Brian Kelly said he wouldn’t get too caught up in depth charts during spring practice. At the Rover position – the hybrid safety/linebacker spot that’s helped define Mike Elko’s defense – that will prove particularly true.
On Wednesday morning when Notre Dame opened spring practice, linebacker Asmar Bilal played the position. Next month starting safety Drue Tranquill might get a look. Come summer, reserve sophomores Spencer Perry and D.J. Morgan could audition. Same goes for incoming freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah once he arrives in June.
All that is just fine by Kelly. It sort of has to be.
“I really think it’s going to be a week-to-week matchup situation,” Kelly said. “You’re going to look at the teams that can stress the position with a slot receiver versus a tight end. We play some power run teams in the fist month of the season.”
In other words, don’t look for Elko to ask Bilal to play Rover when the opposition puts somebody like C.J. Sanders in the slot. And don’t look for Elko to put Tranquill there when the Irish go against a team that employs two tight ends with a fullback, a la Michigan State or Stanford.
A position that’s supposed to offer Elko’s defense the ultimate in flexibility will naturally have to be flexible itself with personnel. That’s particularly true before Notre Dame’s next recruiting class arrives this summer. Because when Bilal subbed out on Wednesday morning and the second and third defenses took the field, a walk-on played Rover.
“I think what you’ll find at the Rover position is there’ll be some versatility based upon the opponent,” Kelly said.
Still, Bilal might be the most interesting of the candidates considering he’s built like a poor man’s Jaylon Smith and played safety in high school. Now he’s 6-foot-2, 229 pounds and coming off a sophomore season of 29 tackles, one sack and no starts.
“We think Asmar is a guy that physically can run with most detached tight ends or backs coming out in the role that we’re going to ask that Rover to match up,” Kelly said. “We’re not going to ask him to match up vertically and play corner routes. We think he’s a physical guy at the point of attack. A guy that is agile enough to play in space but not put him in a position where he’d have to play more of a safety at that position right now.”
At some point this spring somebody else will get a look at Rover. Maybe that will be Friday for Notre Dame’s second practice. Maybe it will wait until after spring beak. Maybe it will wait until the Blue-Gold Game. Regardless, the Rover position remains under development.
And that’s just fine for now.