Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-3, 340 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: Ewell flipped back to defensive tackle this spring after spending half the fall at offensive guard. At either position, he does not crack the two-deep at tackle, already behind early-enrolled freshman Jacob Lacey, as well as junior Kurt Hinish.Recruiting: Of Notre Dame’s three defensive tackles signees in the class of 2017, Ewell was expected to stand out. Instead, the consensus four-star prospect, and No. 9 defensive tackle in the country per rivals.com, was immediately passed by Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish.
CAREER TO DATE
Ewell’s career through two seasons amounts to one tackle in the Blue-Gold Game, a goal-line stop of sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister. When he made that tackle, much of the press box was incredulous it was Ewell, only in part because he wore No. 58 that afternoon.
He was also credited with a sack in the 2018 Blue-Gold Game, one aided by an aggressively quick whistle unnecessarily protecting red jersey-clad quarterback Ian Book.
Even with Lacey impressing this spring, there is not much depth at defensive tackle. Sophomore Ja’Mion Franklin (torn quad) and early-enrolled freshman Hunter Spears (ACL) are both question marks for the fall, especially the start of the season. As much as the Irish coaching staff may not want to play a content and out-of-shape Ewell, they even more do not want to play a less than 100 percent healthy alternative. Hence Ewell’s move back to the defensive line. Notre Dame has depth at offensive guard.
That said, it would be disingenuous to describe Irish head coach Brian Kelly as upbeat about the position return, something he usually is in discussing any position change, as would be expected out of most coaches.
“We’re just trying to find a space for [Ewell],” Kelly said at the start of spring practices. “We’re trying to find a role for him right now.”
Back when Ewell moved to the offensive line in September, Kelly offered some praise.
“He is so physically strong,” Kelly said. “We felt as we looked at the depth of certain positions, that was an area that we had some issues. We felt like, in particular this year, he could make some strides there. He has. He’s really strong. He uses his lower body very well. He can move people off the point. Early indications are that might be a good fit for him.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“This segment once figured Ewell ‘projects as Notre Dame’s defensive tackle of the future.’ Not only did Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish seem to have other thoughts about that, but Ewell might, as well, and in the wrong way.
“His ceiling may yet be higher than that of either of his classmates, but Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish have both raised their floors to exceedingly-serviceable levels. Neither Tillery nor Bonner will return in 2019, but Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish should slot into each of those starting roles for the following two seasons.
“Until more (some) of his potential becomes reality, Ewell has little chance of surpassing either for a leading gig. He could (should) become a needed backup. Even the best defensive tackles come off the field for competitive snaps, meaning Ewell’s contributions as a backup would be vital next season. That is, if he develops at a rate greater than seen thus far.”
Injuries would put Ewell on the field this season, but little else might do so. Lacey is firmly ahead of him, and that gap may expand before Labor Day. As Franklin returns to health, he will also return to a spot above Ewell in the pecking order, just as he was a year ago upon first arriving at Notre Dame.
Perhaps Ewell serves as a goal-line hole-plugger, but it is more likely the Irish turn to sophomore Jayson Ademilola as an additional body in that role, someone already contributing and trusted to create disruption in the backfield.
DOWN THE ROAD
Ewell is reportedly well-liked within Notre Dame’s locker room and not viewed in a negative light off-the-field by the Irish coaching staff, usual undercurrents forecasting a transfer. Thus, it is reasonable to expect him to stick around through 2020, but anticipating contributions is a reach at this point.
Such as it goes with recruiting rankings and heaping pressure on teenagers. Some fall short, while others — Tagovailoa-Amosa, Hinish — surpass previous presumptions.