The Notre Dame defense was good in 2023, ranking seventh in the country in total defense, and sixth in yards per play allowed at 4.4. The only problem is that Freeman’s defense was old, especially at linebacker. JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser, and Marist Liufau have been mainstays at the second level for years and were all graduate students in 2023.
Leading tackler, Bertrand does have a year of eligibility remaining, as does Liufau, but realistically both could move on with Kiser. It remains to be seen who will come back at linebacker, but there is the potential for massive turnover.
Marcus Freeman obviously knows more about who is returning than we do, so maybe he does not prioritize the linebacker position, but he probably should.
Pace was a part of the 2021 Cincinnati team that took the final CFP spot away from Notre Dame. He’s been a part of great Bearcats defenses for years, but this season he couldn’t hold things together by himself.
In 2024, he led the team in tackles for the first time and is technically a box safety, but would easily transition to linebacker with his 6-foot-2 212 212-pound frame. He could also play the Xavier Watts role as a hybrid safety if Watts departs for the NFL.
It’s not easy playing for the SEC’s punching bag and Barr has taken his lumps in Nashville for four seasons. This year he made 54 tackles with one sack, one forced fumble, and one pass breakup. 2021 was his most productive year with 85 total tackles four pass breakups and three interceptions.