March 9, 2016
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have already finished an early signing day, concluded their season with a bowl win over the LSU Tigers, and wrapped up the final signing day. Now, it’s time to begin the transition to Spring Football. To prepare for that, we’re going to take a look at each positional group heading into spring. Early enrollees will be included in this, but signees who did not enroll early will not be included. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.
That’s a group you can get excited about.
Granted this is a group that didn’t exactly dominate last year - they were serviceable, but not much more - but returning experience and growth in the new system instills a bit of excitement in this Notre Dame fan. Especially with the potential on the edge in Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, and Julian Okwara.
If these young men make strides during the spring, watch out. They have the natural ability to develop into disruptive forces that could, in tandem, decimate opposing offensive lines. Okwara is the most naturally-inclined pass rusher out of those three, while Daelin Hayes and Khalid Kareem act more as all-around run-stopper, pass-rusher combos. They won’t get after the quarterback like Okwara, but they’ll prove to be more stout against the run.
Also on the edge - for now - is Jay Hayes. Hayes had his best season to date in 2017, although it wasn’t anything to write home about. He was solid on the edge, but still has room for improvement. With his size physical traits, it wouldn’t be surprising if he cross-trained inside this spring, and eventually went full time on the interior.
On the inside, the three names to know are Jerry Tillery, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and Jonathan Bonner. Bonner and Tillery were the starters last season, and Tagavailoa rotated in quite a bit as a true freshman. Bonner is a solid contributor, but unspectacular as a player. With that said, expect the Irish to lean on his experience and consistency. Tillery was a difference maker when his effort was there, although that effort was occasionally lacking. Tagavailoa flashed substantially this past season, and is definitely expected to develop into a bona fide leader for this defensive line down the road.
This “upper-7” (as I will refer to it) will likely rotate in and out with each other and receive the majority of the playing time. Behind the projected upper-7 on the depth chart are a plethora of names that are much more difficult to make projections for in 2018.
Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish, and Micah Dew-Treadway will likely be backups at defensive tackle. Ewell is a huge, athletic interior lineman overflowing with potential. If he can put everything together, he will be a force. Hinish had his moments as a freshman, but was clearly behind Tagavailoa. If he is to vie for playing time in 2018, he has to make moves this spring. Dew-Treadway will almost certainly - barring massive strides on his part - receiver limited playing time in relief of others. He is experienced, but has yet to truly push for significant playing time. I don’t expect that to change.
The backups on the edge will be Kofi Wardlow and Ade Ogundeji. Ade Ogundeji comes equipped with all the physical traits you could ask for in a defensive end, but the mental side of the game is the hurdle here. If he can get a better grasp on football and combine that with his natural ability, he will be a fantastic player for the Irish. Wardlow lacks Ogundeji’s size, but possesses the quick-twitch ability that you look for in defensive ends. Similarly to the Ogundeji, if he is to make an impact this season he has to develop the mental side of the game.
There’s plenty of raw talent along the defensive line for the Irish going into 2018. The short-term future looks as if it will be good. But as was mentioned earlier, this isn’t a group that dominated opposition in 2017. Progress will have to be made if they are to live up to that potential, and as always, that progress starts in spring.
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