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Sports

Position group breakdown: Defensive line

| Thursday, April 2, 2020

Notre Dame’s 2020 defensive line will be vastly different than the 2019 unit. The Irish graduated three starters, who combined for 90 tackles and 15 sacks. The players that remain on their depth chart are talented, but it will be very difficult for the team to replace the elite level of production it got from last year’s seniors.

 

Position Groups: interior defensive line and defensive end

Interior Defensive Line Depth Chart: rising sophomores Howard Cross III, Jacob Lacey, Hunter Spears; rising juniors Jayson Ademilola, Jamion Franklin; rising seniors Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovaila-Amosa

Defensive End Depth Chart: rising sophomores Isaiah Foskey, Nana Osafo-Mensah; rising juniors Justin Ademilola, Ovie Oghoufo; graduate students Daelin Hayes, Ade Ogundeji

 

Key 2019 Departures:

DE Khalid Kareem

2019 Stats: 46 tackles, five-and-a-half sacks, 10 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles

Kareem was a model of consistency for the Irish over the last four years. He didn’t miss a single game in the last three seasons and started every game as a junior and senior. His on-field production will be missed sorely, as he was second on the team in both sacks and tackles for loss, and even when he didn’t get on the scoresheet, he disrupted the opponent’s quarterback on nearly every play. Notre Dame will also miss his locker room presence. He was named a team captain in 2019 and has been a mentor for the younger Irish players in the last two years. 

DE Julian Okwara

2019 Stats: 18 tackles, four sacks, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles

Also named a captain alongside Kareem, Okwara contributed heavily in all four of his years with the Irish. He stepped into the starting role as a junior and came into his own, leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss. He was expected to have another big season in 2019, and did for the first nine games of the season, but suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. It was an unfortunate way to end what was a storied career for Okwara, and, much like Kareem, not only will his production be missed, but also his veteran presence. 

DE Jamir Jones

2019 stats: 26 tackles, four-and-a-half sacks, six-and-half tackles for loss, two forced fumbles

Unlike Kareem and Okwara, Jones didn’t break out until his senior season. Despite this, he contributed in a big way in 2019. He was expected to only play in a few games in order to maintain his redshirt eligibility, but injuries forced him into the starting lineup. He tied for third on the team in sacks despite not starting the first four games of the season. He had one of the best games of his career at Stanford to end the regular season, with four tackles, a sack and six quarterback hurries

 

Key 2020 Contributors:

IDL Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa

2019 stats: 12 games played, 22 tackles, two-and-a-half tackles for loss, half of a sack

Tagovailoa-Amosa returned from an injury that he suffered in 2018 and started all 12 games he played in. He was a force on the interior defensive line, consistently pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He had some memorable moments in 2019, including recording four tackles at Georgia and returning a fumble 48 yards against Virginia to set Notre Dame up for a field goal, a turning point in that game. He will be expected to step up even more this season in order to replace much of the lost production. 

IDL Kurt Hinish

2019 stats: 13 games played, 15 tackles, four-and-a-half tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble

Hinish, one of the more underappreciated defensive contributors for the Irish, has played in at least 12 games each of his three seasons. He doesn’t get on the scoresheet as much as many of the other players on this list, but he is still a major contributor. He started all 13 games last season and was a consistent force at nose tackle. He will likely be expected to play a lot of snaps again in 2020, as he has proven himself as a powerful run-stopper. 

IDL Jayson Ademilola

2019 stats: 11 games played, 25 tackles, four tackles for loss

Ademilola proved himself to be an adept run-stopper during the 2019 season, recording 25 tackles. He will be called upon to do that again in 2020, as he was one of the better run-stoppers on the team last year. His best game came against Duke, where he recorded five tackles. Ademilola should expect more snaps as a junior, especially in short-yardage situations, and will be a key member of the defensive tackle rotation. 

IDL Jacob Lacey

2019 stats: 11 games played 14 tackles, one-and-a-half tackles for loss, half of a sack

Lacey contributed immediately as a freshman, providing depth behind Hinish on the interior line. His best game of the season came against Navy, where he recorded four tackles. He most likely won’t be in the starting lineup as a sophomore, but after such a promising freshman season, he will still be a key contributor and will continue to provide depth for Notre Dame. 

