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Notre Dame gets the letters: Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen

Drayk Bowen

Marcus Freeman’s first recruiting class at Notre Dame, largely gathered as the Irish defensive coordinator, featured a quartet of four-star linebackers. He has followed that up, now as head coach, with another starring trio featuring a pair of four-stars and an underrated three-star prospect, all enrolling early next month.

In order of their initial commitments to the Irish, now having all signed as the December signing period opened …

DRAYK BOWEN
Andrean High School; Merrillville, Ind.Measurements: 6-foot-2, 230 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star prospect, rivals.com ranks Bowen as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the class of 2023 and the No. 45 prospect overall. He will play in the All-American Bowl next month.

Nearly every Indiana high school football award was given to Bowen this year, as well as the Butkus Award for the best linebacker in the country, following in the footsteps of Manti Te’o, Jaylon Smith and Prince Kollie.

Other notable offers: Bowen committed to Notre Dame more than a year ago, and the in-state product never wavered. Clemson, LSU and Michigan could all chase him, but there was never any wiggle in his commitment.

Projected position: More a run defender than a pass defender, Bowen’s speed should keep him on the outside of the defensive second-level, but rarely should he be asked to cover a receiver or a running back downfield.

Quick take: Bowen’s speed is an on-field reality more than a sprinting delight, but it is enough to encourage early playing time, particularly on special teams.

Short-term roster outlook: While there is no official word yet of the plans from JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, it is more likely than not at least two of the three will return to South Bend in 2023, if not all three. Current sophomore Prince Kollie should press for more playing time next year, creating enough of a rotation (along with current freshman Jaylen Sneed) that it feels unlikely Bowen detonates as a freshman.

Long-term depth chart impact: That trio of upperclassmen will leave a hole on the second level when they all depart, hence Freeman loading up on star linebackers these last two cycles.

PRESTON ZINTER
Central Catholic High School; Lawrence, Mass.Measurements: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star recruit when he committed to Notre Dame in February, Zinter is now a consensus three-star prospect, though still ranked the No. 40 outside linebacker in the class, per rivals.com.

Other notable offers: Michigan, Ohio State and Georgia all had offers out to zinter when he chose the Irish, perhaps more notable than his rankings drop.

Projected position: Though he split time between tight end and linebacker in high school, Zinter is destined for linebacker to start his collegiate career.

Quick take: An ability to get upfield on a pass rush could hint at a future at Vyper end for Zinter, partly a question of how his body reacts to the collegiate strength and conditioning program.

Short-term roster outlook: Everything about Bowen applies to Zinter, as well, though the Vyper end possibility could lead to some situational roles for him. Notre Dame will have some wonders at defensive end next year, particularly if Justin Ademilola opts not to return for a sixth season.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame snags yet another consensus four-star LB commitment, Preston Zinter

Long-term depth chart impact: That Vyper end thought would not be unprecedented. Joshua Burnham moved from linebacker to Vyper in fewer than 12 months after arriving on campus.

JAIDEN AUSBERRY
University Laboratory School; Baton Rouge, La.Measurements: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star recruit and Under Armour All-American, Ausbery is the No. 14 outside linebacker in the class, per rivals.com.

Other notable offers: Yes, Ausberry is from Baton Rouge, as in, the city of LSU. And the Tigers were presumably the runner-up to Notre Dame in this recruitment, but it always seemed unlikely Ausberry would stay home. At some point, leaving your hometown is just preferred. Alabama, Michigan and Texas A&M all also chased him, included in his seven finalists.

Projected position: Ausberry’s fast and decisive play could make him an inside linebacker, a thought somewhat prompted by all three of these prospects being considered outside players.

Quick take: Ausberry is long enough to get his arms around a ball carrier as quickly as his chest hits him. That fast style will presumably need to be fine-tuned in coverage, but that is to be expected of nearly all high school linebackers.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame beats LSU for four-star linebacker Jaiden Ausberry out of Baton Rouge

SIGNING DAY COVERAGE
Consensus four-star QB Kenny Minchey, former Pittsburgh commit
Consensus four-star running back Jeremiyah Love, No. 4 RB in the country
Five offensive lineman signees continue Irish trend up front
Four receivers fill greatest Irish need
Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment
Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen
Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Consensus four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan
Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense