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

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 225 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Bilal has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Bilal remains the likely starter at rover thanks to fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill’s move inward to Buck. There are other possibilities at rover, namely sophomores Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Isaiah Robertson, and if Bilal stumbles, either/or will be given a chance, especially since both have profiles more typical of defenders needing to deal with both the run and the pass, as is expected of the rover.
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 him 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 saw consistent action in 2017, but never extensive time thanks to Tranquill’s reliable play. Similarly, Bilal’s 2016 was spent largely on special teams until the firing of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder a third of the way into the season. At that point, Bilal saw more time, highlighted by five tackles against Stanford, but still never took over a primary role on the Irish defense.

2015: Preserved a year of eligibility.
2016: 12 games; 29 tackles including three for loss with one sack.
2017: 13 games; 18 tackles with 1.5 for loss.

QUOTE(S)
Of Notre Dame’s likely defensive starters against Michigan two months from today, only Bilal, junior defensive end Khalid Kareem and junior safety Alohi Gilman will be first-time Irish starters. Naturally, that leads to wondering if Bilal has the lead duties at rover locked up.

“At the end of the day, for me, my only responsibility is to put the most competitive 11 on the field,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea said in mid-April. “… [Bilal] has an edge from an experience standpoint right now, but that will be accounted for. At the end of the day, there will be plenty of opportunity from now until game one — who is the most productive there.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Bilal has all the physical tools to demand playing time this season, provided a grasp of [former Irish defensive coordinator Mike] 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 [running backs] duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel while also showing more than competence [against] 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.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Suffice it to say, Bilal did not force the issue for Elko or Lea last season. Sure, that was in part thanks to Tranquill’s career year, but it also tied to a pattern seen from Bilal through two seasons of action. For a player who was widely-considered physically ready when he arrived at Notre Dame, Bilal’s potential has yet to translate to on-field production.

The optimistic view looks at Bilal as yet-unknown, despite being a senior. He has never had enough playing time to even make memorable mistakes. Perhaps all he has needed to shine is some time competing on Saturdays.

The pessimist reminds, Bilal has not seen time because he has not earned it, despite three years of supposed athletic readiness. Even when behind Tranquill at rover and the combination of Martini and Te’von Coney at inside linebacker, if Bilal proved himself set to contribute, he would have worked his way into the rotation. That is, after all, what led to Coney’s breakthrough last season.

Looking forward, the expectation should be the fruits of the middle ground. The realist’s view, in theory. Bilal will get first crack at rover snaps and, unless he falls flat on his face, he will have some leeway to prove himself. His natural athletic ability affords that gray area. If he reaches 50 tackles, consider it a success. If between tackles for loss, pass breakups and hands in turnovers he equals half Tranquill’s 2017 total of 18.5 notable plays, Bilal will have laid the groundwork for something more. Again, Tranquill’s season at rover was an exceptional one, no matter what some may argue otherwise.

Speaking of Tranquill, Bilal would be in the discussion to replace the starting Buck linebacker if injury were to befall him. Sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath moved from safety to that role late in spring practices, but Bilal also cross-trained there.

DOWN THE ROAD
Before Genmark-Heath made that move, Bilal appeared rubber-stamped to follow Tranquill’s footsteps from rover to Buck. The interior position would make all that much more sense for Bilal’s wide frame and strong tackling form. Genmark-Heath’s move does not eliminate the possibility, but it does create a conversation before the roster change is a sure thing.

With that in mind, this may be a prove-it year for Bilal at rover. If he does not play well, Owusu-Koramoah and incoming freshman Shayne Simon were recruited specifically for the roll while early-enrolled freshman Ovie Oghoufo and Robertson both make sense there, as well. Bilal has some runway to get up to speed and place a claim to 2019’s focus as rover, but it is not the length of the one featured in the pivotal scene of Fast and Furious 6. This runway is finite.

If Bilal gets passed up by one or two of those options and Genmark-Heath shines as a Buck-of-the-future in preseason practice, then a graduate transfer could be on the radar. That is not to encourage it, but if playing time with the Irish has dwindled, it could be in the best interest of both parties.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
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. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer