Rover is as much a descriptor of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s identity as a football player as it is his position designation at Notre Dame. He thinks it’s a fitting summation of what he can do in the NFL too.
Whichever NFL team takes him in April’s draft – presumably in the first round – will get a player known for his versatility and ability to move around a defense as needed.
“Sometimes a linebacker, sometimes a safety, sometimes down a defensive end,” Owusu-Koramoah said of his role on the NFL Draft show Two Guys, A Girl and A Podcast. “It just depends on the personnel of the team and the culture a team wants to build on defense.”
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Three-level players like him who can slide to different spots as the defensive alignment changes and make a difference in each role are increasingly in demand by NFL teams. He stands out, though, with his explosiveness and diagnostic ability.
A two-year starter at rover in former coordinator Clark Lea’s scheme, Owusu-Koramoah played 647 of Notre Dame’s 742 defensive snaps in 2020, the second-most of any Irish player behind safety Shaun Crawford. He led the team in tackles for loss (11.0) and forced fumbles (three), while finishing second in tackles (62). He also added three pass breakups, an interception, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Owusu-Koramoah did most of his coverage work in the slot. Opposing quarterbacks had a 77.3 passer rating when targeting him, per Pro Football Focus. He allowed catches on 64.1 percent of the passes thrown at him and 10.2 yards per reception.
All told, it’s the best case of what Lea and then-coordinator Mike Elko envisioned when they identified him as the first recruit to play rover in their new defense upon their December 2016 arrival at Notre Dame. They flipped Owusu-Koramoah, a three-star recruit, from Virginia on National Signing Day 2017. The ranking didn’t suggest a future Butkus Award winner and probable first-round pick.
“I was that guy in Coach Lea’s eyes because he was the one who saw the potential in me,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “I didn’t come out of high school ranked high. I was like the No. 100-something safety, 80-something athlete. I wasn’t top-10, coming in there as a five-star guy. Even in those terms, I made it work throughout the years.
He wasn’t that guy his first two seasons at Notre Dame either. Owusu-Koramoah didn’t see the field until 2019 after redshirting in 2017 and sustaining a foot injury early in the 2018 season. But he found a way to get something good out of all that time off.
“If you have a blind man, his other senses are enlightened,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “His other senses strengthen: his hearing, things like that. When football was taken away on the field, my other senses were heightened viewing the techniques, viewing the classroom, the classroom in terms of football with the playbook and film.”
He locked down the job upon returning to the field in 2019 spring practices. Notre Dame trusted him to handle all the rover duties – edge rusher, slot defender, linebacker. Per PFF, he played 107 snaps on the defensive line, 218 in the box, 352 in the slot and six at cornerback. The 2020 snap distribution is similar: 88 on the line, 215 in the box, 328 in the slot, 14 at corner and two at safety.
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Owusu-Koramoah also played on the kickoff coverage team – which happens to be where he made his favorite play of his college career.
“Usually, in 2019, on special teams I’d get doubles every game,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “New Mexico, when they tried to trap me, I faked the one dude out, went across the other, there was a lead blocker who tried to block me. I moved him out of the way and boomed the guy with the ball. I don’t think he came back in the game. It was a really good hit. The crowd went crazy.”
His special teams usage decreased in 2020, because Notre Dame needs him most on defense. The NFL team that picks him wants him to deliver most of his impact there too – at whatever position that is. He spends time imagining himself in different roles and even daydreamed while he watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in the Super Bowl. He was particularly drawn to inside linebacker Devin White.
“He was so fast and explosive in dissection plays and getting to the ball,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “That was a performance, and I was inspired by that. I’m going to work on some inside linebacker in case somebody wants me to play inside linebacker, which I’ve heard.”
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