Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman

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Listed measurements: 6-foot-2 ¾, 233 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: Bauer returns with only one season of eligibility remaining, a gift of the universal pandemic eligibility waiver as Bauer has already played in four complete seasons.
Depth Chart: Either Bauer or senior JD Bertrand should start as Notre Dame’s Mike (middle) linebacker in 2022. No competition between the two really took hold in the spring as Bertrand was limited with a wrist injury and, frankly, they may share the position more than anything else.
Recruiting: A four-star prospect and the No. 5 inside linebacker in the class of 2018, per rivals.com, Bauer chose the Irish over offers from Michigan State, Penn State and Vanderbilt. The No. 158 overall recruit in the class, Bauer may have suppressed possible offers by committing to Notre Dame 18 months ahead of his expected signing.

CAREER TO DATE
As Bauer chases the Irish record for career appearances this season, he can thank his early special teams successes. He made 10 tackles in 12 games as a freshman, excelling in special teams moments. His celebrations sometimes got him in some hot water, but he kept chasing down returners on coverage units all the same, being named the special teams MVP in 2019.

He played only 91 defensive snaps that season, making it clear his first 26 games were largely the result of special teams work.

Then in 2020, Bauer found a niche role on third downs. He may not be the prototypical passing-down specialist — quick, but not necessarily the most agile; and a tendency to overcommit in pursuit, part of what made him good on special teams in the first place — but the “nickel-Buck” concept worked well.

In 2021, Bauer continued that role but also played more broadly as Notre Dame ran out of healthy linebackers.

2018: 13 games; 10 tackles.
2019: 13 games; 28 tackles with two for loss.
2020: 12 games; 26 tackles with 4.5 for loss including one sack, one interception and two passes broken up.
2021: 13 games with one start; 47 tackles with four for loss including 1.5 sacks, one interception and six passes broken up.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
If Bauer reaches November still playing every week, someone should get Cal Ripken Jr. on the phone if for no other reason than a token sponsorship deal. Bauer could reach 64 games played at Notre Dame, not to mention 64 straight games played, shattering Kurt Hinish’s seemingly unbreakable record of 61 games played.

Now, knock on wood a few dozen times.

Playing 64 straight games of football at any level is something worth applauding.

QUOTES
If there ever has been a season in which Bauer has inherit advantages to get through it healthy, it will be this one. Former Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill may have been the first player to clearly take advantage of the reduced academic workload as a fifth-year veteran in 2018 and turn that into more recovery time. He, of course, needed it on both fronts. The engineering major was not used to anything but a heavy class load, and after he suffered two serious knee injuries, he needed all the time in the proverbial ice tub that he could get.

Since then, that emphasis has become more common for Notre Dame seniors and graduates.

“My focus is on just becoming a pro,” Bauer said in January. “Graduated from college, so academics first, football second kind of now flips, so I’m really focused on becoming overall a better athlete. Sleep, nutrition, strength, kind of focus very intentional. Get into film a little bit extra, learn the game a little bit more.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“The challenge for Freeman, more than for Bauer but also for Bauer, becomes getting both Bauer and (Drew) White onto the field at the same time. Linebacker was not a position of concern in 2020 for the Irish, even aside from Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but is also not a position of overwhelming confidence at the moment.

“That both creates an opportunity for Bauer to force a shake-up and a lack of a need to do so.

“Notre Dame does not yet know who will be its primary weakside linebacker; first it must figure out its primary rover. At first blush, neither would be Bauer. But he showed enough in 2020 to make that a possibility.

“Bauer is fast enough to stick with most tight ends and running backs in coverage, while also aggressive enough to serve as an effective blitzer. Hence his third-down applicability last season. Continuing primarily in that role would give Bauer plenty of chances to impact in 2021. Third downs are, after all, obviously important.

“And in ‘just’ that role, Bauer would still have plenty of energy to make Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s life easier. …

“Bauer may end up the rare player that actually capitalizes on the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. After a third year as the starter in 2021, White’s college time may be up (though he would still technically have one season of eligibility remaining). At that point, despite the influx in linebacker recruiting in the last cycle, Bauer should be White’s heir apparent.

“In normal times, Bauer would not have that additional season of eligibility, but these are not normal times, particularly in how the NCAA is handling eligibility. Notre Dame may flinch at utilizing many years of pandemic exceptions, but a starting middle linebacker with Bauer’s experience and talent would be the type of case Freeman and Irish head coach Brian Kelly would have to consider.”

2022 OUTLOOK
Stay healthy and break that record. Bask in it a bit, even.

Beyond that, it is hard to quite grasp if Bertrand or Bauer will start in the middle. Bertrand had the better 2021, but Bauer is more durable and may have the more applicable skill set. Notre Dame has enough talented linebackers to field a genuine two-deep at this point, but it is still light on experience, so moving Bertrand around a bit could help mollify that early-season concern.

Either way, Bauer should continue to be a disruption in the passing game. That is the unexpected wrinkle he brings as a middle linebacker. The Irish expect their Rover to play in coverage and/or blitz effectively. The Will (weakside) linebacker absolutely works against tight ends and running backs. None of that is as inherent in the middle linebacker’s job description.

Bauer being so effective at it, though, will allow new defensive coordinator Al Golden flexibility. He can rotate packages without giving up much to an opposing offense. He can disguise blitzes and coverages. He can adjust on the fly, something Golden insists will be a newfound ability for Notre Dame as he applies some NFL mentality to the college level.

If Bauer matches last year’s numbers of 47 tackles and six passes broken up, consider that a solid baseline. More could be within reach, pending the linebacker rotation.

And if nothing else, maybe one or two more special teams highlights for old time’s sake …

DOWN THE ROAD
This is it for Bauer at this level.

He could have transferred this season and started most anywhere else. Not doing so likely underscores his NFL ambitions. If he cannot start at Notre Dame, what are the odds he would catch on in the NFL, anyway?

At the absolute least, Bauer should get some training camp invites. A strong season could put him in the mix to be a late-round draft pick, but the NFL does not often leap at the idea of fifth-year veterans who started only one season.

RELATED READING: Bo Bauer’s return offers shot at record, redemption

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77* Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65* Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59* Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 57* Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard