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Notre Dame Football

Howard Cross III and Notre Dame DL Embracing Ramped Up Competition with OL

August 14, 2022

Marcus Freeman has made it clear he wants the Notre Dame program built on the offensive and defensive lines. 

It’s not groundbreaking as every coach wants a dominant front on both side of the ball, but the players in the Notre Dame trenches have taken it to heart. 

Notre Dame senior defensive lineman Howard Cross III has seen a significant change in the Irish offensive line over the last eight months and that bodes well for Freeman’s goals. 

“Aggressive,” Cross said of the biggest changes he’s seen across from him. “I think when (Brian) Kelly was here, or whoever was in charge of the offense last year, they came off the ball really hard and would be a good offensive line, but in the spring, they’re kind of back a little bit. They have a running start off the ball. It's a little bit hard when offensive linemen that are 320 have a running start and are trying to double-team me. 

"Again, I figured that out really quickly, so everyone on the defense had to quickly adjust to that. They're by far more aggressive and they know everything about their jobs. They're not jumping offsides. They know their stuff." 

The added competition is something Cross and everyone in the trenches has embraced as they know it’s only making the entire team better. 

"If you play with the best, you play like the best,” explained Cross. “If our offensive line is No. 1, top three or the top offensive line in the nation, playing against anyone else is not what you're playing against in practice.

"That's what they are. They're the top offensive line. The way they come off the ball, know their job, locked in constantly, shoving after the play a little bit. They know their stuff. I'm really excited for the season to see what they do, but again, if you play with the best, you play like the best." 

Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has emphasized the brotherhood in his room, which means his players have a pack mentality, which is something defensive line coach Al Washington has taken notice of in recent months. 

"Coach Washington has seen the offensive line and he's pushing us to do the same things,” said Cross. “Coming to practice and meetings at the same time. Doing things outside of the field at the same time. Going to hang out with each other all the time. 

"He wants us to be an extremely tight-knit group at all times." 

Washington has also pushed his defensive line to take the next step this offseason. The unit has been challenged physically and mentally by Washington as the potential of the group is sky high. 

"Coach Washington has pushed knowing your technique and knowing your job more than anything else,” Cross explained. “We have playmakers all over the field - Jayson (Ademilola), Justin (Ademilola), Rylie (Mills), (Isaiah) Foskey. 

"He's pushing everyone to make sure we know our jobs. A defense that knows their jobs, every gap is full, every run is covered, nobody is going to score on us. Nobody is going to get anything. If we know that, then we'll know everything." 

When comes to his own development, Cross has taken the next step and it starts with presnap reads of the guy across from him. 

"My vision of the offensive line has greatly improved,” said Cross. “My whole thing was trying to figure out what they're doing at all times. For some reason, it just clicked and I started looking at where their head is, where they're leaning, how far their splits are, the whites of their knuckles. With the exception of JPatt (Jarrett Patterson) sometimes, I'm able to tell essentially what everybody's doing at all times." 

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