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Drew White out for spring throws Notre Dame linebacker corps into further flux

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Notre Dame’s lack of a linebacker depth chart is a bit more literal now. Rising junior linebacker Drew White will have surgery today (Friday) to repair an injured AC joint in his right shoulder, knocking him out for the rest of the spring. (Look closely at the photo above. White is No. 40 in the middle. It was the only photo of him in the available database more recent than a sideline photo from his recruitment.)

During Thursday’s practice, the fifth of the spring, the Irish continued to rotate interior linebackers to an extent that may warrant an ad nauseam description. Doing so has led both head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Clark Lea to express indifference relative to a depth chart at the position.

“We’re just trying right now to get a handle on contact skills, innate natural ability to find the ball, downhill instincts, things like that, that just require reps and so we’re firing as many reps at these guys as possible,” Kelly said Tuesday. “My practice schedule has changed a little bit in terms of trying to get those guys into contact situations without taking the ball carrier down. You can only do so much by NCAA rules relative to tackling but I need to get those guys into real live inside drill work.”

That timetable should have White ready for the beginning of preseason practice, though it is not a logical leap to think his strength and conditioning may need some additional time to catch up. Preserving a year of eligibility would be a moot point, though, as White sat out the 2017 season entirely.

White made six tackles against Navy’s triple-option last season after Drue Tranquill sprained his ankle. White finished the year with eight in six games. That may not seem the résumé of a linebacker about to break into a consistently-contributing role, but Notre Dame’s interior linebacker corps is so unproven, White’s limited experience somewhat stands out.

Without him, the Irish have fifth-year Asmar Bilal, having just moved inside from rover, leading the way with four other utterly unprovens behind him in rising senior Jonathan Jones (16 career tackles), rising junior Jordan Genmark Heath (32 career tackles, many of which came via special teams duties), rising sophomore Bo Bauer (10 career tackles) and rising sophomore Jack Lamb. The quintet will vary pairings without White, just as they did with him around, though now more so.

“We’re mixing and matching, who looks good with who, what’s a good tandem,” Kelly said. “Is it Bilal with Genmark Heath? Is it Bauer with Bilal? We’re not really even married to a particular Mike and [Buck] combination, either. That’s kind of the process right now.”

Such will continue for the next 10 practices, and into the preseason, the latter including White’s return.