Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 230 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A senior, Bertrand has three seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to preserving a year as a freshman and then the universal pandemic eligibility waiver spotting him an extra season in 2020.Depth Chart: Bertrand will likely start at Mike (middle) linebacker, assuming his beat-up wrist allows him to. The starting role may be nominal, as Bertrand looks to be headed toward an equal timeshare with fifth-year Bo Bauer.Recruiting: Looking back at Georgia’s national championship team sheds some light on Bertrand’s recruitment. A longtime Dawgs commit, he reopened his recruitment a few months before the December early signing period, seemingly in part because Georgia was at least waffling on his scholarship. In retrospect, Kirby Smart’s logic was clear: Bertrand may have been Notre Dame’s leading tackler in 2021, but he would not have even cracked Georgia’s linebacker rotation.
After that de-commitment, Bertrand took two unofficial visits to South Bend — intentionally unintentional so he could commit as a walk-on if need be. Notre Dame did not immediately have a scholarship available, hence that delicate approach, albeit an ultimately unnecessary one.
CAREER TO DATE
Bertrand made four appearances as a freshman in 2019, all on special teams and none making any imprint, before playing in 11 games as a sophomore, again most only on special teams. Though he made seven tackles in 2020, notice remained vague at best aside from tallying three tackles from scrimmage in the 52-0 blowout of South Florida.
When Marist Liufau suffered a dislocated ankle just before the 2021 season, though, Bertrand suddenly had an opportunity, one he would make the most of. He started every game and led the Irish in tackles by nearly double: Bertrand had 101 tackles with Drew White’s 55 the next closest.
Both Bertrand and White wore down as the season progressed, the expected scrapes and bumps increasingly becoming sprains and fractures. With no depth available due to injuries like Liufau’s, Notre Dame simply had no reserves to turn to.
2019: 4 games.2020: 11 games, 7 tackles.2021: 13 games, 13 starts, 101 tackles with seven for loss including 1.5 sacks. One forced fumble and one pass broken up.
NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESSBertrand was following his brother, John Michael Bertrand, when he headed to Notre Dame instead of Athens. The latter led the Irish baseball team to the College World Series this spring, supported at every step of the tournament by his brother and some teammates, most notably senior linebacker Jack Kiser and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey.
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Note: This was written long before Liufau’s injury in 2021.
“A lot of special teams work awaits Bertrand, particularly after former Notre Dame special teams stalwart Jack Lamb transferred to Colorado. Polian needs to plug in a similarly skilled player, and Bertrand fits that bill.
“By no means should special teams duties be seen as a pittance for Bertrand. The Irish are simply well-stocked at middle linebacker thanks to the ever-surprising development of White, going from cautionary tale in the spring of 2019 to a three-year starter and possible captain in 2021.
“Freeman seems willing to experiment with Bauer at Will linebacker in order to get him and White on the field at the same time. Bertrand should hope for as much, as it would move him into the two-deep immediately behind White. …
“While White will have eligibility remaining after this season thanks to the universal pandemic waiver, it is more likely he tests his abilities at the next level in 2022, leaving either Bauer or Bertrand to take first-team reps in spring practices.
“Bauer’s decision whether to return or not will be one with ripple effects, and also a hard one to predict. The scholarship crunch coming down the pipe overloads these conversations with contingencies.
“At the risk of being too blunt, it feels most likely either Bauer or Bertrand transfers in 2022. Entering a senior (or fifth-year) season without a starting role sets up a player to find one elsewhere, and that is why transfers are a good thing.”
If a picture says a thousand words, a few photos of Bertrand’s time abroad last month say more than any quote from this winter or spring. He did not partake in much of spring practice as he recovered from a wrist injury, but perhaps even that did not properly underscore how bothersome the injury was given Bertrand was still wearing a brace on his left wrist throughout his European travels. (First visible in the third photo, if scrolling below.)
As Bertrand and White played through injuries last season, their play did dip, but not enough public credence was given to the significance of their injuries. It was not their fault Notre Dame had no depth to turn to.
For everyone involved, from Bertrand to Bauer to new defensive coordinator Al Golden to Irish fans everywhere, it should be hoped Bertrand has fewer tackles in 2022 than he did last season. That is not to say Bertrand will be any less effective. It is to say, taking fewer snaps than last year’s ~600 will behoove all.
Bertrand and White had little left to give by the end of last season. Even by October, their wear was showing. When Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder found a crease for the game-winning touchdown in South Bend, that defensive second-level fatigue was apparent. By New Year’s Day, that exhaustion did Marcus Freeman’s defense no favors in the second half.
There were broader issues, but playing through a wrist injury from August was not going to help anyone, let alone Bertrand.
And he still made 101 tackles.
With a more thorough two-deep entering 2022, fewer snaps and thus fewer tackles should not only be possible but considered good things. Bertrand and Bauer splitting time could limit the former to 50 or 60 tackles, but if those come on only 300 snaps, his impact will be no less whatsoever.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame LB JD Bertrand played 2021 season with wrist injuryBanged-up JD Bertrand finding rest when he can before Notre Dame faces Navy’s triple-optionCan Notre Dame linebacker JD Bertrand keep his torrid tackles pace?
DOWN THE ROAD
Bertrand could make a strong NFL case this season, even in that reduced-in-play-count-only role. A highly-touted recruit who fell out of an SEC spot largely because Georgia was putting together a generational defense, he was all over the field in 2021. Another such season would match that recruiting pedigree in a way that would garner NFL interest.
That may be “just” a mid-round grade, but at that point, the question would be what a fifth season at Notre Dame could do to better Bertrand’s draft prospects. If not much, then taking that leap sooner than later would make personal sense.
He may opt for a fifth year, nonetheless, and if so, the Irish will certainly welcome him back. Anyone who racks up 100-plus tackles in a season will be embraced until he chooses otherwise, not the other way around.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end
No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL