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OFD Film Room: Notre Dame linebacker commit Asmar Bilal has "SEC speed"

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The Irish lost a heartbreaker on the field on Saturday, but had a big victory last week with the commitment of LB Asmar Bilal. The Irish defense is adding another great athlete

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

There's a perception about Notre Dame. It's a totally false perception, but for many people they consider this perception to be reality.

The perception is that Notre Dame is slow. That has been the story for a long time. ("They keep the grass long to slow everyone down!" Thankfully we will never have to hear this again.) For many years, it was always about Notre Dame not having the athletes "the elite" of college football had on their team and specifically their defense.

This perception was still a thing going into the Florida State game. On College Gameday this past weekend, there were several little features talking about the Notre Dame-FSU game and when talking about the Irish defense, Kirk Herbstreit had this to say:

I like Herbstreit. I think he is as good at his job as just about any analyst for any sport. So it's with all due respect that I say this statement is a bunch of crap.

There is no doubt that Jaylon Smith is a freak of nature and a ridiculous athlete that could play on any defense in the country, but there are several other players that play on Notre Dame's defense that could play for the Seminoles and they proved it on Saturday night.

They proved it before that too, but after Saturday, I think we can now say that the cat is out of the bag. They may be inexperienced, but Notre Dame has some dudes that can play on defense and everybody who watched the game knows it.

I'm not going to get into the loss and claim any moral victories, but the Irish did win a huge battle in recruiting when linebacker Asmar Bilal chose the Irish over Michigan last Thursday. This win doesn't take any sting away from the loss in the present, but it sure could end up being huge in the future.

Bilal is the kind of athlete that is fast and explosive enough to play for any program in the country. He has what some would call "SEC speed". In other words, he is the kind of player that most think Notre Dame does not possess on defense. In truth, he is another great addition to the athletes that Notre Dame already has on campus and the ones currently in this recruiting class.

A lot of people are excited about what Notre Dame is building along the defensive line, but they are doing similar things at linebacker as well. Bilal teaming up with Josh Barajas in this recruiting class combined with Nyles Morgan from the 2014 class make for a ridiculously fast trio of players. If Tevon Coney joins them as many recruiting insiders have predicted, that's some scary talent for Brian VanGorder to have the chance to develop over the next few seasons.

Is Bilal going to be the kind of player that can make an instant impact in South Bend? Despite his 4 star ranking, I believe the answer is likely no. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is Bilal's size. Although at times he plays like a much bigger player than his weight would indicate, he's listed at a shade over 200 pounds right now and he looks it. I'm sure many will say that he can get bigger and should report at a more appropriate weight for a college linebacker by the time next season's fall camp comes around. Unfortunately though, that's not the only reason why I think Bilal may struggle to play early in his career.

Bilal's biggest weakness right now are his instincts. I know our friend Larz hates that term, but it's the best way of saying in one shot that he can be slow to recognize plays and often seems lost in coverage. I noticed this during his junior season and after watching his high school, Ben Davis, take on Warren Central this season, I saw similar issues.

That's a bit concerning to me. One of things that makes Joe Schmidt such an effective player for Notre Dame is that he does a great job of recognizing plays and that has allowed him to be a very good player at middle linebacker. Being slow to recognize plays makes a linebacker a step slow to reacting and that could mean getting blocked no matter how fast the player is. Being slow to recognize things in coverage is even worse in this day and age of spread football.

Former Notre Dame linebacker Steve Filer was one of the best athletes on the Notre Dame team during his career with the Irish. His career never lived up to his lofty ranking and a lot of that had to do with his poor instincts as a linebacker. Bilal must improve in this area to be the kind of contributor his athletic talents suggest he can be.

The good news is that I have seen some positive signs of his improvement in this area outside of that game against Warren Central. Here's a clip of Bilal recognizing the guard pulling to the opposite side and him using his speed to explode through a gap and make a play in the backfield.

That's the kind of play that Bilal is capable of! That's a downhill, attacking, explosive football player. That is why I'm so excited about the addition of Bilal to Notre Dame's recruiting class.

There was a second play that followed up the first where Bilal was asked to blitz that I just had to include as well. We all know by now that Brian VanGorder loves to dial up the blitz and that is one of Bilal's strongest attributes. His timing, ability to get skinny to avoid blocks, and the speed at which he attacks are all outstanding.

As for Bilal in coverage, I'm a firm believer that only experience can make him better in this area. The more time he gets in practice in team and 7 on 7 situations, the better he will become. It takes time, but the light usually clicks on for most players who work at it. Athletically though, there are no questions about him being asked to cover someone in man coverage. He has fluid hips and should be able to run with running backs when asked to.

And just in case there are any questions about Bilal just being a speed guy and not being a true linebacker in terms of his physicality, I had to include this of him laying the wood on a scrambling quarterback.

If Saturday night didn't destroy the myth that Notre Dame doesn't have comparable athletes to teams like Florida State on defense, then adding a football player like Bilal should hopefully continue to fight back against any false perceptions the media has about Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff have recruited very well these past four years and I don't see them struggling to add more talent on the defensive side of the ball at any time in the near future.