Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Daniel Cage

July 10, 2017

Player name: Daniel Cage

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 329

Player position: Defensive tackle

Years of eligibility left: 1

Projected rank on the depth chart: Competing to start at nose tackle

Player productivity so far:

2016 (9 games): 10 tackles 0.5 TFL 1 QB hurry 1 PBU 1 forced fumble

2015 (11 games): 18 tackles 4 TFL

What player does best: Cage is a space-eater. He is going to occupy the middle of the defense and be very strong at the point of attack. When he is right off the ball, he’s darn near impossible to move even for a double team.

He does his job effectively as a nose guard and it makes the inside linebackers job easier. It’s not a glory position, but it’s a role that he fills nicely when he is healthy. He flashes above average quickness with his first step and very quick hands. He’s not long, but wins because his punch and leverage is better than the man attempting to block him.

What player needs to work on: His physical limitations are what they are. He isn’t going to miraculously become taller and grow arms like Jarron Jones over night so consistency with his technique is key and is not always there.

As a sophomore he showed improve lateral movement and started to become more of a penatrator up front, but we didn’t see that much from him in 2016. That could have been partly due to scheme and health, but the hope was he would take the next step with that and he hasn’t.

He also hasn’t taken much of a step as a pass rusher. He can occasionally push the pocket, but has not shown the finish or any kind of counters. It seems weird to say health is something he needs to work on.

Maybe it can’t be helped or improved. His weight can, though. And it might be that being too heavy has contributed to some of his lower body injuries. He is currently recovering from knee surgery and hopefully his weight is down before camp.

Productivity of former ND players and top players in the nation at his position:

I threw in a mix of rotational defensive tackles and high end nose guards due to uncertainty with Cage.

Louis Nix 2012: 50 tackles 7.5 TFL 1 sacks 5 PBU 3 QB hurries 1 forced fumble

Kona Schwenke 2013: 23 tackles 0.5 TFL 0.5 sacks 1 QB hurry

Derrick Nnadi Florida State: 49 tackles 10.5 TFL 6 sacks 1 PBU 2 QB hurries 1 forced fumble

Da’Ron Payne Alabama : 36 tackles 3.5 TFL 1.5 sacks 1 PBU 3 QB hurries

Steve Tu’ikolovatu USC: 53 tackles 2 TFL 0.5 sacks 1 PBU

Scott Pagano Clemson: 20 tackles 4.5 TFL 2 sacks

What can we hope for? We can hope for Cage to stay healthy and finally establish himself as the guy at nose guard. He looked on his way to doing that in 2015 where he put together a strong stretch of play in the middle of the season, but missed the end of the year due to injury.

He never really took hold of the job in 2016 with Jones making more of a splash and now enters into his final year of eligibility in a battle for a starting job. It would be great to see the best 2015 version of Cage, the one who found his way into the backfield for 4.5 tackles for loss in split duty. If he can play over half the snaps at nose and be an outstanding run defender on 1st and 2nd down, then he’ll be a massive asset for the Irish defense.

What is a realistic expectation? Unfortunately, the more realistic outcome with Cage is that he will get hurt at some point. He’s played three seasons at Notre Dame and has not played in all games. That’s part of the nature of the position he plays, but it’s concerning to not have one of the best run defenders on the team near the end of the year.

He is someone that would be an important part of stopping Navy and Stanford in the final two games of the season. Will he be healthy for those games? Maybe it’s not fair to expect that he won’t be, but he has struggled to finish the last three seasons.

It’s likely that he ends up being a high level player for certain stretches versus the run, but it’s fair to ask if it will just be stretches of that and not him doing it all season long. We’ll see if he can finish strong in his senior year and be a consistent presence at nose in 2017.
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