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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 222 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Jones remains the presumptive backup to senior linebacker Te’von Coney, though Jones has a couple freshmen ton contend with in early enrollees Bo Bauer and Jack Lamb.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Jones chose Notre Dame over offers from Michigan, Stanford, LSU and Florida, as well as many others. Rivals.com rated him the No. 19 inside linebacker in the class of 2016 and the No. 66 prospect in Florida.

CAREER TO DATE
Jones preserved a year of eligibility as a freshman before becoming the fourth man in a three-man rotation at inside linebacker last year. While Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini and Coney split time, Jones got mop-up duty.

2017: 13 games; 10 tackles with one for loss against USC and one broken-up pass.

QUOTE(S)
Yes, Jones is an unknown, to put it gently. No, he does not have much of a track record of any kind. That made this spring a chance to prove his potential and validate the Irish coaching staff’s view of him.

“We have to leave this spring knowing [Jones] can be our No. 2 there,” head coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “Can he back up Te’von Coney?

“We believe he can. He’s got to go now do it. He knows what his role’s going to be. He’s got to be a great special teams player for us, as well. We need a lot from him there. … Jonathan’s got to do a great job of being a guy that can give Te’von a blow when he needs one.”

Kelly echoed those comments later in March.

“Jonathan Jones has to be a guy that consistently shows up for us because he has to be able to step in there in a more active role.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Aside from time on special teams and in mop-up duty of blowouts, it is hard to see Jones getting much action this season. Morgan will play. It is as simple as that.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Kelly made it pretty clear: Jones will be a reserve again this season, but a reserve relied upon for some genuine snaps. Coney could probably play 80 solid snaps per game, but that simply begs for another defensive letdown in November. He will nonetheless be asked for that unless a capable substitute is available for 15-25 plays each weekend, and Jones will either be that backup or be supplanted by Bauer or Lamb.

If Jones plays behind Coney, he should end up with 20-25 tackles, some of which will likely come via special teams. Fitting a few running lanes without hesitation and making a few tackles behind the line of scrimmage would leave enough of a good impression to possibly keep Bauer and Lamb a line down on the depth chart next season, as well. In that regard, motivation should not be lacking for Jones, even as a backup behind an All-American candidate.

DOWN THE ROAD
There are two paths forward for Jones, both hinted at in the previous section. Either he stays ahead of Bauer and Lamb this season, meaning he will be the frontrunner to succeed Coney in the middle of the Notre Dame defense, or at least one of the freshmen will pass Jones this season and relegate him to career backup. In the first scenario, Jones could end up a two-year starter for the Irish.

The most-likely resolution falls somewhere between multi-year starter and career reserve. Bauer and Lamb both have higher ceilings than Jones, but neither is yet ready for the grind of a college football (true more of Lamb than of Bauer) and they have a full playbook to learn. Those advantages will keep Jones ahead of them for the start of 2018, if not its entirety. As Bauer and Lamb grow figuratively and literally, Jones’ opportunities will gradually be shared amongst the three.

If Jones handles that appropriately in the locker room and stays ready to play, he will never be phased out entirely. Using a rotation at linebacker to keep players fresh may not be as common as it is along the defensive line, but there is still value to it.

Jones can add proof to that concept as Coney did last season. His rise will almost assuredly not be as quick as Coney’s August-to-October jump from afterthought to tackling machine, but there is still time for Jones to become a consistent contributor, even if in a below-the-radar role in the long-run.

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. 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. 48 (theoretically) Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame adds commitment of four-star linebacker Ekwonu to stellar defensive haul

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As of Thursday afternoon, more than half of Notre Dame’s 13 commitments in the class of 2019 are consensus four-star recruits. Of those seven, five line up on the defensive side of the ball and the other two spend their time in the trenches of the offensive line.

In other words, it seems the Irish coaching staff is impressing the players it wants to in this cycle.

Linebacker Osita Ekwonu (Providence Day; Charlotte, N.C.) joined the grouping with a Thursday announcement. The No. 181 player in the country and No. 5 prospect in North Carolina, per rivals.com, Ekwonu’s finalists included Ohio State, Penn State, Duke and Northwestern while he also held offers from Alabama, Auburn and Michigan.

