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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover

Isaiah Robertson

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 207 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Robertson moved to rover from safety this spring, putting him in position to compete with classmate Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah to be the first alternative to senior Asmar Bilal should the presumptive starter struggle as the focal point of Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s system, specifically in coverage situations.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect, Robertson chose Notre Dame over his father’s former team, Wisconsin, as well as Penn State and Vanderbilt. The No. 18 safety in the class and No. 202 overall player, per, Robertson’s recruitment did not have the respective drama thanks to his steadfast commitment eight months before National Signing Day.

Robertson worked on kickoff coverage teams last season, playing in 12 games. (He did not see action at Miami; then again, the Irish kicked off a total of twice in that debacle.)

2017: 12 games; eight tackles, with two coming on separate kickoffs against Wake Forest.

For having a likely starter, rover remains a position in flux. Bilal fits the definition of unproven despite appearing to be physically ready since his college arrival. Owusu-Koromoah and incoming freshman Shayne Simon were recruited with the role in mind, but are naturally inexperienced. Robertson moved up a defensive level to join the fray because of the physicality he showed as a freshman, immediately putting himself in consideration amid a clouded ordering.

“Between Jeremiah Owusu[-Koromoah] and Isaiah, you have two young guys that are learning and are growing but have had a chance to make some strides,” Lea said in mid-April. “I don’t know that the depth chart is set yet. I think we’re still working on that and we’ll be working through the fall on that, but I’ve been pleased with the strides that we’ve shown.”

Himself an early enrollee a year ago, Robertson has a touch more experience than either Owusu-Koromoah or Simon can claim, the former having preserved a year of eligibility last season.

“Robertson excelled at receiver as well as defensive back in high school. He will not see the offensive side of the ball this season, but he should have a chance to display that athleticism on special teams units from the season’s outset.

“If he is already using a year of eligibility on that front, then it makes sense to surmise Robertson will be given at least an August chance to break into the safety rotation. [Now-junior Jalen] Elliott showed glimpses of a consistent performer last year, but the opportunity is still there for Robertson. By the sounds of it, junior Nick Coleman will start the season leading the way at field safety, which means sophomore Devin Studstill could also be given a shot at boundary safety.

“Wherever Robertson lands on the depth chart entering the season, there are not enough options at safety to prevent him from seeing defensive action as a freshman.”

Robertson’s season will depend on Bilal’s. The senior will be given every chance to prove himself at rover, and if he excels, there will not be much defensive work for his backups.

Compared to excelling, it seems more likely Bilal struggles against aerial offenses, not the fleetest of foot or having the quickest of hips. That is when having a converted-safety at rover could pay off quite nicely.

Consider Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons showed the abilities of their offense when firing on all cylinders in the second half against Notre Dame in 2017, and that was without outstanding then-freshman receiver Greg Dortch, already out for the season with injury by that point. If Wake Forest opted to line Dortch up as a pseudo-tight end this September, the Irish may need the rover to cover him. Bilal may not be up for the task. Robertson would likely be serviceable, at worst.

To some degree, that is the ideal situation at rover, mixing-and-matching as the opponent dictates. Rare is the player that can genuinely match up against both blocking tight ends and the Greg Dortchs of the world.

It is hard to believe Robertson ever takes over as the starting rover. Owusu-Koromoah and Simon were recruited with that exact role in mind. Incoming freshman Ovie Oghoufo fits the profile of a rover and would be described as brought in for that opportunity if Simon were not in the same class. Robertson, meanwhile, came in as a safety at a time when Notre Dame both lacked and struggled to develop safeties.

In time, Robertson could end up further inside. Add another 10-15 pounds and he may be a solid linebacker. Or, he could serve as the rover-for-coverage for years to come. That Wake Forest example is not an outlier, but a more-and-more frequent threat in college football. For every Owusu-Koromoah or Bilal, a Robertson will be needed to complement them at rover.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman

No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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