Replace and Reload: Drop End

The loss of Daelin Hayes and Ovie Oghoufo makes drop end/vyper position a significant question mark for Notre Dame in 2021
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Notre Dame will have a lot of work to do to rebuild the Vyper end position, which lost its starter and a key backup since the season ended.

We continue our post-2020 replace and reload series by looking at the future of the Notre Dame drop (Vyper) end position.

WHAT WAS LOST

One of the most under-appreciated and overlooked members of the Irish defense in 2020 was one of its best players, Daelin Hayes. Hayes had two things working against him when it came to getting the respect from Irish fans that his play deserved. The first was he wasn’t a big stats guy, and his five-star status coming out of high school caused some to fail to appreciate how good he was.

What made Hayes so good in the Irish defense, especially in 2020, was how good he was at every aspect of the Vyper position. He was an outstanding run defender, and I honestly can’t think of a game where I didn’t give him a high grade for his ability to set the edge on runs at him and to make plays on the backside of runs away.

Hayes thrived in coverage and his pass rushing took a step up this season as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayes was second on the defense with 33 pressures, just four behind Adetokunbo Ogundeji (37) despite having 71 fewer pass rush snaps. Hayes had just one fewer hit/sack on the quarterback in 2020 than Khalid Kareem had in 2019, despite 76 fewer pass rush snaps (according to Pro Football Focus).

Notre Dame was dealt another blow when Ovie Oghoufo, a key rotation player in 2020, announced his plans to transfer. That means the Irish are losing two of their three drop ends from the 2020 rotation.

WHAT RETURNS

Rising junior Isaiah Foskey is set to take over for Hayes, and his upside is enormous. Foskey has tremendous size (6-5, 257), possessing a rare combination of athleticism, natural power and length. Foskey showed flashes of big-time potential this season, finishing second on the defense with 4.5 sacks, and second with 10 combined hits/sacks on the quarterback (PFF).

When his technique was correct Foskey showed the ability to be a force on the edge against the run. He’s naturally powerful and his length allows him to lock blockers out and to keep them from getting into his body.

Despite having little experience in coverage, Foskey was able to use his length and athleticism to cover a lot of ground this past season. Moving forward he’ll need to get better at reading routes and making jumps on the ball, but the traits are there for it to be a strength.

Foskey’s biggest issue is experience, which manifests itself mostly in the technique department. At times he’ll play high or be late with his hands, and that makes him more blockable. He’s also still learning playing with proper angles, and his pass rushing repertoire is still developing.

With a year of experience under his belt, and a spring full of starter reps ahead of him, do not be surprised if Foskey makes a huge jump and becomes one of Notre Dame’s best defenders next season.

Rising sophomore Jordan Botelho was the top ranked defensive recruit in the 2020 class, but as a freshman his primary role was as a special teams player. He got defensive snaps in just one game (South Florida), but PFF had him down for 79 special teams snaps.

Botelho was a versatile, high-motor defender in high school that has all the athletic traits to thrive as a drop end. He lacks the length of other players at the position, but in high school he showed the instincts and power to overcome that and thrive.

With Hayes and Oghoufo now gone, Botelho has a tremendous opportunity in front of him. If he takes advantage of the extra work available to him this spring and in fall camp he could become a key part of the Irish defensive line rotation next season.

The lack of returning depth at the position could require a position change, either a linebacker moving down or a player like Justin Ademilola having to cross-train.

NEWCOMERS

Class of 2021 signees Devin Aupiu and Will Schweitzer are both projected to start at the drop end position, and both are slated to be early enrollees. Both need physical development, so getting on campus early gives them a head start on adding the necessary size and strength to be able to contribute as freshmen.

In an ideal season both would get a chance to earn redshirts, but the lack of depth at the position that resulted from Oghoufo leaving could force one of them onto the field. Based on prep film it appears that Aupiu has a bit more size right now, but we’ll soon find out which player most benefits from the early start in the strength program.

Aupiu and Schweitzer are both athletic and rangy players with a great deal of upside. How quickly they develop will have a big say in how secure the depth chart at the drop position is by the time we get into the fall.

KEY QUESTIONS

1. Is Foskey ready for a big jump — Foskey has the raw tools to be an elite defender for the Irish. The question is will his production match his talent and upside. Foskey will need to grow up in a hurry, and the experience he gained in 2020 should help him make a big jump this offseason. Consistency in production and execution are the keys for Foskey, and if they become a part of his game he’ll develop into a difference maker on the edge.

2. Can Botelho live up to his prep ranking — Despite the loss of Hayes and Oghoufo, Notre Dame has a chance to have a talented and productive drop depth chart in 2021. Foskey has the tools to become a star, and if Botelho can make a sophomore jump he’ll be able to slide into an important rotation role. The ideal scenario for Notre Dame next season is that Botelho takes over the role that Foskey played in 2020.

This is a great deal of pressure, but Foskey and Botelho’s talent could give them a chance to eventually be as good - if not better - than the Julian Okwara/Daelin Hayes duo from 2018 and 2019. Will that happen in 2021? We’ll see, but the tools are there.

3. Will a position change occur — Is the staff comfortable with Foskey, Botelho and a pair of undersized freshmen, or will they feel the need to add another player to the mix? That could be a linebacker moving down, but with Jack Lamb transferring out there isn’t a natural fit on the current linebacker depth chart. A grad transfer could be added for depth.

4. How quickly can the freshmen get up to speed — Quick growth from the incoming freshmen could solidify the drop end depth chart, but how quickly can they be expected to become legitimate contributors in year one?

Past Replace and Reload Features

Replace and Reload: Strongside End

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