Ekwonu projects as a prototypical linebacker, currently holding about 215 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame. Add 15 or 20 pounds of muscle to his already impressive tackling form and Ekwonu could become a hound for the ballcarrier from the Buck linebacker position. His ability to shed blocks and read plays well — be it via instinct or thorough film study — should suit him well in the inside-outside duties required of the Buck linebacker.

Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Clark Lea served as Ekwonu’s primary recruiter.

“Seeing how he coaches and talking with him has been great,” Ekwonu told rivals.com. “Football is the last thing we talk about. He’s open to any discussion and he cares about his players as students and wants them to be active members of society.”

Ekwonu is the second linebacker to commit to Notre Dame this week, joining consensus three-star Jack Kiser (Pioneer High School; Royal Center, Ind.). Of the 13 commitments in the class, nine will start their collegiate careers on defense.

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ¼, 240 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: The excellent class of defensive ends a year ahead of Wardlow keeps him mired as the third-string drop end behind juniors Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit, Wardlow switched to Notre Dame from a Maryland commitment at the last possible moment, making his decision on National Signing Day. The No. 47 defensive end in the country per rivals.com, Wardlow also considered offers from Michigan State and Virginia Tech.

CAREER TO DATE
Wardlow saw no action his freshman season, preserving a year of eligibility.

QUOTE(S)
Lacking any truly elite specialty skill, Wardlow was always a likely sideline observant as a freshman. He nonetheless made an impression on Irish head coach Brian Kelly during the season.

“Kofi Wardlow, when he puts on some more size, has suddenness,” Kelly said in November discussing who had impressed with their scout team work.

It should be noted, Wardlow arrived at Notre Dame weighing closer to 210 pounds, meaning he has already put on a good bit of that heft.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“With only two falls of football to his name, it would be in Wardlow’s best interests to spend a season preserving eligibility and developing a deeper understanding of the game, not to mention a more college-ready physicality. That is also the most-likely scenario, unless it is deemed he is needed on special teams. For these purposes, let’s presume that will not be the case. Irish special teams coordinator Brian Polian has openly wanted more bodies for his units, but in doing so he referred to linebackers and safeties. Wardlow may have a lithe body, but he is very much a defensive end, not a linebacker.”

2018 OUTLOOK
It is tough to see a path to consistent playing time for Wardlow this season. Hayes’ all-around game continues to develop and Okwara may soon become a bona fide pass-rusher. That junior class also includes Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji, bookending the other side of the line.

As much of a hindrance to his career as that quartet of junior ends may be, Wardlow is also the beneficiary of the Irish signing only one defensive end in the class of 2018, not to mention the departure of the only other end signed in 2017 (Jonathan MacCollister). That kind of void in the roster could work out perfectly to Wardlow’s benefit, not just because there are so few others to compete with once those juniors have moved on.

It also means no one has leaped past Wardlow in the coaching staff’s minds, and he will have a lengthy chance to grow into the prospect imagined. Speaking of which …

DOWN THE ROAD
Wardlow did not play football until his junior year of high school. In every way, he remains very young and raw. When his national letter of intent arrived during Kelly’s press conference on National Signing Day 2017, Kelly compared him to former Irish defensive end Romeo Okwara, Julian’s older brother and current New York Giant. That comparison was not just in reference to the common position; it was also an acknowledgement of how much Wardlow can still be molded into form.

That would presumably take more than one season. It will likely take at least two. Even if Wardlow does not begin making an impact until 2020, that will be partly due to the successes of Hayes and Julian Okwara. Having those playmakers around to spare Wardlow the pressure of playing before he is ready sets him up to grow into the player Kelly was alluding to and hoping for. Again, this fall is only Wardlow’s fourth on a football field.

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. 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. 48 (theoretically) Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 33 Shayne Simon, four-star linebacker, incoming freshman

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3, 210 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Incoming freshman with four years of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Simon will enter preseason practice fourth on the depth chart at rover, behind senior and presumptive starter Asmar Bilal, sophomore Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah and sophomore Isaiah Robertson, recently-converted from safety.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star, the U.S. Army All-American chose Notre Dame over eight Big Ten offers, including from Michigan and Ohio State, as well as six from the ACC, led by North Carolina State and Boston College. Rivals.com considered him the No. 12 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 159 overall prospect.

