With Notre Dame spring practice beginning later this month, CSNChicago.com is previewing each position group's depth chart and 2016 outlook. Today, we examine a defensive line that has to replace its two best players from last season (each player's 2016 status is listed in parentheses, these go DE-DT-NG-DE)
1. Isaac Rochell (Senior)
2. Grant Blankenship (RS Sophomore)
2A. Khalid Kareem (Freshman)
1. Jerry Tillery (Sophomore)
2. Jonathan Bonner (RS Sophomore)
2A. Jay Hayes (RS Sophomore)
3. Brandon Tiassum (RS Freshman)
3A. Micah Dew-Treadway (RS Freshman)
1. Jarron Jones (Graduate Student)
2. Daniel Cage (Junior)
3. Elijah Taylor (RS Freshman)
3A. Pete Mokwuah (RS Sophomore)
3B. Jacob Matuska (RS Junior)
1. Andrew Trumbetti (Junior)
2. Doug Randolph (RS Junior)
Injured: Daelin Hayes (Freshman)
Keith Gilmore faces the difficult task of replacing Notre Dame’s two most prolific defensive linemen from 2015, with Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara’s combined 28 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks off to the NFL. The good news is there’s plenty of top-end talent here, and there’s no shortage of interior defensive linemen. The bad news is the depth after Rochell and Trumbetti at defensive end is thin and untested.
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Behind Trumbetti at the weakside end position is Randolph, a veteran of the program but someone who hasn’t seen many defensive snaps during his time on campus. Hayes, an early-enrolling freshman, should factor at that position as well, but won’t be a full participant in spring practice due to a shoulder procedure he underwent while still in high school. Perhaps someone from that defensive tackle group, like Hayes or Bonner, slides outside to help out the depth behind Rochell or Trumbetti.
With Jones returning for the Fiesta Bowl, he’ll re-take the nose guard position he vacated due the torn MCL he suffered during preseason camp in 2015. That should push Tillery to the defensive tackle spot where Day excelled; while Tillery primarily played nose guard last year, he was Day’s backup at defensive tackle. His length and athleticism should play well there, especially with Jones next to him soaking up double teams.
Notre Dame will get some much-needed reinforcements over the summer when Okwara enrolls and Hayes is cleared for contact. Ideally, Notre Dame won’t have to rely on those two true freshman — plus Kareem, who enrolled early and will participate in spring practice — but it may become a necessity with rotations or injuries.
Still, the players atop this depth chart should form a solid defensive line. Last year’s group was good across the board even without Jones; at the worst, 2016’s line should be good at stopping the run with Rochell and Jones returning. At best, Trumbetti and Tillery make significant strides and some reliable depth materializes behind them. But we’ve also seen how bad things can get on an injury-ravaged, thin defensive line (2014), so it’d be a boon for Gilmore, Brian VanGorder & Co. to emerge from spring practice with a good idea of who can reliably fill out the depth chart.
Hayes and Kareem have a head start on weight training as early enrollees and are decent bets to see the field as true freshman.
Okwara, a four-star recruit from Charlotte, N.C., will have to bulk up to contribute as a true freshman. Notre Dame listed him at 216 pounds when he sent in his NLI last month; Notre Dame’s lightest defensive lineman in 2015 was Okwara’s older brother, Romeo, at 270 pounds. Ideally, Okwara would redshirt 2016, but as was the case in 2012 with an undersized Romeo Okwara, he may have to play due to depth issues.
Three-star Walled Lake, Mich. native Ade Ogundeji is also listed at 216 pounds, but is generally viewed as more of a raw, project-type player who will almost certainly take a redshirt this fall.