It’s a fresh start for linebacker Josh Barajas. One of Notre Dame’s most-heralded recruits last season, Barajas’ season was short-circuited after a training camp injury and fitness level struggles.
That made for a less than ideal first impression for an Army All-American who many expected could be an early contributor for the Irish. But with a stacked linebacking corps and no clear path to the field, a redshirt season might have been the best case scenario even injury free and ready to contribute.
Fast forward to a spring where Barajas was one of the few healthy bodies on the field at his position, and it’s a completely different scenario entering 2016. Still retaining his freshman eligibility, that type of fresh start looks like one Barajas is intent on seizing.
6'1.5", 240 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 30, LB
U.S. Army All-American. Consensus 4-Star player. All-State Indiana. 247 named Barajas the state’s top prospect. He also earned solid reviews in San Antonio, his first national exposure as a football player.
Had offers from Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State and Oregon among others.
Freshman Season (2015): Did not see action.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEARNot sure I could’ve missed this one by much more. I’ll re-tee and look to salvage a bogey.
When a team returns the majority of its defense, it’s always difficult to see how a freshman fits into the equation before ever actually seeing him on the field. But in Barajas’ case, his versatility could be a great piece in sub-packages, and certainly could lead to him seeing the field on coverage units.
While he doesn’t have the look of a pass rusher, you’ve got to wonder if the departure of Bo Wallace might allow the Irish staff to kick the tires on Barajas as a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher. It’s a move that got Kolin Hill on the field as a freshman, and most believe that Barajas is at least as good of an athlete.
Ultimately, the 2015 season looks like one where just about every freshman defender will be hoping to earn a bit role in the larger unit. That’s likely the plan for Barajas, who needs to gain some weight before he’s big enough to survive in the trenches.
Barajas was thrown into the fire this spring, given a look at as many different linebacker positions as you could put him. That couldn’t hurt for a guy who earned the ultimate compliment from his head coach after committing himself to Paul Longo and company.
“Josh has probably remade himself physically more than any player on our team,” Kelly said this spring. “He looks really good and he’s running well.”
That type of praise shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I can’t help but temper enthusiasm until I see Barajas fit into the Irish plans, either as a special teams demon or as a situational player. With the youth and inexperience at linebacker, Barajas could play his way into a contributor or be stuck in a back-up role. That type of thing will be determined by his ability to learn quickly and find the football.
Still, you’ve got to consider pedigree. And Barajas has plenty of that, with the Army All-American game not far in the past, nor offers from some elite schools. But watching snippets from spring ball and three tackles in the Blue-Gold game make this still too hard to peg.
Just reading between the lines and looking at the depth chart makes projecting Barajas’ 2016 difficult. At a shade under 6'2", he’s less of a candidate to play as an edge rusher, and position coach Mike Elston said this spring that the current plan is for Barajas to work at middle linebacker behind Nyles Morgan.
Barajas spent some time early in spring sharing reps at Sam linebacker, working behind James Onwualu. But with Greer Martini back this fall, those are two very good players he’ll have to beat out, an unlikely scenario even if Barajas looks like a new man. The Will linebacker spot also looks like a job that Te’von Coney and Asmar Bilal will share, with Martini also capable of playing there if needed.
Can Barajas make an impact this season? Sure. But he’ll have to make even bigger strides this summer and fall than he did in his impressive spring.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z