DT Jayson Ademilola’s Role Primed To Grow In Notre Dame’s 2021 Defense
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s move to defensive end from the interior line ought to help two positions.
It fills a hole at the strong-side end spot left by Ade Ogundeji, a likely NFL Draft pick. It also gives a starting-caliber defensive tackle, senior Jayson Ademilola, a clearer path to grabbing a starting role.
Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ademilola were Notre Dame’s primary three-technique defensive tackles in 2020 — the former designated as the starter. Between them, they played 536 snaps, with Tagovailoa-Amosa earning 312. They were reliable run defenders and played in sub-packages because of their pass-rushing ability. Rarely, if ever, did they play on the field together.
As a starter, Ademilola could find himself doubling his 224 snaps from a year ago. A boost in production would naturally follow if he’s as active as he was in a rotational role the last two seasons.
“He doesn’t stay blocked and he makes plays, makes tackles,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “That’s a mark of a good player. He’s a guy who grades out very high. When he’s in there, he has been very, very efficient as a football player. Sometimes we kid about how to get guys off blocks, you just yell louder. It’s almost an innate ability to do it. Some guys are good at it, some guys not quite as good. It’s a natural ability, and he has natural ability.”
Notre Dame will need more from Ademilola than 11 tackles (1.5 for loss) if he starts, but those numbers don’t quite illustrate his impact. In 145 pass rush snaps, he had 15 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. That’s a 10.3 percent pressure rate, which was the highest among Notre Dame’s four primary interior lineman. His 2020 season was the second straight year in which he increased his pressure rate.
Ademilola’s run defense production dipped in 2020, but he was active in that area in 2019, with 25 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 13 run stops in just four more snaps than he played in 2020. That drop-off, to him, was an anomaly.
“I’m going to attack the football, find the football,” Ademilola said. “I’m a headhunter. When it gets to third down, I’m a pass-rusher. That’s what I do. I can do a little bit of everything.”
He’s carrying some positive momentum from the end of 2020 into his quest to lock down a starting role. In the ACC Championship Game loss to Clemson and College Football Playoff loss to Alabama, he had six total pressures and three of the four run stops he posted in 2020. All 1.5 tackles he had in 2020 came against Alabama, and those included 0.5 sacks.
Those were his first two games back from a meniscus tear suffered Nov. 7 against Clemson that knocked him out for three games. He played them as if he were shot out of a rocket launcher on each snap.
“I just had that chip on my shoulder,” Ademilola said. “I feel like I brought over that chip from being injured in the Clemson game to the ACC championship and the playoff. I feel like I was a dominant player, and that’s where I’m picking up next year.”
If he’s a starter, is healthy and Tagovailoa-Amosa works only at defensive end, Ademilola’s snap count could settle around 450. His pass-rush effectiveness makes him an ideal interior lineman on third down and obvious passing situations. Kelly revealed Notre Dame will be more multiple in its defensive fronts in 2021 on early downs in coordinator Marcus Freeman’s scheme instead of using exclusively four-man lines like it did under Clark Lea the last three years.
How Notre Dame divides the defensive tackle snaps in three-down fronts between Kurt Hinish and Ademilola — or if both play in those situations — remains to be seen. Whatever the plan for his role becomes, Ademilola’s mindset isn’t changing.
“In practice, I come out and practice the same way,” Ademilola said. “That’s just how it is.
“Coach Freeman, he wants us to go eat. He wants us to go make plays and have fun with the unit. That’s what the whole scheme is about, guys just flying around.”
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