Today's spotlight: linebacker Asmar Bilal
Film NotesNeeds additional weight and strength to play the weak side position at present but his six-foot-three-inch, 210-pound frame can easily handle 15 more pounds by the time the Irish head to August camp next summer. (On film, Bilal actually appears to possess a compact frame despite his listed height.)
Bilal's greatest asset is his quickness, both lateral and north-south explosion. His top football attribute though is the consistent ability to strike upon impact and stay low on a ball carrier while wrapping up the runner thereafter. It's a learned trait that will serve him well vs. the much-bigger 'backs he'll face at the collegiate level…
Shows a good nose for the QB and breaks down well in space…Appears more comfortable in space than meeting and defeating blocks, a standard trait for most prep 'backers...Doesn't appear to avoid contact though, just adept at avoiding it…Tremendous in pursuit, especially of the quarterback where he showed no signs of poor footwork prior to contact…Aggressive and intense player that diagnoses, trusts his eyes, and attacks...
Appears well-coached, i.e., not a lot of wasted, choppy steps after the snap…Cannot imagine him ranking among the two-deep inside before 2016 but could be a dime package linebacker prospect upon arrival (the role filled by Drue Tranquill in 2014)…Can't stress enough how important it is that Bilal attacks a runner's knees and ankles rather than looking to deliver a high blow…
Closing speed certainly translates well at the next level…Can run with 'backs on wheel routes and those crossing his coverage zone as well….Reads plays well, which might explain the staff's initial slotting of Bilal on the weak side…Consistently displays the lost art of the wrap-up hit…Safe prospect in that his instincts translate to the WLB position but his speed and current frame to SLB…Unblocked a lot on film, which could mask issues, but it's never good to note that a prospect is forced to consistently shed blocks at the prep level, either.
Initial Concern after watching film: Considering current Irish sophomore and potential 2015 All-America Jaylon Smith still struggles to shed lead blockers at his WLB spot, it would appear that the 210-pound Bilal will need improvement in that realm upon arrival. But weight and strength can be added with time and hard work. Top tier speed and quickness, cannot.
Key Takeaway If Bilal begins his collegiate career with a WLB evaluation, a redshirt season must ensue, but that's fine assuming Jaylon Smith remains at the position for his junior year, as sophomore Greer Martini would be a viable backup.
Ideal Situation for Bilal in 2015: A redshirt season. Bilal could contribute from the outset on special teams and as a sub package player, but a two-deep base defense role at WLB is not a reasonable option for him in 2015, at least not if the Irish hope to contend and retain their coaching staff for 2016.
Bilal is likely a future starting WLB at Notre Dame and would have been a heck of an SLB prospect in the pre-spread era. At present though, the role (in Brian VanGorder's defense) includes a heavy dose of pass coverage/nickel responsibilities. (Bilal could play SLB in obvious running situations against teams that don't feature an up-tempo passing attack, similarly to James Onwualu's role in 2014.)
Upon ArrivalA look at eligibility among Notre Dame's weak side (WLB) and strong side (SLB) linebackers when Bilal hits campus prior to the 2015 season:
Likely 5th-Year Senior Matthias Farley -- The team's nickel defender also works as a de facto SLB and earned more reps this fall than did technical SLB starter James Onwualu. In an ideal world, Farley would be a nickel substitute with either Onwualu (or Jaylon Smith) entrenched at SLB.
Potential 5th-Year Senior Ben Councell -- At career crossroads after a pair of concussions in 2014 that followed one in August Camp 2013, plus a Nov. 2013 knee injury that required surgery (PCL). A move from little-used SLB to WLB would seem logical for Councell should he return for a fifth season.
Senior John Turner -- Has carved his niche as a special teams starter but is not expected to challenge returning incumbents Farley (nickel) and Onwualu (below) for a role at scrimmage.
Juniors: Jaylon Smith (2016) will either start again at WLB or move back to the open side of the scrimmage, the SLB role, to play more in space. Classmates Michael Deeb (2017) and Doug Randolph (2017) remain untested. Deeb was the last member of the class of 2013 to make his collegiate debut, doing so for two snaps in the season-finale after third-string MLB Greer Martini was lost to injury.
Randolph played extensively on special teams over the final four games but did not log competitive action from scrimmage, technically working behind Smith and Martini at the will position.
As noted above, Onwualu was the team's technical SLB starter. Head coach Brian Kelly spoke highly of him in terms of improvement and assimilation to the linebacker role after a freshman season at wide receiver. If Smith remains at WLB, Onwualu will continue to compete at SLB. If Smith were to move, the athletic Onwualu could fill numerous roles (including a move back to wide receiver, where he would add a much-needed physical run-blocking presence.)
Sophomores: Both Nyles Morgan (mike) and Greer Martini (will/mike) received extensive late-season work in the middle. Neither should be a lock to remain at the position I've listed above. Morgan, in my opinion, should receive spring work at WLB which would allow Smith to work at SLB and Joe Schmidt to man the middle -- thus allowing the linebacker group its best potential trio for fall 2015. Martini appears a capable backup at both Mike and Will and could train as such.
Incoming Freshmen: In addition to Bilal (WLB/SLB), four-star prospect Josh Barajas (Andrean HS, Merriville, Ind.) projects to SLB upon arrival. Barajas' film review is forthcoming.
Te'Von Coney (Palm Beach Gardens HS, Fla.) projects to middle linebacker at the outset of his collegiate career. Coney's film review and projection is linked below.