Combine Notebook: Irish linebackers project Day 3 picks

Feb. 28—INDIANAPOLIS — J.D. Bertrand believes he can play in any role the NFL might ask of him.

And the former Notre Dame linebacker credits his experience under head coach Marcus Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden for making that possible.

"I feel pretty comfortable kind of all over," Bertrand said Wednesday during the NFL Scouting Combine. "I've ran multiple defenses, mainly 4-2-5. A lot of the NFL's going to kind of a 4-2-5, and I think those two off-the-ball linebackers, they're pretty similar. In order to play in a true 4-2-5, you have to know both."

As NFL offenses continue to evolve, the role of interior linebackers continues to be debated. There will always be a place for a bruiser who can shut down an opponent's run game, but today's linebackers need the athleticism to cover pass catchers and the speed to run sideline to sideline.

Bertrand is seen in the more traditional mold of a hard-nosed, physical linebacker who will punish opponents with brutal hits.

When on-field drills begin Thursday, he'll try to prove to league evaluators he also has the athletic traits to excel at the next level.

"I liked Bertrand as a player," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during a conference call last week. "I don't think it's a great linebacker class. I think that helps him. He kind of plays downhill. He is aggressive. He has some range, not a lot of finesse to his game. He is a little bit tight as well, just sees the field really, really well."

Bertrand is projected as a Day 3 pick (Rounds 4-7) with upside on special teams and as a situational defensive player.

Former Irish teammate Marist Lifau is believed to be a better all-around athlete but is seen in a similar light at the next level.

Liufau finished with 44 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during his final season in South Bend, but he doesn't believe all of his resume is evident simply on the field.

"I think I showcased my leadership, showcased my quickness," he said, "my quickness as a linebacker and IQ as a linebacker and just my ability to lead out on the field."

While Liufau is an early entrant, Bertrand spent four full seasons at Notre Dame.

He finished with 76 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a senior, and he believes he knows what trait makes a linebacker successful at the next level.

"I think the biggest thing from my perspective, and talking to a lot of great linebackers, is the ability to bounce back from plays, the ability to flush the last play and move on and act like it didn't happen or at least learn from it and be able to apply it to the next play," Bertrand said.


Indiana linebacker Aaron Casey is attempting to show teams he's worthy of a late-round selection during his stay at the Combine.

He had a very productive fifth season with the Hoosiers, setting career highs with 109 tackles, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

And part of his sales job to evaluators this week is his commitment to continuing to improve his game in the film room.

"So the film process is a big part of my game," Casey said. "Being able to read and diagnose and anticipate what I might get off a certain look or a certain motion, things like that, just allows me to take that first step in the right direction, get downhill and make plays, make tackles. That's what I was able to do this season."


Payton Wilson is projected as a second-round pick as an athletic linebacker out of North Carolina State.

He credits a multi-sport background, including an extensive history as a wrestler, for improving his all-around football game.

But he might never be as famous in some circles as his older brother. Bryse Wilson is a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers, who was 6-0 with three saves and a 2.58 ERA over 76 2/3 innings last year.

It makes for an interesting dynamic in the brothers' home state of North Carolina.

"I tell people in Raleigh, I'm Payton Wilson," the younger Wilson said. "But when we go back to Hillsborough, I'm Bryse Wilson's little brother."