Ishaq Williams, Notre Dame Football's massive athletic freak currently competing for snaps at Outside Linebacker, is possibly the best solution to take on the role that will be vacated by Tight End Alex Welch's recent knee injury. Williams played TE at Lincoln High in New York City during his prep career and was predictably a match-up nightmare with that 6'5'' frame which clocked in the 4.6's. His highlight reel (below) features some of his pass catching and run blocking ability. Even a tape to display his talent can't hide some defensive shortcomings that have followed him to South Bend. Tight End in Brian Kelly's offense could prove to be the best fit for a player of his immense physical gifts that quite frankly lacks the physicality and intensity you want in a front seven player. Especially one who needs to attack the quarterback. Some Pros & Cons on a move that likely won't happen because of the depth chart at OLB, but shouldn't shock fans if it did.
Pros of moving Ishaq Williams to TE:
1. Kelly & Offensive Coordinator Chuck Martin spent a large quantity of the off-season designing an offense that could better take advantage of their stable of tight ends and offset other pass-catching questions in the wake of Michael Floyd's graduation. Despite returning 3 players with plenty of 2011 playing time at TE - Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack & Welch, the coaching staff moved another Sophomore-to-be OLB, Troy Niklas, to TE this spring in an effort to create the biggest stable of TEs any college has ever known. The loss of Welch likely means the designed rotation is thrown into flux and Williams could be plugged right in while improving the mobility of the unit.
2. Tight End is a better place to harness William's athletic ability and offset his lack of aggression and drive. Ishaq appears on film, thus far, as a player who skated through his youth dominating opponents by way of obvious physical advantages. Don't forget that amazing Spring Game run by George Atkinson III started when Williams came free into the backfield and expected a 6'1'' 215 college RB to crumple to the turf because of his mere presence. Sadly, it's a staple of Williams defensive game - he doesn't care much for exuding extreme effort or wrapping up on tackles. At Tight End Williams can jump ball over smaller LBs and Safeties and gain 10+ yards before having to take on a hit. Get him the ball on the move and he's going to break a few tackles down the field.
3. Romeo Okwara - After watching the last few practice videos from UND.com, Brian Kelly probably didn't need to tell us that the freshman is an impressive looking player. Kelly did feel the need to inform the media that Okwara has shown well early and is already classified as an "early camp surprise". Okwara profiles at the "Cat" OLB and similar to Williams he doesn't look like a fit on the opposite side of the field. If Williams is moved to TE, it clears the way for Okwara to start his career in a pass-rushing role and may actually give Notre Dame two players that can attack the edge on passing downs.
4. Jaylon Smith - The #1 LB recruit in America is heading to South Bend next summer. Manti Te'o is the only starter of the four who loses eligibility after 2012. Smith is going to play early and Williams will be a junior who is still not starting. Why not get him somewhere he can play more meaningful snaps?
Cons of the moving Ishaq Williams to TE:
1. OLB Depth Chart - Before Dog Linebacker Danny Spond went down on the first day of pads with a concussion, OLB was already thin. Only 5 scholarship players are listed at OLB and now only one at the "Dog" spot - Sophomore Ben Councell. The staff will be looking to move a player to OLB, not from it. While none of the "Cat" guys, which includes Williams, seem like a fit, there has likely been significant cross-training among the players. You know who did profile at the Dog spot? Troy Niklas. Just saying.
2. Transfer - Williams wouldn't like it very much. Kelly hinted that Ishaq was "sent home to think" during the spring about his role at ND. Williams, whom recruitniks drooled over and had Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco outside his NY home at 5am, doesn't want to find himself 4th on the depth chart at a position he doesn't want to play. If moved to TE, the staff would run a major risk of losing another player to transfer and the fan-base, which is absurdly enamored with his tape measure/stop-watch combo, would go bat-shit crazy. For the 2012 season at least, it'd likely be a win-lose-lose situation for Kelly. BK would be better off keeping Williams at OLB, praising his "progress", not using him in any significant role, and making the big decision in the 2013 off-season based of Welch's recovery, Niklas & Koyack's progress, 2013 TE recruit Heuerman's impression, and all the other things that will happen during the season before making a change.
As a final note I'd like to qualify myself on this discussion. I covered high school football full-time in NYC, Connecticut, Long Island and New Jersey during William's junior season. Williams name came up a few times during 4 months of hard-core coverage, but he wasn't even considered for any of our All-Area teams despite playing at one of the worst levels of HS Football you can imagine. I've seen his tape and progress at Notre Dame. I'll be shocked if he becomes a major contributor in 2012 at OLB. He has the talent to be successful, but may not belong anywhere on defense. Without the proverbial "light going on" with his intensity, his only chance for playing at the next level will come at Tight End. The sooner the move is made, the quicker he can adapt and move up in whichever draft he enters.
[Update: Rumors swirling that OLB Danny Spond's injury is significant. A move of Ishaq becomes even less likely.]