No End Of The Line On Notre Dame’s 2021 Defense
It’s not often a defense can graduate four defensive ends into the NFL over a two-year period like Notre Dame will this spring.
Last year it was third- and fifth-round selections Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, respectively, and this year Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes are projected to see their names come off the board on the second and third day of the draft as well.
Yet in 2021, the quality rotation and depth assembled along the defensive line by coach Mike Elston is expected to remain. Last year, 11 different Notre Dame defensive linemen played at least 141 snaps, led by Ogundeji’s 483 at strong-side end and Hayes’ 433 at vyper end.
Next “in line” were interior men Kurt Hinish (372), Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (312), vyper Isaiah Foskey (282) and strong-side end Justin Ademilola (233) — all of whom return this season.
After averaging about 20 snaps per game last, the 6-5, 257-pound junior Foskey has the look of the next top pro prospect along the Notre Dame defensive line, with sophomore Jordan Botelho, ranked the nation’s No. 176 overall player in 2020, primed to be a regular in the rotation this year as well at vyper.
At strong side end, Tagovailoa-Amosa has been shifted to aid the unit there in what this year will be a more liberal mixture of fronts under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, while Ademilola (not to be confused with defensive tackle twin Jayson Ademilola) likewise will be a regular.
“Our defensive structure, we'll incorporate on first and second down more of a multiple look,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We were much more of a four-down defense [in recent years]. We will have hybrid of three and four down on first and second down, so it'll be more multiple on first down.”
At a listed 6-1¾, 248 pounds, Justin — who claims he is more in the 255-pound range — doesn’t quite have the prototype size for the position like predecessors Ogundeji and Kareem, who were both measured at 6-4, plus in the 265-to-270 range. And in a three-man front, Tagovailoa-Amosa’s 282-pound weight should help him hold up physically on the flank.
However, Justin figures to be a significant element. A sound technician who is consistently assignment-correct, he finished tied for third last year in tackles by a lineman with 17, 2.5 for loss, including a sack.
“When you have guys that all know the scheme, all play fast and just effort and physicality to the point of attack, we try to get as many guys as we can on the field,” Justin Ademilola said of the rotation. “We’re all fresh, we’re all ready to go and we’re all ready to make plays.”
Kelly believes that both Ademilolas are primed as seniors to take their games to a more advanced level, just as their predecessors the past couple of years.
“One thing about Justin is he's a pretty smart player,” Kelly said. “He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. You're not going to boot(leg) on him. He's going to be up field in the right position, reverses, he's really gap conscious.
“We want him obviously to cut it loose a little bit more, and I think he'll be given that opportunity in the role that he's in now that he's going to be getting more reps. Very fundamentally sound player that now can take that next step.”
The prospect of lining up with best friend and twin Jayson only adds more fuel to his already filled energy tank. Although Jayson was rated as the four-star prospect coming out of New Jersey’s powerful St. Peter’s Prep (along with linebacker Shayne Simon), three-star Justin has earned his stripes as well to be a regular.
“I’m always prepared,” Justin Ademilola said. “I really get in the film room, I’m constantly asking my coaches questions about different sets, formations, everything. When I’m on the field it’s just go time and make plays.
“… I’m just trying to prove myself right, I’m supposed to be here, I’m grinding every day and just working to be on top because I know what type of player I am. And then when I’m on the field, people know what type of player I am.”
The opportunity to have a tag-team role provides the continuing quality depth and fresh legs that have been a staple of one of the nation’s top defenses the past three years.
“It’s been awesome getting the opportunity to work with Myron — a one-A, one-B punch right there, so stay tuned for that one,” Justin said. “If people think I’m under the radar this year, or in the shadows, you guys are going to feel me this year. We’ll see.”
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
• Sign up for Blue & Gold's news alerts and daily newsletter.
• Subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts.
• Like us on Facebook.