Notre Dame will play its annual Blue-Gold Game today, giving Fighting Irish fans their first chance to see the 2021 version of the football team. Despite some key personnel losses the Irish defense is poised to continue its strong play, although this will be our first look at new coordinator Marcus Freeman.
Below are the five things I’m looking for on defense today and our Notre Dame spring preview podcast.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - NOTRE DAME DEFENSE
The first thing I’ll be looking for on defense are the changes that Freeman is implementing. Although the first-year coordinator has said he plans to keep many of the same principles, the reality is he’ll put his own DNA on the defense. So what will that look like? I’m looking forward to seeing the different alignments, the different pressure packages and especially the coverage looks Notre Dame shows on the back end.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how players that have moved positions look, especially defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and rover Jack Kiser.
2. Defensive Line Dominance
Notre Dame’s defensive line has been the fuel that powered the defense in recent seasons, and that is expected to continue in 2021 despite the loss of Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes. It has certainly been impressive in highlight clips, but has the practice clips dominance been the story of the line or just brief moments that find their way onto the highlights?
We won’t know the full answer until the fall, but I am curious to see if the line dominates like it should today. Will Jayson Ademilola carry his strong spring into the Blue-Gold Game? Will Isaiah Foskey show growth, and what will Jordan Botelho do on the edge? Is Rylie Mills and Howard Cross III ready to become impact rotation players? Will any young edge players shine?
It’s been fun to watch this unit shine in the practice clips, and now I want to see it in the game.
3. Cornerbacks Emerging
Cornerback is arguably the biggest question mark on the roster, and are any of the young corners ready to emerge and seize hold of a starting role? A lot is expected of boundary corner Cam Hart, but he is very inexperienced. I’m looking forward to seeing his technical growth in coverage and if his ball skills will result in him making plays.
TaRiq Bracy has been reported to have had a strong spring, but will that carry over into the Blue-Gold game? His emergence is incredibly important to the cornerback position, as Notre Dame needs at least three corners to thrive if it’s going to matchup against the best teams on the schedule. That is especially true if the Irish make the College Football Playoff or get into a major bowl game.
What kind of sophomore jump can Clarence Lewis make? How about Ramon Henderson? I’m very much looking forward to seeing freshmen Ryan Barnes and Philip Riley.
4. Houston Griffith Stepping Up
One of the biggest keys for the Notre Dame defense is senior Houston Griffith stepping up at safety. A former top recruit, Griffith has never been able to settle in at one position. He’s now going into his second season at safety, and him finally living up to his potential is vitally important to the defense. What will Griffith look like with a full season at safety under his belt, and in a defense he seems to be far more comfortable in.
There are other safeties that I’m looking forward to watching - namely KJ Wallace and Justin Walters - but I really want to see Griffith play well.
5. Improved Linebacker Play
This defense should be far more friendly to the Notre Dame linebackers, but this is still a group with a lot of questions. Notre Dame has plenty of depth and athleticism, but how will the unit perform? Will we see it make more plays, will the coverage improve and who will provide a pass rush from the second level? Those are all important questions.
Will Shayne Simon finally turn his talent into production? What kind of jump will Marist Liufau make? Can Bo Bauer seriously challenge Drew White at Mike linebacker? Is Jack Kiser ready to become a playmaker at Rover? What about young guys like JD Bertrand and Osita Ekwonu?
There is a lot of talent in this group, but we need to see it start to make more plays, especially with All-American Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah now headed to the NFL.
BLUE-GOLD PREVIEW - DEFENSE
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