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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker

Shayne Simon 2020

Oct 24, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Shayne Simon (33) pressures Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Joey Yellen (16) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Listed measurements: 6-foot-2 ¾, 230 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, Simon actually has two seasons left to play entering his senior year despite being a day-one contributor and playing in the vast majority of the games the last three seasons.
Depth Chart: Simon split time at Buck — now known as Will — linebacker last season with Marist Liufau. The two have complementary skill sets that make it hard to predict which will emerge as the nominal starter in new Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme, presuming senior Bo Bauer does not move over from Mike (middle) linebacker to do so.Recruiting: Most of the Big Ten, including Michigan and Ohio State, chased the consensus four-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, as did six ACC programs. Simon was ranked the No. 12 outside linebacker and No. 159 overall prospect by

The Irish focus this spring on hyping their players in as many ways as possible, more so than program-centric approaches in the past, extended all the way to the defensive analysts, and that is a testament to both Notre Dame’s intention and its implementation of it.

Simon found a special teams role as a freshman and then a goal-line role as a sophomore, increasingly an underrated part of the Irish defense, but one still backing up Asmar Bilal in 2019 and then in a time-share in 2020.

That split with Liufau last year began in Simon’s favor before flipping toward the end of the season, but the most-noted moment for either player came from Simon’s play against Clemson in Notre Dame’s double-overtime upset in November. He made four tackles, with one for loss, that one coming on a third-and-one when Simon met star Tigers running back Travis Etienne behind the line.

Simon also broke up two passes against Clemson, playing a pivotal role in that defining win.

2018: 8 games, four tackles, one pass broken up.2019: 11 games, nine tackles with 1.5 for loss.2020: 11 games, eight starts, 14 tackles with one for loss and four passes broken up.

When Simon picked off a Jack Coan pass in the Blue-Gold Game to end this past spring, it was an unexpected play from the linebacker, at least to those who had not seen any other spring practices (so, everyone). He has long been at his best against the run, hence those goal-line package roles early in his career. Diagnosing a pass to running back Kyren Williams and stepping in front of it was a skill Simon had not yet displayed in his Irish career.

“Shayne is so assignment correct, and he’s been that way,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the spring finale. “There are times when we have felt like the awareness piece has been a lag for him a little bit, and he has picked up on the awareness. Today was great awareness.

“He sees Kyren in the slot. He’s seen that play before, and he immediately reacts to it. Those are the kind of pro things to look for. Shane is showing that kind of growth of the position, the awareness of playing the position, like the guy that, ‘I’ve seen this before,’ and it’s not his first time out there. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. We’re starting to see that with Shayne … that awareness that has been a piece that has been coming.”

To Simon, that awareness may be a symptom of a more clear-cut defense. While he was careful this spring not to diminish the success of Clark Lea’s defense, Simon still acknowledged Freeman’s might better fit his own skills.

“There were opportunities for all of us to play fast last year,” Simon said in mid-April. “So I’m not going to say necessarily that this is better or worse, but definitely I feel like in this defense, I’ll be able to play fast, use my abilities and take advantage of them, make plays. …

“The new scheme is open. It’s not as gap-oriented, but there are still rules you have to follow. The main thing is to find the ball, try to go hunt and try to make plays.”

If Simon’s awareness or openness or hunting skills — whatever phrasing you prefer — continues to take hold, then he should end up starting over Liufau. The Hawaiian junior has an abundance of skills, but Simon is arguably a touch ahead of him in most. Simon’s hesitancy in reads has been the primary item holding him back in the past.

Saying a linebacker is best against the run is also suggesting he is best when the decision is made quickly. Those have been Simon’s strongest moments to date, with the third-down tackle of Etienne serving as the most dramatic example.

At the absolute least, that all should mean Simon has a role in Freeman’s defense. Goal-line moments will always arise.

But he may have more in 2021, and not just because he intercepted Coan to start May. Simon was named a captain for the Blue-Gold Game thanks to his spring work, and he served as a SWAT team leader through the winter and the spring. (SWAT teams are groups of 8-10 players competing in various ways through the offseason.) That off-field honor often forecasts in-season captains.

Simon may not end up a captain, but he has clearly found a leadership role for Notre Dame. For an abundance of obvious reasons, that is often an indicator of who will excel on the field, as well.

DOWN THE ROADSimon has undoubtedly asked himself some unexpected questions this summer. Before the pandemic, he never would have considered a fifth season with the Irish because, barring injury, he hasn’t been on track for one since early in his freshman year.

Now, Simon may have that option. Notre Dame would have to invite him back, of course, but a starting linebacker with years of experience is someone who might warrant that exception — and it will be an exception simply considering the impractical math of making it a habit.

If Simon plays well in 2021, starting the whole season and perhaps finishing second or third on team tackles (inevitably behind junior safety Kyle Hamilton), then it may serve both him and the Irish well to come back in 2022 as more a featured piece of the defense.

Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end

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