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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end

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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.

QUOTE(S)
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.”

2018 OUTLOOK
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

Spring won’t answer all of Notre Dame’s questions

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With spring practice mere weeks away, it is tempting to think Notre Dame’s 2019 will be well in focus by mid-April, if not by the end of March. Some positions may find clarity in that timespan, but other wonderings will hardly be put to rest, if at all. Admittedly, that will not stop discussions of those questions in the interim, including in these parts before spring practice even commences.

Before diving into spring practice previews, let’s acknowledge the things not to be learned before the summer …

Phil Jurkovec’s development will be neither rapid nor dismal this spring. The sample size of drill-heavy moments should not be weighed too heavily when discussing the rising sophomore quarterback’s progress. Barring injury to rising senior Ian Book, Jurkovec will not enter the summer as the Irish starter. Barring injury to Jurkovec, he will not fall lower than second on the depth chart, either.

What may be most crucial to Jurkovec’s short-term success will be the time he spends in the summer studying film of himself throughout the spring. Those lessons could lead to leaps and bounds before August, not necessarily in the meantime.

Notre Dame will not firmly determine a No. 2 cornerback anytime before August, at least not until fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford gets a chance to practice healthy following a torn ACL last August. Rising senior Troy Pride will be the unquestioned heir to Julian Love’s role as the best coverage corner while rising sophomore TaRiq Bracy challenges rising senior Donte Vaughn (pictured at top) to be Pride’s counterpart.

One of those two may emerge, but Crawford will still get a chance in the preseason. If nothing else, his ability to prove healthy and capable enough to handle nickel back duties could ease the pressure on finding someone to fit there, thus perhaps altering the equation throughout the entire secondary.

Running backs coach Lance Taylor’s impact will not be perceptible, possibly not for quite awhile. Taylor’s work will be seen in positional recruiting — which could conceivably take a cycle or two to actually yield the desired results — and in the usage of the running backs in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s September game plans.

Just last preseason, Avery Davis looked the part of a dangerous utility knife. His work in the red zone in preseason practices foreshadowed coming headaches for opposing defensive coordinators. Instead, the quarterback-turned-running back managed just 27 touches for 100 yards and no scores. By November, opposing defensive coordinators’ scouting reports barely mentioned Davis.

If Davis or a rising sophomore (C’Bo Flemister more likely than Jahmir Smith) or even the upperclassmen atop the depth chart impress in the passing game this spring, hold the exhilaration until they do so against a Power-Five foe in September, and preferably not one coming off a season viewed as nothing but a defensive calamity. (No offense, Louisville.)

The Irish will have punter and kicker questions into September. Despite the early enrollment of punter Jay Bramblett and a full offseason devoted to rising junior kicker Jonathan Doerer, replacing multi-year starting specialists is not an undertaking to be taken lightly. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and special teams coordinator Brian Polian will spend more time with the legs than they have in recent years.

Winters in South Bend reduce how much spring work kickers and punters get. The new indoor facility will not be ready for use until mid-to-late summer, meaning every day the Irish have to spend indoors this spring is a day the kickers are unlikely to get more than a few swings in.

Doerer might have an excellent Blue-Gold Game (on April 13), knocking in multiple 40-yard field goals. Bramblett could boom a couple punts with no signs of nerves. Until they show such in pressure situations, their real worth will remain unknown.

Such are the perils of talkin’ ‘bout practice, to quote an 11-time NBA All-Star as All-Star Weekend begins.

Notre Dame’s defensive line recruiting success continues into 2020

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Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 2019 included a defensive line emphasis featuring 5 four-star prospects. That trend has already continued into the next recruiting cycle with the Wednesday commitment from rivals.com four-star defensive tackle Aidan Keanaaina (J.K. Mullen High School; Denver).

The No. 17 defensive tackle in the country, per rivals.com, Keanaaina joins Düsseldorf defensive end Alexander Ehrensberger among the five commits in the Irish class of 2020. Keanaaina holds offers from all the Power Five conferences, including the majority of the Pac 12, led by Oregon and USC, and the majority of the Big 10, led by Michigan and Ohio State.

