Notre Dame can get more out of Asmar Bilal for a few reasons.
Among them is the fact there will be more of Bilal when training camp opens in August. The 210-pound high school safety became a 220-pound red-shirt last fall. Now in line to compete for a starting job, Bilal could kick off next season as a 235-pound Will linebacker.
The complexities of Brian VanGorder’s scheme aside, it’s all part of the reason why Bilal looks back at not playing last season as a blessing. It’s put him in prime position to get his career on a winning arc.
“In hindsight, I think I needed to red shirt,” Bilal said.
Bilal ran with the first-team defense all spring, but the absences of Greer Martini and Te’von Coney played a big part in that. The Irish were down to four scholarship linebackers during spring ball so somebody had to start. Bilal got the nod, building on his Scout Team MVP honors last season.
Whether he keeps that job is an open question, but Bilal knows he could prove only so much during spring.
“The pressure is there, but I’ve just been looking at it as competition with myself,” he said. “I feel like I know the gist, the basics. There’s things in the playbook that I’m not 100 percent about.”
Bilal is next up in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.
There’s no question Bilal is uniquely imposing in terms of his build, which is why Brian Kelly has compared him to Jaylon Smith. Bilal is a long way from that level of production, obviously.
However, what makes Bilal a compelling project is the fact he understands how much he doesn’t understand. Instead of faking it, Bilal admits he doesn’t have what it takes just yet. He met with linebackers coach Mike Elston a couple times every week during spring ball outside of the normal practice routine to try to fast forward his development. That usually means that’s exactly what ends up happening.
Bilal doesn’t pick up the defense and gets relegated to special teams duty. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the program considering sticking Bilal on all four coverage units would upgrade the speed of the position. Of course Bilal wants to play real reps on defense after holding down a starting job during spring practice. It just won’t be a surprise if Coney and/or Martini chew up those reps. Plus, the Will linebacker might be sacrificed in nickel packages this year to keep James Onwualu on the field.
So much depends on where Bilal slots this season, and that’s not clear coming out of spring ball with Coney and Martini both sidelined by shoulder injuries. Bilal might be Notre Dame’s starting Will linebacker against Texas. He could also be third-string. Is he more Steve Filer, looking the part but never getting time? Is he more Dan Fox, going from red-shirt freshman to part-time sophomore and eventually becoming a starting junior? Bilal would probably take that upswing.
Development Vs. Recruiting Ranking
Too soon to tell, although the raw athleticism flashed in practice looks like the unanimous four-star prospect that Bilal was coming out of Ben Davis. Scout.com had Bilal highest at No. 87 overall. ESPN had Bilal the lowest as a four-star linebacker outside its Top 300. Within the Irish class, Bilal was Scout.com’s fifth-rated commitment, trailing Alizé Jones, Tristen Hoge, Josh Barajas and Brandon Wimbush. Bilal was also a U.S. Army All-American.
Bilal At His Best
TBD. Bilal took a red shirt last season but won Scout Team MVP honors on defense while doing it. The coaching staff thought enough of his behind-the-scenes work to travel him to the Clemson game, which is rare for scout team players who aren’t quarterbacks. The coaches like what they see.
Quote To Note
“He’s got great potential. He works hard. He’s an aggressive, physical football player. He learned really well. Is he Jaylon Smith? No. But he’s got great potential. Jaylon had to start somewhere and that’s where Asmar is. He’s at the starting point of what we see as a very promising career.” – Linebackers coach Mike Elstonnull