No Square Peg

Freshman linebacker Romeo Okwara

Former defensive end Romeo Okwara will begin his Irish career at one of the defense's most challenging positions...and he seems to fit.

It wasn't expected: a 6'4" 239-pound freshman running with senior star Cierre Wood 15 yards downfield on a wheel route. It was less expected, and more impressive, when the former batted the ball away from the latter, turning and locating the spinning pigskin in flight.

A safety arrived late to lend a body blow to the falling pair, but there was no doubt who made the play: "We can't have the outside linebacker take the ball from our running back," said offensive coordinator coach Chuck Martin after Romeo Okwara's pass deflection.

Jumping to Conclusions

Media witnesses precious few moments like these at a Notre Dame practice. It could be isolated, Okwara could have been fortunate. But a coach's actions speak louder than a writer's words, and Irish head man Brian Kelly has made a move reflective of the practice rep described above.

"We're moving Romeo Okwara, he's out at the dog, and (safety) C.J. Prosise," said Kelly following the team's 9th practice last Saturday. "Romeo is long, does a great job in coverage. And then C.J. is a very athletic kid, very smart."

Prosise is ahead of the curve for an incoming freshman safety: a sturdy 6'2" 208 pounds. He'll do fine in coverage at the position in a pinch. Okwara's height/weight fit the team's outside linebacker profile, but a career spent with his hand down ready to attack the quarterback belies his apparent coverage skills.

"No I didn't (have coverage responsibilities in high school), but throughout the summer all the older guys helped me," said Okwara. "And coach (Bob) Diaco has coached me up, so I'm getting better every day.

"The more I'm at the position the game gets a little slower…I don't really care where they move me as long as it helps the team."

Okwara has received pointers throughout camp from a high school buddy. Not generally an ideal situation for a Notre Dame football player, except this particular friend toiled in coverage often last fall, and now sits ready to pounce on opposing triggermen from his more comfortable position near the boundary.

"I get a lot of help from the veterans like Prince Shembo," said Okwara. "We were very close, we went to the same high school and my older brother was in his grade. He was over at Prince's house all the time; Prince was over at my house."

With the potential return of projected starter Danny Spond to the Dog spot, and "1B" backup Ben Councell ahead of Okwara on the depth chart, the master plan would be for the coverage neophyte to learn off the job -- a redshirt season isn't out of the question.

But unlike many true freshman changing positions, Okwara wouldn't necessarily be a square peg fitting into a round hole.

He seems to fit just fine.

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