His anticipatory play is aided by solid tackling form and a wide body. That frame, in particular, should lend itself to further development in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

By signing two defensive tackles in the class of 2019, the Irish depth chart reached minimum levels at the position. All six tackles currently on that depth chart should return in 2020, making it less of an absolute necessity to sign a pair this cycle, though that remains more likely than not.

Notre Dame officially announces Lance Taylor as RB coach

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Notre Dame finally confirmed the hire of Lance Taylor as running backs coach Tuesday. Taylor’s addition to the Irish coaching staff was first widely reported last month.

Replacing Autry Denson — who took over as head coach at Charleston Southern — Taylor spent the last two seasons coaching receivers with the Carolina Panthers and was the running backs coach at Stanford from 2014 to 2016.

“I was primarily looking for two things,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “The candidate had to have the right skill set. He needs to be a great teacher and communicator. He also needs to fit Notre Dame, culturally, and Lance, most certainly, possesses all of those qualities. He recruited at an extremely high level during his time at Stanford, and he worked with the very best in the NFL. His ability to bring both of those experiences together makes him a perfect fit for our staff.”

The time at Stanford, in particular, sets up Taylor for success at Notre Dame, having successfully recruited players to an academic institution and then developed them to on-field success. Namely, Taylor recruited Bryce Love and worked with both him and Christian McCaffrey.

RELATED READING: Lance Taylor checks all the boxes Notre Dame needs in new running backs coach

“I’ve been blessed to work at some incredible places in my career, but Notre Dame is truly special,” Taylor said. “I’m honored and humbled to represent this incredible University as its running backs coach. I’d like to thank both Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for this opportunity. I’m excited to get on campus, meet our players and get to work.”

Taylor will have his work cut out for him this spring as the Irish need to replace Dexter Williams. Rising junior Jafar Armstrong is the presumed starter, granted health, with rising senior Tony Jones his primary backup. After those two, Taylor has nothing but raw and unproven talent awaiting him in rising sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister and early-enrolled freshman Kyren Williams, not to mention rising junior quarterback-turned-running back Avery Davis.

No other coaching staff turnover should be expected at this point in the offseason.

Leading candidates to be Notre Dame captains

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Notre Dame has not begun spring practice yet, unlike Labor Day opponent Louisville. (Yes, really, the Cardinals held their first practice under new head coach Scott Satterfield on Monday.) At some point near the beginning of spring practice, though, Irish head coach Brian Kelly will likely name a few 2019 team captains.

Notre Dame narrowed the candidates for the parlor game of guessing those captains by announcing the eight “SWAT” leaders earlier this month, a subset identified as the motivating and organizing forces of offseason activities. Those eight …

— Senior quarterback Ian Book
— Senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg
— Senior safety Jalen Elliott
— Fifth-year receiver Chris Finke
— Senior safety Alohi Gilman (pictured at top)
— Junior right tackle Robert Hainsey
— Senior defensive end Khalid Kareem
— Senior defensive end Julian Okwara

Half of the eight could have eligibility in 2020 — Book, Eichenberg, Gilman and Hainsey — but the better indicators of captainship do not inherently tie to that. For example, it is expected Gilman will head to the NFL following the 2019 season if he plays well enough to warrant that pondering at all. His transfer following the 2017 season was entirely due to professional aspirations. That, along with his competitive attitude very clearly demonstrated during last season’s unbeaten run, makes Gilman a frontrunner in this speculation.

Book, meanwhile, is unlikely to be one of the captains simply because the starting quarterback already serves in that role to some de facto extent. The coaching staff generally prefers to elevate a few others while not taking away from the inherent nature of the quarterback position.

On the other hand, the Irish have had at least one captain on the offensive line each of the last seven seasons. Either Eichenberg or Hainsey seems positioned to continue that, the former with an additional year in the program but the latter with one more season of playing time under his belt.

Presuming one of those offensive linemen joins Gilman, it remains likely Notre Dame names at least one more captain. His rise from walk-on to offensive contributor and multiple-year starter makes Finke uniquely relatable to the entire roster.

Guessing here is, of course, inconsequential, but with spring practice about three weeks away on the horizon, pondering now helps pass that time.