Notre Dame football: A look at the linebacker position

Notre Dame Linebacker position(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Notre Dame Linebacker position(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

As we continue to look forward to the fall and the 2020 season, next up in the positional preview series is the linebacker group.

Gone are the days where Jaylon Smith and Drue Tranquill roamed the linebacker position and continually made great play after great play.

However, what if I told you the next great Notre Dame linebacker is already on the squad and is preparing to have a 2020 season for the history books?

Let’s get into a breakdown of each position and the individual player.

Buck linebacker

The Buck linebacker is definitely the most interesting linebacker position grouping to watch as inch closer to the 2020 season. The Mike and Rover positions have a clear starter, while the Buck does not.

Players will move around and swap positions at linebacker — it happens every year — but for now, there is a group of four players vying for the starting role of Buck linebacker.

First, is the Swedish senior Jordan Genmark-Heath.

Through his first couple of years at Notre Dame, Genmark-Heath has yet to make a big impact, registering just 10 tackles last season and 40 for his career.

Genmark-Heath has his best chance to carve out a starting role this season if he can beat out some of the young guys who will be gunning for his spot. Early offseason reports and practice reports indicated that ‘JGH’ looked good, but it is hard to tell how good.

The California product is a player that needs to make a move this season, or it may just not happen for him at Notre Dame.

Next, is rising sophomore Marist Liufau.

The Hawaiian redshirted as a freshman last season but played well in the time he was given.

Liufau’s speed, athleticism, and instincts at the Buck linebacker position suit him well to give Genmark-Heath a battle for the starting position.

This spring would have been huge for Liufau making a move and potentially locking down the starting spot. The staff really seems to like him and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Liufau does, in fact, lock down the starting Buck linebacker role.

Third, on the depth chart is another player with a lot of potential — Jack Lamb.

Lamb was receiving a good amount of playing time last season, before tearing a hip muscle in the Virginia Tech game which ended his season. Prior to that point, on the season, Lamb had tallied seven tackles (four solo), one sack, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

The California native was playing quite a bit on third down and was proving to be a capable Buck linebacker before the injury. Lamb will not be third on the depth chart come Week 1, but injuries cause a lot of unknowns and not much has been said about him.

Expect Lamb to come to camp — whenever that is — healthy and ready to fight for a spot in a linebacker role of some capacity.

Last, is sophomore Osita Ekwonu.

After redshirting last season, Ekwonu now has a year under his belt and is ready to compete for playing time in Clark Lea’s defense.

Coming into Notre Dame as a 4-star ILB according to 247sports, many expect him to be a very good linebacker in the future. Keyword — future. Ekwonu has a lot of talent in front of him and will likely not receive a ton of playing time this fall.

The future is bright for this kid, however, and he will still receive playing time this fall. If he flashes over the summer or in a few games, he could potentially overtake one of the aforementioned linebackers.

Mike linebacker

First on the list, the outright starter, Drew White.

White burst onto the scene last season, leading the team in tackles (80), while also adding eight tackles for loss, two sacks, two QB hurries and two fumble recoveries.

In preseason of 2019, there were huge question marks at the linebacker positions, White answered them with flying colors. His ability to be a consistent tackler and read offenses makes him very successful in the Notre Dame defense.

Expect White to lead the team in tackles again, with potentially even more tackles for loss and sacks.

Second, the special teams star, Bo Bauer.

The junior saw action in all 13 games last season, totaling 28 tackles, a majority of them on special teams. Bauer’s speed, grit, and tenacity make him a valuable special teams weapon. Many players seem to not enjoy special teams, but Bauer loves it and its obvious to see.

Bauer will look to be in the rotation on third down and get plenty of playing time against the lesser opponents on the 2020 schedule (Western Michigan, Arkansas, etc.)

The Pennsylvania product will be one to watch in camp as he could make a move to another linebacker position, or challenge Drew White for playing time at the Mike. Regardless of whether Bauer works himself into a starting role on defense, he will most definitely still be running down the returner on kicks and punts, that is for certain.

Next, is junior Shayne Simon.

Simon has had a rough career at Notre Dame thus far, after coming in as one of the most hyped linebacker prospects in some time.

After not settling into the Rover position he was recruited to play, Simon has bounced back and forth between Mike and Buck. No one truly knows his best position quite yet, either way, this season is crucial for Simon.

Simon suffered a nasty dislocated patella during the Navy game last season, which kept him out for the remainder of the year. Prior to his injury, Simon saw action in 10 games, making nine tackles and 1.5 sacks.

His recovery from surgery will be key to how he performs in 2020. If Simon can return healthy and lock down a true position that he can learn and master, watch out.

Last, is JD Bertrand.

The sophomore out of Roswell, GA is potentially one of the best linebackers on this team that you haven’t heard of. Bertrand received glowing practice reports last season and is set to shine in the future at Notre Dame.

Last season, Bertrand saw action in four games, playing exclusively on special teams against Bowling Green, Navy, Boston College and Stanford.

Bertrand could be a player that makes a big move this preseason. The staff likes him a lot, and there is room for him to settle into a decent amount of playing time if he takes it.

Rover linebacker

First, the defensive MVP of last season, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Simply put, ‘JOK’ did it all for the Notre Dame defense last season. The senior started all 13 games while tying for the team lead with 80 tackles with fellow linebacker Drew White.

Owusu-Koramoah added a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks, four pass breakups, three QB hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

If Owusu-Koramoah plays as well as he did last season, we are looking at a first-round draft pick. He is twitch-fast, instinctive, and has all the makings of today’s NFL linebacker.

He will be one of the players to watch on defense this fall.

Second, is the hometown kid, Paul Moala.

Another linebacker who burst onto the scene last season was junior Paul Moala. The Mishawaka native played in 12 games on the season, making 14 tackles with a tackle for loss, two QB hurries a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Moala also had one of the more memorable moments of the season when he intercepted a Navy pitch and returned it for a touchdown.

Expect Moala to see plenty of playing time this season, as he will back up Owusu-Koramoah, or potentially move over to the Mike or Buck.

Last, is Jack Kiser.

Along with Bertrand, Kiser was another linebacker who received glowing practice reports last season.

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Kiser redshirted last season, but the future is bright for this young linebacker. Do not expect him to play in more than 5-7 games, but 2021 and 2022 will be huge for Kiser.