By Matt Freeman
Notre Dame entered the spring with questions surrounding the linebacker position as the Irish were essentially looking for three new starters.
Asmar Bilal returned for a fifth year after starting at rover last fall, but he moved inside to compete with a host of other players.
Junior linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath thoroughly enjoyed the competition each day this spring as it drove each player to be better over the 15 practices.
“It pushes every single person in that room,” stated Genmark Heath. “Let’s say Jack Lamb goes out there and has a great set of five plays. I have to go out there and compete every single day. We help each other out, so it’s pushing our game to the next level and that’s exactly what we need to do.”
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was pleased with the progress of his linebackers and knows there is still much more work to do.
“There is a lot of progress being made there,” said Kelly following the Blue-Gold game. “I could see it from out there. I wanted to be out there to see tackle to tackle. We’re progressing to the point where we are starting to see some of the things being taught, repeated. That’s when you feel a little bit better about where you’re going to end up.
“There is enough athleticism out there. It will be our job and Clark’s (Lea) job to put them in position to succeed. They aren’t as experienced at that position as we’ve had in the past. It’ll be our job to utilize their athletic ability and put them in positions to succeed. If that means us doing some things, that’s our job. We see progress and we have to be smart in taking advantage of their skill set.”
Replacing the experience and talent of last year’s linebackers is a tough chore, but Genmark Heath made the same point as Kelly in terms of the linebackers being much different than a year ago.
“I don’t think there is any pressure,” Genmark Heath said of replacing NFL talent at linebacker. “Everyone asks how we’re going to replace Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney and it’s a fair question.
“We have a different type of linebacker in our linebacker room right now. We could actually be better than the guys before us. Don’t get me wrong, they are great players and it’s hard to do that, but I’m confident in all of our guys and myself. I don’t feel any pressure there.”
Catching up on experience is something Genmark Heath and other linebackers can’t replicate in the spring, but they have made sure to put in the extra work needed to be the at their best by the time the Irish head to Louisville.
“Coach Nick Lezynski has been in The Gug for hours with us watching film every day,” stated Genmark Heath. “That is what is going to separate us from other teams. The amount of strategy, film and how many extra hours we put in.”