Irish defense embraces Golden’s style of play ahead of 2022 season
Nate Moller | Friday, April 22, 2022
After an impressive season last year, there are lofty expectations for the Irish defense this season under new defensive coordinator Al Golden. With plenty of talent returning on the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have worked hard to learn Golden’s system and develop further as a unit in preparation for the 2022 season.
The linebacker group is arguably one of the strongest positions across the board for the Irish. The unit has plenty of veterans in senior Marist Liufau, senior J.D. Bertrand, senior Jack Kiser and graduate student Bo Bauer. But a group of younger players that includes junior Jordan Botelho, sophomore Prince Kollie, freshman Jaylen Sneed, and freshman Nolan Ziegler will likely see playing time as well.
Marist Liufau commented on how the mix of older and younger guys is playing out so far.
“The mix is going really well,” Liufau said. “The younger guys are getting lots of reps, so they are learning a lot. We are trying to guide them in the right direction being the older guys. Just knowing the system we are trying to help them as best as we can.”
The Irish expected to have Liufau as one of their starting linebackers in 2021. But he suffered a broken ankle last August, forcing him to miss the entire season. Liufau discussed how excited he is to finally return to the field after a long recovery process.
“It’s so exciting. It feels great. It’s been a long time since I’ve played. My last game was over a year ago, so I am just excited to be out here again,” Liufau said.
Prince Kollie, echoing Liufau’s comment, praised the older guys for their ability to teach the younger players.
“We have a stud LB room. We have a lot of dudes in the room, and they are great at teaching the young guys how to thrive in this program and succeed,” Kollie said.
Jack Kiser praised defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Al Golden for his energy so far in the spring season.
“He’s very passionate and a very fiery guy,” Kiser said. “He’s been coaching football since the NFL preseason started, and for him to be able to go right into spring ball here and not lose that passion and have that energy everyday says a lot about him.”
Golden has placed an emphasis on forcing turnovers and getting the ball out, and Kiser believes the team is buying into this mentality.
“There’s this emphasis on getting that ball out,” Kiser said. “Guys are really buying into it at practice. Guys have bloody knuckles after practice, and that’s what we like to see. That’s a product of him coming in and stirring up this idea of attacking the ball.”
Kiser also discussed how Golden has prioritized cross training players in a variety of linebacker roles to prepare them for game day.
“He has placed a huge emphasis on making yourself available on any given play,” Kiser said. “He wants you to be that guy that can do everything and that makes you valuable on game day.”
Golden believes that this cross training will help build his team’s depth and prepare for injuries as they arise.
“We want to make sure we are building depth. You never know what’s going to happen on game day or over the course of the season,” Golden said. “That’s going to make us stronger in the long term and help them develop a conceptual mindset of what’s going on around them which is important.”
When asked about how the defense will look different than Marcus Freeman’s defense from last year, Golden stressed that he will adapt the defense to whatever suits Notre Dame best.
“It’s Notre Dame’s defense at the end of the day. We are going to see where these kids want to take us,” Golden said.
Jordan Botelho is a player who has made steady progress at linebacker each year and could be primed for a breakout season in 2022. Golden sees a lot of talent in potential in Botelho. But he hopes Botelho can learn to slow his game down and be more poised on every play.
“He is a tough kid. He’s a very smart kid, and we just got to get him to play with a little more poise,” Golden said. “He’s just got to relax a little bit and let his natural talent come out.”
A potential area for concern for the Irish heading into 2022 is the cornerback position, especially considering the season is opener is against an Ohio State offense with a lethal passing attack. Despite the difficult week one challenge, cornerback coach Mike Mickens is confident in his unit, which returns graduate student TaRiq Bracy, junior Clarence Lewis and senior Cam Hart. The group also gains freshman Jaden Mickey, who was a four-star recruit.
“The older three guys have been leading the group really well,” Mickens said. “And we have seen the younger guys growing as this spring has gone one. I am very happy with where they are at. We just have to continue to push.”
Another exciting defensive player to watch for the Irish is graduate student Brandon Joseph at safety. The Northwestern transfer is arguably the most highly-touted graduate student transfer the Irish have ever gotten. And Joseph believes the off-season regimen has already improved his game significantly.
“It was a great off-season program that pushed me to my limits and it taught me I could go harder than I thought I could go,” Joseph said. “I am just so excited to get out on that field and play in the fall.”
Joseph truly believes the sky’s the limit for the Irish this season with the talent and brotherhood that this defensive unit has.
“We can be the best defense in the country,” Joseph said. “Nothing is holding us back but ourselves.”