Notre Dame Football

Spring Post-Mortem | Defensive Tackle

April 22, 2019

Notre Dame lost both of their starting defensive tackles from last season. One of them, 3-technique Jerry Tillery, is projected to be 1st or 2nd round selection in this week’s NFL Draft.

No one said it would be easy to replace the disruptive production Tillery provided, but the Irish went into the spring with some good candidates to step into his position.

There was an obvious candidate at nose tackle ready to replace Jonathan Bonner, but the depth at that spot was thought to be a bigger issue. It might not be after some positive development this spring and some competition that should jump into the mix this summer.


There were high expectations for Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa prior to his sophomore season. Unfortunately his season ended as soon as it started with a foot injury in the first game. He appeared in the final game of the season against Clemson and was able to take a redshirt year.

This spring was the start of his second chance at a second year in blue and gold and he had a good spring. It might not have looked like a breakout spring in terms of him living in the backfield, but he held up well against the inside run and his motor really stood out.

If he can be a bit more consistent with his get off, we’ll start to see more from him when it comes to tackles for loss because he can be explosive at times.

Jayson Ademilola is pushing right behind him. If he’s the number two behind MTA, there aren’t going to be many programs with someone with his ability playing that role. He flashed as a pass rusher and it looks like there will be a close split at the position this fall.

Both of them could be battling not just at the 3-tech spot, but as the fourth pass rusher in Notre Dame’s 3rd down package. MTA had several plays in that personnel package where he showed his potential running stunts with that group.

It will likely be a true freshman behind those two on the depth chart. Hunter Spears is one candidate and he was in for the spring, but did not participate in practices while recovering from a knee injury. The other option is Howard Cross III. He may start out at end depending on how much he weighs when he reports this summer or when practices start this August.

Nose tackle

By the end of last season, Kurt Hinish was pushing Bonner at nose and the playing time was close to even. He has completely reshaped his body from the time he arrived at Notre Dame and his overall transformation continued this spring.

He may not ever be a great threat as a pass rusher, but he can push the pocket with his bull rush and he continually showed heavy hands playing the run. He is going to hold up well against the many double teams he faces and win with his first step more than people expect.

Hinish could play well all year and by the back half of the season Jacob Lacey could be pushing for playing time. That’s how impressive Lacey was as an early enrollee this spring. It’s even more impressive considering how physically demanding the position he is stepping into.

His upside as a pass rusher is greater than Hinish’s and his hands are extremely impressive for someone so young. He did not look like a freshman and if he continues to trend up this summer, then the combination of him and Hinish could exceed any expectations Irish fans have at the moment.

Darnell Ewell moved back to the defensive line and to nose tackle this spring. He had at least a couple of nice moments working against young backups on the offensive line, but he still isn’t close to the the two-deep at the position. The effort is there, but the athleticism and the technique is not.

It would be unrealistic to expect him to contribute.

A healthy Ja’mion Franklin, who missed the spring while recovering from a quad injury, likely has a shot at entering the rotation. Everything will depend on how he performs in fall camp, but with the way Lacey looked this spring, nose could end up being a much deeper position if he proves he is ready to play.

Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.