QUOTE(S)
Committing in July of 2017 and putting figurative pen to paper during December’s early signing period, Simon’s recruitment was handled largely by now-former Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko. When searching for a rover, the key wrinkle in Elko’s scheme, he handled much of the pursuit himself.

Of course, linebackers coach and now defensive coordinator Clark Lea had a fair share of input, and he will continue to use the rover as a method of keeping the defensive adaptive rather than reactive.

“I’m really excited for Shayne,” Lea said in mid-April. “It’s unfair to him to project what he will be able to do (immediately) because there’s a lot that goes into that. As I am excited for him and have a plan to execute in terms of when he arrives, I want to be surprised by what he’s capable of helping us with this year.

“If he proves himself capable, just like any of the other guys coming in, we will absolutely have a place for him.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN SIMON’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Simon might already be prepared for the game in front of him. He charges to the line of scrimmage and fills holes ably. Diagnosing plays and providing appropriate coverage may take some time, but that is to be expected of any high schooler.

“… Elko brought in Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah last season with the intent of developing him at rover. Simon may fit the position even better, Elko having had a full cycle to chase him down.”

2018 OUTLOOK
When fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill moved inside after a successful 2017 spent at rover, it opened the door for Simon to contribute defensively right away. It is still somewhat unlikely, but it would have been outright unfathomable (barring injury) with Tranquill at the position for his final season and second as a captain.

Bilal will still get the first chance, and his physicality sets him up well to handle any running attacks. He has yet to show thorough adeptness against the pass, though, an area where perhaps Robertson might excel.

Simon, theoretically, presents both possibilities. If Bilal were to be exposed against the pass and Robertson against the run, then either Simon or Owusu-Koromoah could be needed against a genuinely-capable offense, whoever is more ready.

At the least, Simon’s athleticism should lead to him working on kickoff coverage this season. Preserving a year of eligibility would be a mild surprise.

DOWN THE ROAD
Bilal does have two years of eligibility remaining. If he takes control of the rover position in 2018, he is likely to hold onto it in 2019. After that, it will be the same discussion of Owusu-Koromoah or Simon, both currently with four years of eligibility remaining and each recruited specifically for this position.

As long as Lea is Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, the rover will be a key piece of the puzzle, if not the key. That kind of spotlight makes it an alluring challenge, such that it is easy to believe two young players could stick around for a while waiting for their respective chances to shine.

WHY NO. 48?
More incoming freshman numbers should start to surface this week as they arrive on campus, but for now Simon’s future jersey digits are unknown. Dropping him in the late 40s fits many linebackers and, simply enough, fills an open number on the Irish roster.

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. 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. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

Indiana LB stays close to home with commitment to Notre Dame

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Notre Dame made linebacker a priority in the last recruiting class, finding four soon-to-be contributors. Thus, there may not be much of an impetus at the position in this cycle, making the Tuesday commitment of consensus three-star linebacker Jack Kiser (Pioneer High School; Royal Center, Ind.) that much more noteworthy.

Coming from just 70 miles south of Notre Dame, Kiser chose the Irish over Purdue, as well as Iowa and Michigan State.

Kiser’s high school is a small one — with an enrollment of approximately only 430 students from seventh to 12th grades, per the school website — part of why he played both sides of the ball the last two seasons, culminating with a 15-0 state title-winning 2017. Nonetheless, Kiser’s future is not at quarterback, and his commitment is not a hedge against Notre Dame failing to find a quarterback to join the now 12 pledges in the class of 2019.

Arriving a year after those four linebackers, Kiser’s route to playing time with the Irish will be a difficult one. He plays best against the run, typical of a physical high school senior who has yet to spend time in a collegiate conditioning program, pointing to a future on the interior, not at rover. As such, Bo Bauer and Jack Lamb will be the greatest roadblocks to Kiser finding playing time before his final years in college.