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Notre Dame Football

Fall Camp Preview | Defensive Tackle

July 11, 2022

This is the heart of off-season training for college football. Players are less than a month away from the start of fall camp and that means actual games are less than two months away.

I’m sure Notre Dame fans can’t wait for these next few weeks to go by so we can get closer to actual football. There’s no doubt they’re excited to see and hear about this Irish defense in camp as well.

The defensive line might end up being the strength of the defense. They are especially deep and talented at defensive tackle where they are losing a three-year starter from last season, but it looks like they’ll be an even better group in 2022.

Jayson Ademilola is the returning starter at 3-tech defensive tackle and Marcus Freeman has said he will be fully healthy and ready to go in camp after sitting out the spring. There’s a lot of similarities to Sheldon Day with his game and this camp could be a preview of the leap Day made back in 2015.

Day more than doubled his tackles Havoc numbers from 9.5 the previous year to 21.5. Ademilola had 10 in 2021 and if he puts together a dominant camp, he may be on his way to doubling that up this fall.

One thing that could possibly stop that from happening is the emergence of Howard Cross. He’s another undersized, yet uber-quick, defensive tackle who moved back to his more natural 3-tech spot after playing nose in ‘21. Cross was lauded by the coaching staff in interviews all spring and was simply outstanding in the open practices the media were able to view.

Look for him to push Ademilola and there’s a chance it could become more of a timeshare between the two if Cross continues to ascend.

That looks like a heck of a one-two punch at the position and that’s even after Rylie Mills moving over to end, but everyone should certainly be aware that he will likely rush the passer from the interior as well. That’s where he did the most damage in the spring and in that Virginia game where he earned a game ball for his performance.

Jason Onye is someone who could get reps at 3-tech or nose tackle and it’s more likely he’ll be shifted over full time to nose. It wasn’t unexpected that he looked raw in many ways in the spring, but his motor was noticeable when he was getting reps in the spring. We’ll see if he can earn some reps this August to potentially sneak into the rotation.

Another player to watch at 3-tech is Tyson Ford. There were reps in the spring where he looked like an early enrollee just getting his feet playing inside and then there were plays where it was obvious how good he should be in the future. The flashes he showed were exciting.

Jacob Lacey was at 3-tech last season and for the first time in a long time, he is fully healthy and back at nose tackle. That’s the spot he backed up Kurt Hinish as a freshman and sophomore.

It will be interesting to see what weight he is listed at when the rosters are updated in the summer because he’s not the biggest body playing that position, but he is still the favorite to start at nose this fall after looking very active from that spot this spring.

He’ll have to have a great camp for him to stay the favorite, though. That’s because Notre Dame added graduate transfer Chris Smith from Harvard. The program he is coming from might not make it seem like this is a big deal, but his film says otherwise. He is a big ball of terror who disrupts things more than a typical nose tackle.

Smith has to have his eyes on starting so everyone should expect the camp battle between him and Lacey to be a very competitive one.

When Aidan Keanaaina went down with a knee injury early in the spring, there was a lot of pressure on Gabriel Rubio to step forward and show he can help this season. Adding Smith takes away that pressure, but Rubio still has a chance to get in the mix as a rotation player if he builds on what he showed in the spring.

He played very hard and moved more like the guy he was projected to be as a recruit. He’s likely not cracking the two-deep at nose even with an awesome camp. He may be able to force the issue to still see the field this fall, though.

Donovan Hinish arrived in June and even if he showed up in January, he was likely going to be in line to redshirt. He’ll need the time to physically and technically develop before getting into the mix.

This might not be his year, but he plays with the same fire that made his older brother Kurt such an effective player and should be fun to watch develop over his time in South Bend.

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