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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Defensive End

January 24, 2021
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For years, defensive end was a problem spot on Notre Dame’s defense. Whether it was lack of depth or lacking NFL quality talent, the Irish always seemed to not have enough coming off the edge.

That changed with the 2016 recruiting class. Notre Dame had top end talent and depth thanks to the edge defenders they signed that cycle.

All of those ends are now gone now that Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji are off to the NFL. Both had good seasons and were one of the better duos at producing pressure on the quarterback in college football.

The Irish need to replace that production with rotation players stepping into bigger roles. The one with the highest expectations put on him will be Isaiah Foskey.

Foskey came out of the blocks with some incredible flashes in the season opener. He had 10 total pressures with a pressure rate of 32.3% in the first three games. That was going to be unsustainable and there wasn’t much from Foskey as a pass rusher as the season progressed. He only had eight pressures over his final nine games.

There’s no one as physically gifted as him at defensive end on the roster, but he’s still raw in terms of having a consistent plan of attack as a rusher. It’s a big offseason for him and it will be huge if he can make the leap as a player in his third year at Notre Dame.

Behind him on the weak side would have been Ovie Oghoufo. He’s in the transfer portal, though. That means there is a clear opportunity for Jordan Botelho to slot in and possibly be a starter in sub-packages. He made a noticeable impact on special teams, but we’ll see if he can harness that fire within the structure of Marcus Freeman’s defense.

Justin Ademilola backed up Ogundeji on the strong side in 2020 and impressed with his motor. He’ll be first in line to start there if Notre Dame stays playing four down, but he was a better run defender than pass rusher. Some of his best games came late in the season and that is something to build off of.

There are two young players competing with him that we don’t know much about. NaNa Osafo-Mensah missed most of the season with an injury and Alex Ehrensberger redshirted. He did play against USF and had a notable sack (against a putrid offensive line).

At least one of them has to emerge as a quality player in 2021 and it would be ideal if one can push to be a starter. Their development is going to be critical this spring.

The reason for that is that Notre Dame is not bringing in any edge defenders in this class who appear capable of making an instant impact. Will Schweitzer played as an off the ball linebacker and needs to spend some time in the weight room to be able to compete in college. Jason Onye is RAW and making a big jump with his level of competition. Devin Aupiu‍ has some exciting athletic traits, but they aren’t elite enough to overcome the technical pieces he needs to work on.

All three of them didn’t have a senior season as well.

There’s definitely talent on hand. Pretty much all of it is unproven, though, which is why it would be understandable if Notre Dame pursued a graduate transfer. Even if it was just for depth, it’s something that should be under consideration.

It looks a little similar to how the position was set up heading into 2017. That was the year that Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Daelin Hayes started to emerge. Notre Dame will need three or four guys to do the same this season if this group is going to become a strength on par with what it’s been in the last couple of seasons.

 
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