2018 Notre Dame Football Position and Prospect Analysis: Defensive line
SOUTH BEND – After totaling just 14 sacks in a four-win 2016 season, the Notre Dame football staff realized just how important it was to recruit pass rushers over the next few recruiting classes.
With the addition of three defensive line signees this off-season, as well as some athletes who can pressure the quarterback from the edge and second and third levels, that area of execution, which improved in 2017, should continue to trend upward.
News-Sentinel.com sports reporter Tom Davis has been writing on Notre Dame football for nearly two decades and will take a look at the various position groups for next season and how the incoming class of prospects could impact the success of the Fighting Irish.
Today’s position: Defensive line
Coming next: Linebackers
Jayson Ademilola, Justin Ademilola, Ja’Mion Franklin
There were a number of areas within the Notre Dame football program that showed growth from the four-win season of 2016 and the 10 wins that followed in 2017, one of which was the impact of the defensive line.
Last fall, the Fighting Irish allowed fewer rushing first downs and nearly 500 less yards gained on the ground by its opposition, as well as increased its number of sacks from 14 to 24.
In addition to those positive numbers, all four starters return, as well as a couple of redshirt freshmen, so to ask the three true freshmen defensive linemen to make an immediate impact might be too much. And that is a very positive sign.
Any Power 5 football program that is relying heavily on true freshmen on the defensive side is probably one that is going to struggle to beat any team of significance (see Notre Dame in 2016), having said that, the three Irish signees do have ability and will get the opportunity to surprise people.
Notre Dame associate head coach Mike Elston, who also coaches the defensive line, wanted to get more physically imposing with this class and he said last month that he believes the Irish improved in that regard.
“I wanted to add toughness,” Elston said. “We’ve been able to change the culture of the defensive line. We’re not (quite) there yet, but we’re changing that culture. We identified Ja’Mion very early as a guy that is going to add to that and improve that with an aggressiveness and a toughness.
“He was a marquee get for us because of that.”
Franklin will compete with senior Jonathan Bonner, sophomore Kurt Hinish and redshirt freshman Darnell Ewell at the nose, while Jayson Ademilola will be a few feet away at the defensive tackle slot.
Jayson was the higher regarded of the Ademilola twins (more on that in a minute), and Elston likes his versatility.
He can add depth behind Jerry Tillery, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Micah Dew-Treadway at the defensive tackle spot or at strong side defensive end.
“I do believe that Jayson is going to be able to come in and add depth in several areas,” Elston said, “and I know that Justin is going to come in with a chip on his shoulder.”
When you are the lower rated of a set of twins, life has given you a reason to possess some angst and Elston said that Justin, who will line up at defensive end, possesses that.
“The world has kind of made him second fiddle to his brother,” Elston explained, “which I’m all good with. I hope he does have a chip. I think he’ll be the surprise of the class.”
The real “surprise” will be whether any of the three can earn a spot in a deep rotation, but like he did in 2017, Elston won’t be afraid to get a lot of players some reps on the field.
“We’ll do what we did a year ago,” Elston said, “everybody will play. There are some really good depth issues that we have. We’re going to continue to play as many guys as we can.”
For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.