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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Defensive Tackle

January 19, 2021
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When Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish reported to campus as freshmen, they walked into a situation where they were forced to play immediately. In front of them was an enigmatic Jerry Tillery and a converted defensive end in Jonathan Bonner. It wasn’t exactly an ideal depth chart at a critical position.

Today, the depth at defensive tackle is unrecognizable compared to what it used to be.

Every player who played significant snaps last season is back in 2021, including MTA and Hinish who are both returning for a fifth year.

Hinish has made progress every year and is very effective in his role as a two-down player. The consistency with his hands and get off is what has made him more disruptive (7.5 tackles for loss) and the Alabama game was good evidence that he can handle himself at the point of attack against anyone.

MTA took a nice step in 2020 against the pass and the run. He was a mismatch against most guards and his pressure rate of 10.2% was the fifth best of any interior rusher in the ACC. The next piece for him is to be more dominant from game to game, but he played at a high level for most of the season.

Jayson Ademilola had a quiet year, partially due to an injury, but reminded everyone how good he can be as a 3-tech tackle in the final two games. He showed out with his two best performances of the year against Clemson and Alabama. Ademilola is right there with MTA in terms of pressure rate (10.3%). Both players need to finish better, but the duo together are very, very strong.

It was a frustrating season for Jacob Lacey, who played through an injury when he was available. He was poised for a breakout campaign. That was delayed, but a healthy Lacey should push Hinish this fall.

The only good thing to come from that injury was an increased role for Howard Cross III. Undersized and playing out of position, he handled himself well in his first significant snaps of his career. Will he move back to 3-tech or is nose tackle his permanent spot? We’ll have to see where he fits in spring, but his game looked good considering the bigger role he was forced to take on.

As he gets bigger and stronger, he’s only going to become more of a factor in the rotation.

Rylie Mills played way more snaps than expected as a freshman and looked his age at times with his pad level and inability to disengage quickly from blocks. His potential as a pass rusher is undeniable, though. This year will be about developing some counters in that part of his game and making big strides against the run. If he can do that, the staff will find him snaps again.

It’s going to be difficult to make sure all of those players get enough opportunities if everyone is healthy, but that’s a good problem to have for Notre Dame. It’s also good for them to have Aiden Keanaaina and incoming freshman Gabriel Rubio as guys who would probably be involved a lot in ‘21 if the depth wasn’t what it is in front of them. If either ends up on the field, it means they were too good to keep off of it.

The big question for this group will be whether or not someone can emerge as a game wrecker. The leading candidate is MTA, but if Ademilola can build on what he did at the end of the season, he’s someone with that potential as well.

Notre Dame had really strong play from their defensive tackles and it was a huge piece of a run defense that was outstanding for a good chunk of the year. It should only get better in ‘21 with everyone returning.

 
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