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Notre Dame Freshman Impact: Defense and Special Teams

The Notre Dame freshman class will have a chance to make a splash on defense and special teams

Notre Dame returns a deep and talented roster on both sides of the ball, and the 2018 and 2019 classes are looking to fill any open roster spots. There are plenty of freshmen that will make a push for playing time on offense, but playing time should be much harder to come by on defense and special teams.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some newcomers that will force their way onto the field this season. Below are two defensive players and two specialists that will be hard to keep off the field.

#17 JORDAN BOTELHO, DEFENSIVE END

One of my big questions about the 2020 defense is how will the unit get pressure on the quarterback. There is talent returning at the position, but there isn’t much proven production in the pass game. In fact, the returning defensive end depth chart has just 13 combined career sacks.

Sophomore Isaiah Foskey is one young player that could boost the pass rush, and another is freshman Jordan Botelho. The Hawaii native was one of the top recruits for Notre Dame in the 2020 class, ranking as a consensus Top 200 recruit, and 247Sports ranked him as the nation’s 65th best overall player.

At 6-2½ and 248 pounds, Botelho lacks the ideal length Notre Dame tends to look for, but he was a premium recruit because he makes up for that with excellent traits in every other area. Botelho could play end or linebacker in college, and that flexibility makes him ideal for the Vyper position, which asks defenders to play the run, rush the pass and drop in coverage.

As a pass rusher, Botelho does damage with a combination of an impressive burst at the snap, an incredibly motor, great hands and an advanced feel on the edge. Botelho uses his lack of length to his advantage, and his ability to dip around the edge and get under the pads of bigger tackles is impressive.

It would not surprise me at all to see Botelho force his way onto the field in a pass rushing role this season.

#99 RYLIE MILLS, DEFENSIVE END/TACKLE

After Botelho it could be challenging for other defensive players to get on the field. In a perfect world, fellow freshman defensive lineman Rylie Mills would be a player that redshirts, takes time to develop and then fights for time in 2021.

The problem is Mills doesn’t strike me as a player that is going to just contently go about his business and be happy to be on the sidelines.

Mills is a versatile defender that could be a power end or slide inside and be an effective three technique. The recent injury to NaNa Osafo-Mensah could open up an opportunity for Mills to earn some time at the stongside spot behind starter Ade Ogundeji and backup Justin Ademilola. There is a checkered injury history inside as well, which could also open up opportunities for Mills.

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The Illinois native has a unique combination of size, power and athleticism. He could be a penetrator up the middle or a power player on the edge. Getting him on the field won’t be easy, but if an injury happens don’t be the least bit surprised to see Mills take advantage and force himself onto the field.

#44 ALEX PEITSCH, LONG SNAPPER

The decision by three-year starting snapper John Shannon to bypass a final season of eligibility to begin a career in law enforcement opened up a tremendous opportunity for freshman Alex Peitsch.

Kohl’s kicking ranked Peitsch as the nation’s top snapper, and it wasn’t really that close. He will miss out on a year to add strength and add onto his 6-1, 205-pound frame, but there is no disputing his outstanding snapping skills.

Michael Vinson is a player to keep an eye on, but I would be a bit surprised if Peitsch isn’t the team’s short and long snapper this season.

#25 CHRIS TYREE, KICK RETURNER

Tyree was a focal point of the article discussing the offensive players that will get action this season, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see Tyree make an impact in the return game this fall.

Let’s be honest, Notre Dame’s kick return unit has been average to bad since CJ Sanders departed following the 2016 season. The Irish return unit ranked 89th, 51st and 91st in the last three seasons.

Tyree was a dynamic kick returner in high school, and his explosiveness is something the return game desperately needs. He has the speed to turn the slightest opening into a touchdown. It wouldn’t take him more than one big return or two to force opponents to start avoiding him, which only helps the offense when it comes to field position.

A player with his big-play ability needs touches, and touches in different ways, and the return game is another area where the staff needs to figure out a way to get him on the field, and to get the ball into his hands.

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