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Roster Assessment - Defense (cont.) by Jvan

Let's look at linebackers.

LB - The good news is starters JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau will return in 2023. The bad news can see where I'm going with this. Rover Jack Kiser may be back as well but that is not yet certain. A number of promising younger players return to compete for playing time. Among them are Prince Kollie, Will Schweitzer, Jaylen Sneed, Nolan Ziegler and Junior Tuihalamaka. Incoming freshmen are Jaiden Ausberry and Preston Zinter.

Discussion - Bertrand and Liufau were fine against teams that lacked speed and had a stationary quarterback. Otherwise, they were not impactful and sometimes even a liability. The question is whether the competition will truly be open this spring and if the coaches are willing to play the best athletes regardless of age. Sneed will be hard to keep off the field, either on the weak side or at rover. Ziegler and Tuihalamaka were more highly rated as recruits than Liufau and Bertrand. They may have more upside. How long will they have to wait?

When the 2022 team fell to 0-2 in September, the season could have gone one of two ways: Either declare it a rebuilding year, play the kids and accept their mistakes as an investment in a better future; or stay exclusively with the older guys and try to squeeze out more wins to keep the alumni happy and new recruits interested. ND chose the latter. Time will tell if this was a good decision but I would have played the kids more.

One other oddity is that Bertrand and Liufau are current seniors while Kollie and Schweitzer are sophomores. The others named above are freshmen. There are no linebackers in the junior class due to recruiting failures. One junior, Jordan Botelho, was given a look at linebacker but has settled in at Vyper. He is one of a very few players on the roster with above-average pass rushing skills.

Outlook - As is the case with other current starters that may return in 2023 (Pyne, Lenzy, Correll) another year of Bertrand and Liufau as starters in 2023 may produce the same 8-4 result that most folks are loathe to tolerate. If this pair is truly the best ND has, then so be it. I don't believe this will be the case provided the younger players are coached competently in the spring and early fall and given sufficient snaps in live action to prove their mettle.

As for Kiser at rover, I'm ambivalent. If Kiser returns but Sneed is a better fit at rover than at Will, Sneed should start. He could be an even better version of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.