Notre Dame Football 2019 Look Ahead: Defensive Tackle

Kurt Hinish (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Kurt Hinish (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Notre Dame defensive tackle position will have some new faces leading the pack in 2019, but will depth be an issue for the position group? 

2018 saw one of the top defensive tackles in the Brian Kelly era dominate opposing offensive lines. It was also home to a reliable 5th year senior whom was underappreciated during his time in South Bend. Both guys have moved on from Notre Dame, and Clark Lea and Mike Elston will have their hands full replacing Jerry Tllery and Jonathan Bonner.

The good news? Notre Dame returns juniors Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (red shirted due to injury last year), as well as, talented rising sophomore Jayson Ademilola. This alone is a solid top 3 with talent and experience. The Irish will also welcome in three incoming freshman that could contribute right away in Jacob Lacey (most likely), Howard Cross (Is he a DE or 3-tech?) and Hunter Spears (possible medical red-shirt).

The bad news? Depth could be an issue. Micah Dew-Treadway decided to grad transfer and is now enrolled at Minnesota, while Ja’Mion Franklin and Hunter Spears are coming off significant leg injuries. The coaching staff will only have four usable scholarship bodies inside during the Spring.

Nathan’s Take 

There is a lot to like from a talent perspective with this unit. Hinish came to Notre Dame as a polished three-star recruit and has so far outplayed that billing. If not for an early season injury this past season, Tagovailoa-Amosa would have accumulated a ton of snaps as a sophomore. Instead, he preserved a year of eligibility and should play a major role at 3-tech in 2019. Jayson Ademilola is the big wild card here. He is probably the most talented of the trio, and performed well in a limited capacity as a true freshman. Can he make that dominant leap in 2019?

As for the others in the defensive tackle room, it’s question marks are galore. Jacob Lacey enrolled early, therefore, he will have the spring and summer to become comfortable with his workload on and off the field. He will almost be guaranteed playing time in 2019 and probably even significant playing time as the only healthy nose tackle behind Hinish.

Can Franklin and Spears get themselves back into football shape in time to be significant contributors in 2019? Franklin is coming off a torn quad, while Spears is recovering from a second ACL injury. It will be hard to count on them for 2019. Will Howard Cross line up inside or outside? Many have speculated that he will eventually end up inside during his college career, but as a true freshman that doesn’t arrive until Summer, it is hard to make that prediction right now. Plus, he is only a freshman. There is no guarantee he will even be ready to contribute. Can Kareem, Jones, Justin Ademilola and/or Ogundeji assist inside at times? History shows that Kareem and Jones can in certain spots, but that is not the best indicator of proper depth.

There is no doubting some of the talent Notre Dame has on the interior, and they’ve been recruiting the position much better since the departure of Brian VanGorder. With that said, depth is a serious issue for a position group that heavily relies on talented depth to be successful for a full season.

Mason’s Take 

The defensive tackle position is an interesting one for 2019. The loss of Jerry Tillery absolutely can not be understated. He was such a force for the Irish throughout his career and he is not someone that can be replaced easily.

No.1 on the depth chart at 3-tech is junior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. After an impressive freshman season for the Irish, Tagovailoa-Amosa suffered a broken foot in Week 1 against Michigan. In his freshman season, ‘MTA’ appeared in 7 games, tallying 7 solo tackles, 13 total tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Behind MTA is sophomore Jayson Ademilola. Yes, that is yet another name on the Irish defense that is impossible to spell. Moving on, in his freshman season, Ademilola racked up 10 solo tackles, 18 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss along with .5 sacks. After Ademilola, third in line, is freshman recruit Hunter Spears. Spears is a 4-star DT according to 247Sports. He is a highly-touted recruit who chose the Irish over Alabama, Michigan State, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Looking at the nose tackle position, it’s going to be Kurt Hinish’s to lose. The junior takes over the spot after the graduation of 5th year senior Jonathan Bonner. During his sophomore season, Hinish compiled 13 total tackles, 2 for loss and 1.5 sacks. As a backup, that is great production and he should slot into the starting role perfectly.

After Hinish is highly-touted freshman Jacob Lacey from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Lacey is a young player Irish fans should be very excited about. A four-star recruit on, he will be hard to keep off the field as a freshman. Hinish is the unquestioned starter to begin the 2019 season, but Lacey should receive plenty of time behind him. Likely the third man on the depth chart is red-shirt freshman Ja’Mion Franklin. Unfortunately, he is coming back from a significant injury suffered this past season making his 2019 season still a question mark.

3-tech is likely going to be by committee, and the shoes left behind by Jerry Tillery are very difficult to fill. Last season, Tillery totaled 17 solo tackles (28 total), 8.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. That stat line is ridiculous. At nose, it looks like 2-man group. Jonathan Bonner was one of the better nose tackles for Notre Dame during the Brian Kelly era, so Hinish and Lacey will have some big shoes to fill. However, it helps that the Irish return a very strong defensive end unit in 2019 that will help take the pressure off the interior guys.

Predictions and Expectations for 2019

Nathan: I am really excited about the group of four expected to make an impact for 2019 (Hinish, Ademilola, Tagovailoa-Amosa and Lacey). It is an exciting group full of decent experience and a boatload of talent. If these four stay healthy, 2019 along the defensive line will be tremendous. Couple that with the awesome defensive end play, and that will only assist the effort on the interior. However, the depth scares me and the Irish are an injury away from being really stressed at defensive tackle. If any of Franklin, Spears or Cross can contribute in 2019, that is a much needed bonus for Notre Dame.

Mason: As I stated previously, expecting individual numbers anywhere close to Tillery’s from these guys is not attainable. 3-tech will likely be by committee and should be measured by group production. I don’t expect a massive downgrade by any means, but there will be a bit less production than Tillery’s monster season last year. I would not be shocked to see big things from either Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa or Jayson Ademilola. Both players are uber-talented and should be key in the Irish defense in 2019.

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I expect Hinish to hold down the nose and start the majority of games in 2019, however, Lacey will be chomping at the bit to get on the field in a major role and take over the starting job. And frankly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he does. He’s that talented.