account for at least five sacks in his increased role, and it would not be a shock to see him lead the team in the category, despite the near-constant hype around Daelin Hayes.
DOWN THE ROAD
A 50-tackle, five-sack season as a junior could have Kareem pondering the NFL. That would be quite a leap, and one only likely pursued if the year actually includes 10-plus sacks. Provided that does not occur, Kareem is well-situated to be a focal piece of the 2019 defense.
With senior three-technique tackle Jerry Tillery and fifth-year nose tackle Jonathan Bonner both out of eligibility after this season, the defensive frontline leaders will become Kareem and Hayes. Whereas some of this fall’s defensive scheming will be to put Tillery in position to make plays, next season that impetus should tilt toward the athletic defensive ends.
A high-profile recruit who played well in big moments as a sophomore and then follows that up with a solid junior season should be able to excel as a senior with the spotlight on him.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 79 (theoretically) Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 77 (theoretically) Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 73 (theoretically) Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 (theoretically) John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically), Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer