Notre Dame gets the letters: Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Notre Dame’s defensive line has reliably been its deepest position for a few years now, and adding a trio of four-star recruits and a flipped commitment from Stanford should only continue that trend.
In order of their initial commitments to the Irish, now having all signed as the December signing period opened …
Mentor High School; OhioMeasurements: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star prospect, Vernon is the No. 7 strongside defensive end in the class, per rivals.com, and the No. 60 overall recruit. He will play in the All-American Bowl next month.
Other notable offers: A top-tier defensive end from Ohio would usually end up at Ohio State, a program known for producing first-round draft picks from the position. Yet, Vernon never wavered from his 18-month Irish commitment.
Projected position: Vernon may have been tailormade to be Notre Dame’s next Vyper end.
Quick take: Vernon’s size and length alone should make him a contributor in his career. If that is his floor, that is quite a recruiting haul.
Short-term roster outlook: The Irish defensive line is not quite as deep as it has been in recent years, certainly not if Justin Ademilola opts against a sixth season. If he returns, Vernon may be no higher than third on the depth chart, but if Ademilola takes his chances in the NFL draft, a strong preseason could push Vernon into the two-deep.
Long-term depth chart impact: Notre Dame is, to some extent, grasping for its next Vyper. Ademilola’s return will be vital for 2023. After him, the Irish are looking at part-time linebacker Jordan Botelho and a pair of current freshmen, or Vernon.
Central Memorial High School; West Roxbury, Mass.Measurements: 6-foot-4, 254 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star prospect, Traore is the No. 26 strongside defensive end in the class, per rivals.com. He will play in the All-American Bowl next month.
Other notable offers: Traore was committed to nearby Boston College for six months when Notre Dame offered him a scholarship, and his Eagles’ pledge almost immediately fell by the wayside. A Michigan offer did not distract him from the Irish thought he had long wanted.
Projected position: Put Traore into the same category as Vernon, a needed attempt at finding Notre Dame’s next Vyper.
Quick take: Do not overlook Traore. His sophomore year highlights quickly elicit a “Wow” reaction. He embraces blocks even as he makes a tackle. He drives an offensive lineman into the backfield before sliding off him and onto the quarterback. His quick first few steps on a pass rush put any offensive tackle at a disadvantage.
Short-term roster outlook: Special teams work may await Traore. Preserving eligibility is less and less a need, given the realities of one-time transfers. Given Notre Dame’s excellent punt-block unit in 2022, that could be its own glamorous role.
Long-term depth chart impact: If not at Vyper, the Irish may also need a “Big” end before too long. Current junior Ryle Mills and senior Nana Osafo-Mensah will hold down the position next season, but behind them is only German project Alexander Ehrensberger.
Saint James School; Md.Measurements: 6-foot-3, 270 pounds
Accolades: The sole defensive tackle in Notre Dame’s class — though perhaps it should be mentioned that Traore’s body could probably hold more weight in the future — Houston is a consensus four-star prospect and the No. 20 defensive tackle in the class, per rivals.com.
Other notable offers: Houstan chose Notre Dame over Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Penn State, but also, most notably, Michigan and former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston. Houstan’s brother, Caleb, spent the last year on the Wolverines basketball team, recently declaring for the NBA draft after one season of college basketball.
Projected position: Somewhere on the defensive line interior, the differences between three-technique and nose tackle difficult to diagnosis off high-school highlights.
Quick take: Devan Houstan is quick enough to rush off the edge in high school. Maryland high school football talent is not particularly strong, to be generous, but his clean releases around the tackles are still impressive. They are often helped by strong hands swatting blockers away.
He will have to adjust to the different game in college, both in moving to the interior full-time and in the massive ramp-up in opposing talent, but Houstan’s raw talent and ability to hold space are clear.
Short-term roster outlook: Current senior Howard Cross and sophomore Gabriel Rubio will lead the way at tackle in 2023, but Houstan may be called upon for some rotational reps.
Long-term depth chart impact: Behind Cross and Rubio, the Irish have nothing proven up front. Playing time will be available as soon as 2024.
Woodberry Forest School; Va.Measurements: 6-foot-4, 255 pounds
Accolades: The rivals.com three-star prospect may be seen as more of a project than his classmates.
Other notable offers: Mukam flipped from a two-month Stanford commitment to an Irish pledge in one August day, filling a hole opened by five-star defensive end Keon Kelley’s de-commitment.
Projected position: Mukam should fill in at “Big” end in due time, particularly once he adds 10 pounds or so to match his wide frame.
Quick take: At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, his wide body and long arms make it hard for a running back to get around the edge, lengthening the ball carrier’s trip upfield.
Mukam is quick off the snap and willing to chase after passes into the flat, intangible signs of hustle.
Such raw descriptions of Mukam are necessary, given he has played only one full season of football and moved from Canada to the United States to do so.
Short-term roster outlook: Mukam will follow Ehrensberger’s role of being a long-term project. His time will come, but it will not be in 2023.
Long-term depth chart impact: Projects eventually find a spot to contribute, but projecting that far out may be a fool’s errand.
SIGNING DAY COVERAGE
Consensus four-star QB Kenny Minchey, former Pittsburgh commit
Consensus four-star running back Jeremiyah Love, No. 4 RB in the country
Five offensive lineman signees continue Irish trend up front
Four receivers fill greatest Irish need
Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment
Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen
Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Consensus four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan
Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense