Over the next 25 days I will be ranking and breaking down the 25 best players for Notre Dame for the 2020 season. This analysis is a combination of talent, expected production, importance of that player’s role and also the value the player brings. The value aspect includes the position played and also the depth chart, meaning who can the Irish least afford to lose.
To kick things off I am going to do in an unorthodox direction, and that is picking a player that is yet to be identified, and that is the third linebacker in the starting lineup.
Of course, the third linebacker has yet to be determined, and we likely won’t know who that is until the season kicks off. We know the contenders, and we know the impressive talent that exists at the position, but we don’t know who will emerge as the starter.
A case could be made that the talent of the contenders is such that moving them up this list would make sense, but without knowing who that player is it was too difficult to move them up beyond No. 25.
Let’s take a look at the main contenders:
JACK LAMB, JUNIOR
Lamb was a starter in Notre Dame’s dime package last season, and he shined in that role. His length and athleticism allowed him to thrive in coverage, and his instincts were on display when teams tried to run screens against the defense.
Last spring the California native played like a starter, showing off his outstanding range and playmaking ability. He wasn’t able to carry that into the fall, but those traits did allow him to shine in a part-time role. Now a junior, Lamb needs to finally turn his raw tools into consistent production.
If he does, he’ll have a great shot at earning a starting role and becoming a difference maker on defense. At the very least Lamb should be able to find a third-down role and a rotation spot in the defense.
SHAYNE SIMON, JUNIOR
Simon is another part of Notre Dame’s vaunted 2018 linebacker class, which was arguably the best in the nation that season. Like Lamb, Simon has yet to turn his top-notch talent into production. The reason for Simon has been an inability to get comfortable at one spot. After struggling at rover, Simon moved inside, and if he gets comfortable there he could certainly find a home.
According to sources, Simon has been getting a lot of work with the first-team defense, so clearly his offseason work has impressed the coaches enough to push him into that role. Simon is an incredibly athletic player, and he provided a few flashes of talent that made him a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school.
Simon has struggled with assignment correctness and also showing the reaction skills needed to thrive, but if he settles in and picks that up his physical tools will allow him to become a force in the defense.
BO BAUER, JUNIOR
Bauer emerging as the third starter on defense would shake up the entire unit. Lamb and Simon can slide into the Buck linebacker spot, but Bauer is more of a Mike linebacker, the spot currently manned by Drew White. Should Bauer force himself into the starting lineup that would result in White sliding out to the Buck spot.
Bauer was a standout on special teams last season. A case could be made he was Notre Dame’s best cover player on the kickoff and punt teams. He led the Irish with 13 special teams tackles, showing off impressive vertical speed and open-field tackling ability.
The Pennsylvania native is an in-the-box thumper. He’s more athletic than often given credit for and he arrives at the ball with force. Being assignment correct and disciplined from an execution standpoint have been his issues in the past, but if he cleans that up he’ll be hard to keep off the field.
MARIST LIUFAU, SOPHOMORE
According to sources, the Notre Dame coaches had a hard time keeping Liufau off the field for more than four games last season. His lack of size and weight room strength made it ideal for him to get a redshirt season, but his athleticism, motor, attitude and playmaking ability made it very tempting for the staff to play him for more than four games.
Now a sophomore, Liufau is going to make a hard push for playing time. Harnessing his talent will be key, which means becoming a disciplined and assignment correct player. If he can do that you can be certain he’ll be on the field in some capacity.
Liufau plays with an incredible motor and shows an intense passion for the game. Combine that with impressive length, speed and coverage skills and he should at least provide assistance in the nickel and dime packages. Perhaps there is a role for him outside in those situations, which would allow Notre Dame to move Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah inside.
Of course, Liufau could also force himself into the starting lineup as well.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Clark Lea has shown an impressive knack for getting the most out of his linebackers at Notre Dame. He helped turn Asmar Bilal into a standout for the 2019 defense, and I’m fully confident in him being able to get at least one of the above players ready to shine.
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