Notre Dame Football: Linebackers look to have a big year

Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports /

Notre Dame football has a linebacking core who can make a lot of noise in 2017.

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One of the interesting aspects of this season’s Notre Dame defense is the change that new defensive coordinator Mike Elko has made in the alignment. In year’s past, the Fighting Irish had a 4-3-4 defense. Elko runs a 4-2-5 defense that is different because of the rover position. This is a hybrid player who is part linebacker and part strong safety. We will review the players who will man this position and the mike and buck linebacker positions.

The rover position is a competition between last year’s strong safety Drew Tranquill and linebacker Asmar Bilal. Tranquill (6’ 2” 230 lb redshirt junior) appears in the lead according to the Spring Scholarship Depth Chart. Last season, Tranquill played in all 12 games and was the second leading tackler on the team with 52 solo tackles, 45 assisted ones, six tackles for loss, four sacks and three passes defensed.

Bilal (6’ 2” 230 lb red-shirt sophomore) played in 12 games even though he played a lesser amount of minutes than Tranquill. He had 12 solo tackles, 17 assisted ones, three tackles for loss and one sack. Both players are hard hitters. It is expected that Tranquill will start, but Bilal may get as much time on the field as Tranquill.

At mike linebacker Nyles Morgan (6’ 1” 240 lb senior) will start. He led the Fighting Irish in tackles last season with 49 solo tackles, 45 assisted ones, six tackles for loss and four sacks. Morgan is the complete package as he is fast, strong, athletic and is expected to lead the Fighting Irish in tackles again this season. He will be the leader of the defense and a great season from him could mean a lot of wins for Notre Dame.

Morgan will be backed up by two youngsters in Jamir Jones and Jonathan Jones. Jamir Jones (6’ 3” 245 lb sophomore) played in 10 games last season as a backup. He had seven solo tackles, and one assisted one. He will battle it out with Jonathan Jones (6’ 0” 225 lb red-shirt freshman) who had a very good spring practice. While he is short for the position, he is a very hard hitter. It will be interesting to watch to watch the two Jones boys battle for a two-deep position.

The buck linebacker position has two veterans really going at it. Greer Martini (6’ 4” 240 lb senior) was a starter last season. He played in all 12 games and had 29 solo tackles, 26 assisted ones, seven tackles for loss, three sacks and one pass defensed. He brings a veteran presence to the defense and is especially good against the run.

Te’von (6’ 1’ 235 lb junior) also played in 12 games last season. He had 33 solo tackles, 29 assisted ones and 1.5 tackles for loss. He is faster than Martini and more athletic. This will be a tremendous competition to sees who wins the starting job. Josh Barajas (6’ 2” 240 lb red-shirt sophomore) has been a disappointment. The former four-star was a red-shirt his freshman season and did not play last season.

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The linebackers, of course, will play a large part in helping the overall defense improve. There is great potential in this group; they just have to play to their potential. Mike Elko’s changes in alignment could ignite this group as it could the entire defense. The outcome of the season depends on it.