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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end


Listed measurements: 6-foot-4, 269 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: An early-enrolled freshman, Ford obviously has four seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Ford moved in to three-technique tackle, after being sought as a defensive end, this spring. He may be as low as fourth on that depth chart, behind fifth-year Jayson Ademilola, senior Howard Cross and sophomore Jason Onye, but Onye did not appear in any games in 2021. Ford could conceivably move past him and into the rotation.Recruiting: After December’s signing period, Ford still kept moving up the recruiting rankings. considered him the No. 105 overall prospect then, but after his All-American Bowl showing, he landed at No. 51 in the final rankings. The No. 6 defensive end in the class, per, Ford nearly committed to Oklahoma.

Then Marcus Freeman arrived as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. For all of Freeman’s recruiting successes in the 16 months since he was first hired onto Brian Kelly’s staff, Ford was his first win. Ford made it clear that Freeman was what swayed him from the Sooners.

“I really think the Marcus Freeman situation changed things a bit,” Ford said to The South Bend Tribune.

Again, Ford was referring to defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, not Irish head coach Marcus Freeman.

Ford also considered Georgia and his homestate Florida as finalists before making that January 2021 decision.

The most obvious application of true name, image and likeness rights was always via a car dealership. Local dealerships have long formed relationships with outgoing players as they prepped for the draft, usually getting them a cheap (or perhaps free) lease within a week of their last game. If nothing else, it was a chance to form a relationship before that player would want to buy his first nice car.

Such a relationship is now allowed with any player. If Gurley Leep Ford, south of Notre Dame, just a bit short of the St. Joseph County Fairgrounds, has not already called Tyson Ford, then Buddy Garrity is assuredly rolling over in his fictional grave. (The Friday Night Lights character would be about 67 now. No offense to actor Brad Leland, but Garrity would be dead from a cardiac-related event by now, right?)

When Freeman first became Notre Dame’s head coach, it was expected his staff would remain largely intact. That was not merely an external thought. Actions reflected the internal thinking, as well, such as putting those assistant coaches in front of the media repeatedly throughout December and even January.

If Freeman had known defensive line coach Mike Elston would jump to his alma mater, Michigan, then he may not have had the recruiting coordinator speak during December’s signing period. But Elston’s praisings then hold validity yet, as they were sincere in the moment, and his work with Freeman is what brought the Irish this defensive lineman out of Missouri.

“Tyson is just a big, athletic, physical player,” Elston said. “He’s going to take some development. He’s not at a big school where there’s a bunch of coaches there that are helping him daily with the little things that make a great defensive lineman.

“It’s great he’s coming in mid-year because he’s going to learn a lot of that, he’s going to get a lot of development very early. It’ll be exciting to see him go down to the All-American Game and stack up with those guys.

“Know what I love about Tyson? And I didn’t know this prior to him coming on an official visit, was he’s really a sponge in football. He wants to know football. He wants to sit there, sit next to you, watch film. What should I be doing here? What should I be looking at? What should I be thinking about?

“That’s going to be huge. Sometimes when a young man is that talented, it comes easy to him and he doesn’t learn how to study the game, and the fact that he loves the game and wants to study it, that’s going to be big.”

Ford already brings plenty of strength to the edge, keeping offensive linemen from getting into his body, but there is some fundamental work ahead of him in developing his pass rush tendencies.”

The move to tackle from end may come as a surprise. Ford was a highly-sought defensive end. He excelled at the position in high school. Why move him so quickly?

It likely reflects what the Irish strength and conditioning staff expects from Ford’s physical development. If it thought he is more likely to remain long and lean, then he may have remained at end, but if it thinks his body will be best served by adding 10-20 more pounds, then he could suddenly be an ideal tackle.

Nailing that kind of projection is harder than we think from the outside, but it is also crucial to a player’s development.

In the short term, it likely means Ford becomes more of a developmental piece. He may be able to hold his own on the inside against the lightweights on Notre Dame’s schedule — and let’s establish those now as Marshall, Cal and UNLV — but with two of those within the first three weeks of his freshman season, he may not be tasked with even that work. It will be more important for Ford to add muscle and learn the intricacies of his new position than it will be for him to measure himself against Cal’s lackluster defensive line.

Ademilola considered the NFL following the 2021 season. With a shoulder injury, his return was always exceedingly likely, but not a certainty. It should be following 2022. That will leave Cross and either Onye or Ford to lead the way on the inside as a penetrating tackle.

They have similar profiles, as both Onye and Ford were recruited as “Big” ends from areas with middling preps competition, and both moved inside to tackle quickly. With an extra year of collegiate nutrition, Onye is already up to a listed weight of 289 pounds, so he has a clear advantage there.

But Ford has the better profile otherwise. A four-star recruit, rather than three-, from Missouri instead of Rhode Island, he projects to a better collegiate career, plain and simple. Of course, these things can be fickle on a case-by-case basis, but Ford should be given the benefit of the doubt.

If he cracks the two-deep in 2023, he will be counted on to provide a pass rush from the inside. That should be within Ford’s skill set. From there, he could start in 2024 and 2025. At the very least, none of that would be a surprise.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anewNo. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transferNo. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

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