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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Position Battles | Defensive Tackle

June 18, 2020

Notre Dame came into the 2019 season relatively unproven at defensive tackle. That’s definitely not the case in 2020.

Everyone is back and a position that was depleted from recruiting misses back in 2017 is now a deep group where there should be little to no drop off from the first and second team tackles. There may not be one single player projected to be in the class of Jerry Tillery or Sheldon Day, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential for someone to get to that level this fall.

Nose tackle

Kurt Hinish is the returning starter and he’s made great strides every year since he arrived as a freshman. While he’ll never dominate with his size, he has held up well against double teams by winning with quick hands and a good first step.

He’s not the best at redirecting as a pass rusher, but he’s a solid two-down player who showed he can be disruptive (4.5 tackles for loss).

He’ll have Jacob Lacey pushing him for snaps and the potential is certainly there for Lacey to have a much bigger role than he did last season. He was impressive as a freshman, rarely looking physically overwhelmed. That’s not an easy task for a nose tackle.

Lacey is a candidate to have a breakout season and his pass rush potential is greater than any of the others who play nose for the Irish. He’s athletic enough to play three-technique if that’s ever asked of him.

Ja’mion Franklin had some flashes in limited action last year that showed he can play at this level. His pad level also got high a couple of times and it showed he has some work to do. He’s similar to Hinish in a lot of ways in that he’s never going to be a monster inside, but can win with quickness and his motor.

This is going to be an important season for him because of the big man who will report to campus this summer.

Aidan Keanaaina is a different body type than the others and his ceiling as a force against the inside run is higher because of it. In many other years, Keanaaina would be someone who could crack the two-deep. Physically he should be ready to compete, but it’s difficult to see him playing much without injuries in front of him.


Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa didn’t have staggering Havoc numbers (3.5), but that didn’t reflect his level of play. He was much more disruptive than that and had games where he found himself in the opposing backfield quite a bit.

More of that penetration needs to turn into production, though. More of that pressure needs to turn into sacks. He was very good in the Georgia game and, like a lot of players, was not very good against Michigan. His game can go up another level.

Jayson Ademilola was playing great ball before getting injured late in the year. There might not have been a player who produced as much pressure on a per snap basis and he was pushing MTA for snaps at the end of the season.

It’s going to be a battle for the starting job. Ademilola is always going to be undersized, but he’s always been good at defeating blocks and finding the football.

With Howard Cross, it’s going to be a lot about where he’s at with his physical development. He looked fantastic in camp last year with advanced hands and a great get off. He showed out during his garbage time appearances as well.

It’s going to be tough to earn reps with the two that are in front of him, but he may be too good to not include in the rotation.

Those three in front of him likely means Rylie Mills is headed for a redshirt and he probably needs it as well in terms of refining his game. But much like Keanaaina, Mills is physically ready to compete as a freshman and would probably be pushing to be in the rotation in other years.

It speaks to the depth that Notre Dame has built and it should be exciting for Irish fans that every player except Hinish can return in 2021.

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