Notre Dame’s Linebacker Group Gets A Luxury But Still Critical Addition
In a way, Notre Dame saw Prince Kollie as a luxury.
Notre Dame wanted him, make no mistake. Not landing a commitment from the Jonesborough (Tenn.) David Crockett three-star linebacker would have been considered a miss. But had he chosen to play elsewhere, Notre Dame wasn’t going to scramble for a backup plan.
The Fighting Irish have 11 linebackers on their 2020 roster, and 10 of them have eligibility for 2021. They signed a combined eight from 2018-19, and five of them took a redshirt. The numbers could have survived a second straight year without signing a linebacker, considering the multi-year continuity and defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s predilection for moving players to linebacker spot after starting out at another position.
Adding Kollie, though, can allow the group to thrive.
He is the latest example of Lea’s preferred linebacker recruit: Just a good football player and athlete who could end up at multiple positions. In Kollie’s case, an eventual home at rover or Buck linebacker seems most likely. He is an aggressive run defender with enough closing speed to play sideline to sideline and the awareness to hold up as an underneath defender in coverage.
Lea’s 2020 cycle was light on activity when it was clear early on there wouldn’t be room for any linebackers after the back-to-back classes with four at the position. Rivals lists freshman Jordan Botelho as a linebacker, but he is playing the “vyper” defensive end spot.
The 2021 class had an uneventful start as well. A couple of linebackers whom Notre Dame offered early in the cycle committed elsewhere. With others, there wasn’t much traction. Notre Dame’s staff was not panicking over the idea of a second straight class without a linebacker.
Notre Dame didn’t offer Kollie until after the dead period enacted due to the pandemic, which meant he would not be able to visit campus anytime soon. Like a few of his fellow coaches have done already, Lea sold Kollie on Notre Dame and reeled him in without a campus visit, beating out Georgia, Louisville, LSU and Oklahoma, among others.
Kollie entering the picture in 2021 prevents Notre Dame from needing to use a true freshman in 2022 to fill a notable role.
Five players on the roster have eligibility for 2022, which is enough to cover starting jobs and two primary backup roles, but that number would feel thin if there is a transfer out, a three-and-done NFL Draft declaration or an injury. With two years until then, it’s hard to feel 100 percent certain none of those will occur.
Better yet, grabbing a raw-but-enticing player like Kollie in 2021 instead of 2022 gives him another year in college to develop and grow comfortable before the need for him becomes greater. If there is an expectation that he would benefit from a redshirt year, taking a player like him in 2022 doesn’t do much when short-term help is more likely to be necessary.
On depth chart alone, Kollie seems likely to take a redshirt in 2021. Only Jordan Genmark Heath is out of eligibility after 2020. Perhaps an unforeseen defection or NFL declaration can change plans and encourage Lea to grab a second linebacker in the class before the late signing period.
Lea would be wise to operate under the assumption that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will not return for fifth year and keep tabs on other potential targets. In that case or regarding another early departure, though, the luxury of adding Kollie now makes an 11th-hour scramble or potential reach for a linebacker unnecessary.
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