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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Alexander Ehrensberger (90) looks on during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Cincinnati Bearcats on October 2, 2021, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-6 ⅞, 255 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Ehrensberger has three seasons of eligibility remaining. His freshman season was spent largely on the sideline, making it so his university eligibility pandemic waiver essentially served as the traditional season preserving eligibility.Depth Chart: Ehrensberger is Notre Dame’s third “Big” end, behind junior Rylie Mills and senior NaNa Osafo-Mensah. Mills may dabble on the interior, but fifth-year end Justin Ademilola will split his time between Vyper end and “Big” end, keeping Ehrensberger as a true No. 3 rather than a No. 2.5.Recruiting: The German three-star prospect never considered any other program, sought by former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston on an international flight and seeing no reason to ponder his choice after that.

Duolingo, do I have to do this for you? Hold on, let’s try translating that into German … Duolingo, muss ich das für dich tun?

After making two tackles in his one appearance as a freshman, both for losses, Ehrensberger made three tackles in 10 games in 2021.

2020: 1 game, two tackles, both for loss, one of which was a sack.2021: 10 games, three tackles, one sack.

“To be blunt and to the point, Ehrensberger may not see more than a few handfuls of snaps in 2021. Not only does he still need to put on strength and weight, as Kelly discussed, but (Myron) Tagovailoa-Amosa moved to end with making an impact in mind. Ademilola has proven he can make an impact since the 2018 Playoff. Osafo-Mensah is coming up on a make-or-break season of sorts.

“Deferring to those interests at the expense of Ehrensberger will not be the coaching staff’s explicit intent, but doing so will also allow Ehrensberger time to find that strength and weight. Quite literally, the one thing this prospect needs most is time. …

“Emphasizing Ehrensberger’s timeline serves the future depth chart well. Upperclassmen’s practical eligibility is impossible to nail down currently due to that universal waiver in 2020, but just like that waiver did not impact Ehrensberger’s clock in 2020, it will not impact his playing time in years to come.

“He should see a contributing reserve role in 2022, but his real time to shine will come in 2023 and 2024, and none of the names mentioned ahead of him on the depth chart will still be factors come then.

“When Notre Dame signed Ehrensberger — with little football experience and even less exposure to pertinent talent — Kelly foreshadowed Elston’s comments about recruiting years later. This past February, Elston called the Irish a ‘developmental’ program, and it was intended as a strength. Along Elston’s defensive line, in particular, it has been.

“‘You’ve seen the development of our defensive line, where it came in and where it is,’ Kelly said back in December of 2019 when Ehrensberger signed his National Letter of Intent. “We want to continue to look toward that model where those guys can be looked at as elite players as they develop.

“‘We can see him as an elite player as he develops in the program. So for us to invest all of that time, we have to be able to see him develop in our program as an elite player down the road.’”

point, this German project will have his chance to prove prescient Elston’s and Notre Dame’s long-ago faith.

There is every reason to believe in Osafo-Mensah. This space will continue to espouse that this summer; he only fell off the general radar thanks to the pandemic and then an injury, not to mention depth along the defensive line. When Tagovailoa-Amosa made the move to “Big” end last season, it benefited both him and the Irish. The biggest loser was Osafo-Mensah, back down to third on the depth chart through no fault of his own.

But, Osafo-Mensah has not proven his abilities on Saturdays. Until he does, nothing should be taken for certain. Such is the nature of projecting the futures of 18- to 23-year-olds.

If Osafo-Mensah stumbles, Ehrensberger may get a chance for an early arrival. His development was long expected to take at least three years. This is the third. As a recruit, he was relatively new to the sport of football. His length drew Elston’s and Notre Dame’s eyes. The rest would take time.

Is now the time? Frankly, unlikely. Projects usually wait until their senior years to pay off, and Ehrensberger was always known as a project. But, his length may expedite Ehrensberger’s arrival. While he is listed at 255 pounds and that may seem light, the Irish strength and conditioning staff has not made it a priority to add more. Ehrensberger was listed at 247 pounds as a freshman and 252 as a sophomore. This is his body.

Given that reality, his size still exists. He is wide, he is very wide. Ehrensberger can set the edge and allow the linebackers behind him to track down the running back. That may get him some playing time, regardless of how Osafo-Mensah performs.

The bad news for Ehrensberger is good news for the Irish. Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, all three of he, Mills and Osafo-Mensah have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On the other side of the defensive line, though, neither senior Isaiah Foskey nor fifth-year Justin Ademilola — who will work at “Big” end some, as well — should be back in 2023. Look for one of the Big ends, perhaps most likely Osafo-Mensah, to try his hand at Vyper next spring.

That will move Ehrensberger firmly into the two-deep. While the position coach has changed, it should still be assumed that anyone within the two-deep will see plenty of playing time. At that point, this German project will have his chance to prove prescient Elston’s and Notre Dame’s long-ago faith.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit

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