DE Daelin Hayes

2019 stats: four games played, six tackles, one sack

Hayes was expected to be a major contributor in 2019, but, after playing well in the first three games of the season, suffered a season-ending injury against Virginia. Hayes was a major factor in the Irish’s undefeated 2018 season, recording 31 tackles. He has shown himself to be a talented and versatile player during his time at Notre Dame and can be expected to have a very successful final season if he can stay healthy and should be one of Notre Dame’s top defenders in 2020.

DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji

2019 stats: 13 games played, 34 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four-and-a-half sacks, three forced fumbles

Despite not starting for most of 2019, Ogundeji found his way into the rotation, playing in all 13 games. He finished with 34 tackles, second among the defensive lineman, and really started to step up his game towards the end of the season. He finished with four-and-a-half sacks in the last three games of the season, which bodes well for next year. He will more than likely be rewarded for his strong season with a starting spot, and figures to continue to improve during his final year with the team. 

DE Justin Ademilola

2019 stats: eight games played, nine tackles, one tackle for loss

Jayson’s brother, Justin, also made key contributions as a sophomore. His best game came against Stanford, where he recorded three tackles. Though the defensive tackle rotation will be crowded, Ademiola will also challenge for snaps and should contribute more heavily in 2020 as his development continues. 

DE Ovie Oghoufo

2019 stats: Nine games played, 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack

After not seeing any action his first year in the program, Oghoufo established himself as a player with serious potential moving forward in 2019. Against Duke, he had three tackles. He will surely play more snaps this season, as he has proven himself to be a talented edge-rusher and will add depth at defensive end. 

DE Isaiah Foskey 

2019 stats: Four games played, five tackles

Foskey, who came in as a four-star defensive end, didn’t play much as a freshman. He made his biggest contribution in the final regular-season game against Stanford, where he recorded two tackles and blocked a punt. He will be expected to play a lot more next season, as the Irish are relatively thin at defensive end. He showed flashes of what is to come in 2019. 

 

Position Grades:

Hayden Adams — Sports Editor

The Irish don’t really lose anything on the interior defensive line this season. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, Jacob Lacey, Hunter Spears and Howard Cross III all return on the interior, and freshmen Aidan Keanaaina and Rylie Mills are highly touted and should contribute in limited action assuming the coaching staff plan to redshirt them. The losses come more on the outside of the D-Line. Jamir Jones and Khalid Kareem played their butts off throughout the year as both Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara went down with season-ending injuries.

While the departure of Okwara, Jones and Kareem will in all likelihood lead to a regression, it shouldn’t be much of one. Ogundeji and Hayes are back, the latter of whom played like Notre Dame’s best D-End prior to his shoulder injury. Ovie Oghoufo, Nana Osafa-Mensah and Isaiah Foskey should all be ready to contribute at that position as well, and freshmen Alexander Ehrensberger and Jordan Botelho should contribute in redshirt action as well. All in all, this is a solid if not tremendously deep or proven group, and I think they’ll continue the standard set by those before them. B+

Liam Coolican — Sports Writer

It will undoubtedly be a major challenge for Notre Dame to replace the production of Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, but with Daelin Hayes returning, as well as the emergence of many of the younger defensive linemen, it may not be a big step back. However, outside of Hayes, they don’t have many established edge rushers. But the depth and talent at defensive tackle is promising, and the Irish will have a formidable rotation. If players like Myron Tagoviloa-Amosa and Adetokunbo Ogundeji can continue to improve, the Irish will again have an elite defensive line. B+

Greg McKenna — Sports Writer

Losing difference-makers like Kareem and Okwara is never ideal, but the return of Daelin Hayes will bring plenty of star-power and experience, especially if he can replicate his 2018 form. Ogundeji displayed the ability to wreak havoc when called upon in 2019, and the Irish pass-rush has the potential to be nationally relevant if he can become a consistent producer. There are no key departures on the interior, so this should be an area of strength for the Irish defense if the unit learns from last year’s embarrassment at Michigan, where the Wolverines rushed for over 300 yards and scored 45 points on just 14 pass attempts. 

This Irish line should impose their will on most of their scheduled opponents, but they will really be evaluated on whether they can harass Trevor Lawrence and control Travis Etienne when Clemson visits South Bend on Nov. 7. I am optimistic that this D-Line will surprise a few experts and be up for the challenge. A-

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