Last year’s building blocks and pro prospects Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones are gone.
Solid two-year performer Daniel Cage lost his last two Novembers – all (2016) or part (2015) – to concussions, and rising junior Jerry Tillery concluded last year’s lost campaign as the enemy of self-righteous social media’s as the result of a cheap shot (perhaps two) in the regular season finale at USC.
In the aggregate, returning members of last year’s defensive line posted a paltry 5.5 tackles-for-loss last fall.
Blessed with good health, there are at least eight quality football players among the projected two-deep and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko has made a career of getting the best out of his competitors.
Tillery, Daelin Hayes, and Khalid Kareem have enviable talent while Cage is a quality nose tackle, albeit a player that should probably share the role to lighten his load. Jonathan Bonner and Jay Hayes have flashed in the past, as has rush end Andrew Trumbetti.
Sophomore pass-rushing prospect Julian Okwara was good enough that he earned a varsity spot by the middle of August camp last year. Elijah Taylor showed well late and was forcibly inserted to the late-season fray by holdover defensive line coach (last year the linebackers, then interim defensive coordinator) Mike Elston.
The group is bereft of veteran difference-makers and the youngsters that were given the opportunity to shine early last season failed to consistently contribute.
If there’s a star in the ranks he’s either a sophomore/freshman or a hideously mismanaged upperclassmen stunted in his growth to date by the defensive scheme implemented by ex-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. (To be fair, that’s not unlikely.)
Defensive Line Options
There’s a glut of untested/barely tested veteran prospects beginning with seniors Bonner, Hayes, and Pete Mokwuah, plus the junior (redshirt-sophomore) trio of Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Brandon Tiassum though Taylor is the only member of the latter threesome to appear in a collegiate contest.
Redshirt-freshman pass-rushing prospect Ade Ogundeji might need one more season of seasoning though it’s open season and open auditions for anyone that can come off the edge and tackle the quarterback.
August Camp welcomes Darnell Ewell, Kirk Hinish, and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, plus long-term projects Jonathan MacCollister and Kofi Wardlow.
There will be 18 defensive linemen/rush ends on the 2017 roster. Notre Dame needs at least eight to play above their previous levels – seven of those eight decidedly higher than at any point in their collegiate pasts.
The unit is the team’s perceived weakness both exiting spring ball.
Notre Dame’s linebackers are battle-tested and dependable. There’s a wealth of depth and talent among the squad’s cornerbacks and though the team’s safeties remain young, the group is better equipped for success than it was this time last year, and that was with a returning senior starter.
The Irish defensive line has to be at least solid and fundamentally sound for Notre Dame to win football games next fall. It’s up to the Elko/Elston combo – in congress with February 2017 Internet icon Matt Balis, the program’s new director of football performance – to bring forth such improvement over the course of the 12-game slate.