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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 2 Jordan Genmark Heath, safety-turned-linebacker

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-¾, 211 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Genmark Heath’s move to Buck linebacker makes his place on the depth chart quite clear: He backs up fifth-year Drue Tranquill and has only freshmen competing with him for that duty, namely Jack Lamb and, to a lesser extent, Bo Bauer. Fellow former-safety junior D.J. Morgan is also in that mix, but Genmark Heath has been ahead of Morgan at both positions for two seasons now.
Recruiting: The consensus three-star recruit’s late de-commitment from Cal and subsequent choosing of Notre Dame tied directly to the arrival of one-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko and then-linebackers coach (now defensive coordinator) Clark Lea. The two had sought Genmark Heath while at Wake Forest, failing to outpace not only Cal but also the likes of Vanderbilt, Oregon State and Utah.

CAREER TO DATE
Genmark Heath made his presence known on special teams much of last season before enjoying something of a breakthrough in the Citrus Bowl victory against LSU, making five tackles with four of them coming on defense rather than kickoff coverage. Considering that game came down to the final minutes, those were clearly all competitive moments, not mop-up duty in the slightest.

2017: 13 games; 16 tackles.

QUOTE(S)
Genmark Heath’s move to Buck linebacker from safety came in only the last week or two of spring practice. By his count, the Blue-Gold Game was his third day in the new role. That late switch made it something of a surprise to bystanders, but it was clearly something the coaching staff thought about beforehand. Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed to the theoretical depth Genmark Heath could create, allowing senior rover Asmar Bilal to focus on his primary duties rather than continuing to cross-train.

Lea focused more on what specifically Genmark Heath may be able to do at the second-level position.

“We don’t move a guy unless we identify things that he brings to the table that allow him to be successful,” Lea said the week of the spring finale. “It’s not just throwing paint at the wall. We’ve seen him play in a manner that we know he can handle the Buck position. I would argue he’s looked very natural there.

“… You know what he can do at safety, too, so we’re not closing our eyes to that possibility. But you have a short window here (in the spring) where you have a chance to get a look at somebody who makes you more athletic at the second level. We needed to do it.”

When a player changes positions to back up someone in his last year of eligibility, wonderings about future considerations are understandable.

“You always have a mind for the future,” Lea said to a question directly about coming seasons. “Everything you do is first for the current season, but always forward-thinking. That’s the only way you stay out in front of things.

“As it pertains to what [Genmark Heath is] doing right now, the immediacy of getting him reps in there, that has to do with this fall. I’m not doing that for him to watch the game from the sideline. I want him to be able to contribute from that position no different than he would at safety.”

IN HIS OWN WORDS
Genmark Heath understood the move toward the snap. His physical nature makes more sense closer to the line of scrimmage, and the depth chart at linebacker presents ample opportunity for him both this season and moving forward.

“It was just looking at our depth at linebacker,” he said after the Blue-Gold Game. “[The coaches] know what I can do at safety. It was just testing me out a little bit, and I guess they saw that I could play it.”

That does not mean Genmark Heath entirely anticipated that conversation with Lea. Once he had that talk, though, Genmark Heath understood.

“It caught me off-guard a little bit, but I could kind of see it, how my body was,” he said. “When I first came in, I gained a lot of weight. At the same time, at my playing style, it was either going to be that or some type of outside linebacker because I’m more of a downhill safety.

“It came a little from nowhere, but it’s been good.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“A strong fall camp would quickly vault Genmark Heath into the safety rotation discussion. That is an inevitable possibility given the current unproven nature of the position group.

“Whether or not he makes that leap, Genmark Heath could be called upon on special teams. The Irish need contributors there, both on return and coverage units. Genmark Heath may already be physical enough to fill those roles and make special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s life a bit easier.

“… If his body fills out as one would expect with time spent in a collegiate strength program, Genmark Heath could become Elko’s ideal of a downhill run-stopper who can provide coverage skills when necessary.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Moving Genmark Heath forward to linebacker grants him essentially another year of development. Enough worthwhile safeties had arrived (Alohi Gilman and Houston Griffith, specifically) to force Genmark Heath out of contention there, and that may seem a disappointment, but the opportunities removed from the safety depth chart were apparent among the linebackers.

For that matter, Genmark Heath not moving forward until most of spring practice had passed indicates Lea was not sold on relying on Morgan, Bauer or Lamb if Tranquill were to suffer an injury. Lea gave them their chance through March and half of April. The time had come to make a change.

Being that change does not mean Genmark Heath will see much time. Tranquill’s backup, whomever it may be, will not be called upon in competitive situations unless Tranquill falls to a third drastic injury in his career.

Thus, Genmark Heath should again focus on special teams duties while learning the ins and outs of his new position — “At some point you have to know exactly what gap you’re going to,” he said in April.

DOWN THE ROAD
For his sake, hopefully Genmark Heath is not sick of position contests yet. Nominally, he was a part of one last preseason, and this spring safety duties were certainly up for grabs once again. Next season, the Buck starting gig will be there for the taking, and Genmark Heath will be the first one in the mix if this spring is any indication.

He will have steep competition. Both Lamb and Bauer arrive highly-touted and strongly-recruited, yet one beating out Genmark Heath will not inherently condemn him to another season on the bench. Senior Te’von Coney’s imminent departure will open up a vacancy at Mike linebacker, as well, and Lea has shown a predilection to getting his best players on the field, even if slightly out of position.

With that in mind, a season learning under Tranquill should position Genmark Heath to be one of those players for at least parts of two seasons. Barring a significant leap, perhaps the most realistic outlook envisions a future linebacker rotation between him, Lamb and Bauer.

RELATED READING: Genmark Heath’s move shows both Notre Dame’s need for linebacker depth & surplus of safeties

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
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman
No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on
No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end, junior
No. 8 Jafar Armstrong, running back/receiver, sophomore
No. 8 Donte Vaughn, cornerback, junior
No. 7 Brandon Wimbush, quarterback, senior
No. 7 Derrik Allen, consensus four-star safety, incoming freshman
No. 6 Tony Jones, running back, junior
No. 5 Troy Pride, cornerback, junior
No. 4 Te’von Coney, linebacker, senior
No. 4 Kevin Austin, consensus four-star receiver, incoming freshman
No. 3 Houston Griffith, consensus four-star safety, early-enrolled freshman
No. 3 Avery Davis, quarterback and running back and receiver

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
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.