Notre Dame will trot out a much different looking defensive line in 2021, and how those changes go will have a significant impact on how the defense will perform next season.
Not only does Notre Dame lose starting defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, but it could also have a new starter at defensive tackle. According to multiple sources, Notre Dame is expected to move former defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to defensive end this spring.
This is a move that obviously impacts two spots, and if it works out it could go a long way towards helping the defensive line stay strong, if not improve next season.
HOW IT IMPACTS TAGOVAILOA-AMOSA
Tagovailoa-Amosa was listed at 282 pounds this past season, but anyone who has been up close to the Ewa Beach, Hawaii native knows he's not a natural 280-plus-pound athlete. He has struggled to keep his weight up for much of his Notre Dame career, and when an athlete has to work that hard to keep his weight up it often impacts his athleticism.
For Tagovailoa-Amosa, moving to big end should allow him to settle in at a more natural weight, which could be anywhere from 260-270 pounds. That would improve his conditioning level immediately, and I'd be willing to bet it improves his quickness and closing speed as well.
Tagovailoa-Amosa has always shown an impressive burst off the line, but playing at a bigger weight often limited his second gear and closing speed. Playing at a more natural weight could result in Tagovailoa-Amosa improving in each of those athletic categories, which would give him a greater opportunity to make more plays on the football.
While he has been a very good defender for Notre Dame in many ways, he has produced little production on the ball. Tagovailoa-Amosa has racked up just 10 tackles for loss in three full seasons in the rotation, and he has just three sacks, 2.5 of which came this past season.
Getting to play at a more natural and comfortable weight should allow Tagovailoa-Amosa to be more productive, but he can't play defensive tackle at his more natural weight. Now, the rising fifth-year senior will play a position he played in high school and will get to play at a more natural weight.
HOW IT IMPACTS THE BIG END DEPT CHART
The only certainty at the big end position heading into the 2021 season is that rising senior Justin Ademilola would be a key part of the rotation. That would not change with Tagovailoa-Amosa moving.
Ademilola will still be a key part of the end rotation, and if he improves his ability to rush the quarterback he'll get every opportunity to up his reps next season, especially his "big moment" reps.
Notre Dame needs at least two productive players at every DL position to have a healthy depth chart, and moving Tagovailoa-Amosa, assuming he makes a smooth transition, would help solidify the depth chart.
A combination of Ademilola and Tagovailoa-Amosa gives Notre Dame a pair of defenders that at the very least gives Notre Dame an opportunity to be very, very stout on the edge against the run. Run defense is priority number one for the big/strongside end.
The question that remains is can that duo provide enough pass rush production on first and second down.
HOW IT IMPACTS THE DEFENSIVE TACKLE ROTATION
Moving a very experienced started like Tagovailoa-Amosa doesn't happen if the coaches aren't confident in what remains at the depth chart, and that would be the case if the Irish do make this move.
From talking to sources there is a great deal of confidence that rising senior Jayson Ademilola is ready for a breakout season, and he needed more reps. Instead of taking them away from Tagovailoa-Amosa, this move opens up opportunities for them to be on the field together.
Ademilola was Notre Dame's best defensive tackle for many stretches of the 2020 season, and in 2018 and 2019 he was graded out by Pro Football Focus as Notre Dame's best run defender inside.
Ademilola upped his pass rush game in 2020, and if he can put it all together - and stay healthy - he could have a true breakout season in 2021.
There is also a great deal of confidence in the entire depth chart inside. Rising sophomore Rylie Mills has future star written all over him, and his combination of size and athleticism is special. If Tagovailoa-Amosa moves it opens up an important rotation spot inside for Mills.
A combination of Ademilola and Mills inside would give the Irish a pair of athletic, productive and very disruptive interior defenders. I would not be shocked if this duo puts up Notre Dame's best disruption numbers at the position since Jerry Tillery dominated the spot in 2018.
This could also open up a chance for freshman Gabriel Rubio to get more action early in his career, and possibly could allow nose tackles like Jacob Lacey and Howard Cross III to slide over in certain situations.
Moral of the story, moving Tagovailoa-Amosa to strongside end helps shore up that position and also opens up an opportunity for the defensive tackle position to get even more disruptive and more productive.
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