Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

Irish A-to-Z: Khalid Kareem

When Notre Dame landed four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem it looked like the Irish had scored an instant impact pass rusher in the former Alabama commit.

Class: Sophomore (Eligibility: 3)
On The Depth Chart: Running third-team at strong-side defensive end behind Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti
Post-Spring Status: Unchanged

When Notre Dame landed Khalid Kareem two years ago he was supposed to be the thunder to Daelin Hayes’ lightning.

The pair of Michigan prospects appeared to be what the Irish lacked in the front seven, both high-level athletes who the Irish ultimately flipped from USC (Hayes) and Alabama (Kareem). And while the Crimson Tide basically walked away from Kareem’s commitment that fall, the fact they took it to begin with was a compliment in itself.

Even though the hype today between Hayes and Kareem is lopsided, ESPN actually rated Kareem (No. 135 overall) ahead of Hayes (No. 227 overall) in their final rankings. The network even called Kareem the most important player in Notre Dame’s class.

There was good reason for it too considering Kareem won MVP of the Semper Fi Bowl after a couple of fumble recoveries. Kareem was quick, explosive and looked like an heir apparent and possible upgrade to Isaac Rochell.

Two years later, Kareem is still proving himself in South Bend. The potential remains, but now it’s time to see some production from the unanimous four-star prospect, who was a Top 200 player on ESPN, Rivals and 247.

KAREEM AT HIS BEST

Kareem played in just four games last season, burning a red shirt that probably should have stayed on. He didn’t make a tackle, but there was that one late hit against Nevada that showed a little pass rush ability. It didn’t go down as a red-shirt year because Kareem played against Syracuse and Army, but it might as well have been one. That makes it hard to pick out any moment where Kareem could show his potential. Even during spring practice and the Blue-Gold Game it was tough to spot Kareem looking like the four-star prospect he was coming out of high school.

QUOTABLE

“Khalid Kareem’s done some nice things for us.” ­– Brian Kelly during spring practice

BEST CASE SCENARIO

It’s hard to see where the reps will come for Kareem this year barring an injury along the defensive line. The sophomore looks like he’s a year away from having the size to be an ideal strong-side defensive end. On top of that, Notre Dame has a couple seniors in that position as is. Moving to the weak-side doesn’t make a lot of sense with Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara there, but it would at least offer more opportunities for reps. But even that’s a maybe. Despite doing early enrollment a year ago, Kareem appears to be facing a more traditional rise up he depth chart that will require a couple years of working in the background before breaking through to make an impact. Could Kareem actually pull a Jay Hayes and red shirt as a sophomore? Probably not, but it’s at least work asking the question.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Four-star prospects aren’t always a patient group, making the worst-case scenario here that Kareem leaves Notre Dame before the program gets to see what he can really do. Remember that at one point Kareem was committed to Alabama, so this isn’t a prospect that made an academics-only decision. He wants to play. And waiting two years to do it at Notre Dame is a long time from he vantage point of a teenage football player. If the Irish staff can find a role for Kareem this season, just to give him a legit taste of the defense, it would suit the program and the player. And if Kareem is open to a red shirt that extends his career, that’s fine too. The worst-case scenario is Notre Dame losing him after this season.

CAREER COMPARISON

Their careers won’t stay on the same track much longer for genetic reasons, but Kareem had a very Kona Schwenke freshman year. Neither should have played as first-year players, but both did. Both were committed to other schools during the recruiting process. Both likely would have been five-year players at Notre Dame if things broke differently. Like Kareem, Schwenke barely played as a freshman back in 2010, getting on the field in five games and posting two tackles. Ultimately, Schwenke’s genetics moved him to defensive tackle, where he was a productive college player before catching on in the NFL as a back-up offensive lineman. Kareem’s next three years won’t go exactly like that.


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