Defensive Line Review

There was a time during the 2016 pre-season where I was sure this unit was going to do good things. Many were down on the defensive line overall, and particularly at certain spots. I thought they’d surprise and overachieve.

I was way off.

If you are depressed or in a bad mood please do not read this, or at least, save the article for another time.

Snap Count

DE Isaac Rochell- 679 (56 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack)
DT Jerry Tillery, JR- 627 (37 tackles, 3 TFL)
DE Andrew Trumbetti, SR- 467 (25 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
DT Jarron Jones- 432 (45 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks)
DE Jonathan Bonner, r-JR- 255 (7 tackles)
DT Daniel Cage, SR- 246 (10 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
DE Daelin Hayes, SO- 155 (11 tackles)
DE Jay Hayes, r-JR- 155 (10 tackles, 0.5 TFL)
DT Elijah Taylor, r-SO- 31 (4 tackles, 1 TFL)
DT Pete Mokwuah, r-JR- 18 (1 tackle)
DE Khalid Kareem, SO- 15 (no stats)
DE Julian Okwara, SO- special teams only

BOLD denotes out of eligibility/transfer
Eligibility is for 2017 season

My first lukewarm take is that not a single player on the defensive line had what could be considered at minimum a good year. At best, Isaac Rochell was okay but disappeared for long stretches of the season.

It’s tempting to say Jarron Jones had a good final year. His Miami performance was legendary and he did play very well in a couple other games. But, what about the other 9 games or so?

It’s difficult to put into words how unproductive Andrew Trumbetti has been for the Irish since his freshman year. Has he been the poster boy for too much information from VanGorder leading to a scrambled brain? Yet, why didn’t he get a little better after VanGorder was fired? Heck, how has he not even lucked into more disruptive plays thanks to the work of others?

Notre Dame football just completed a season where its main weak-side defensive end didn’t register a sack and couldn’t even muster 1 tackle for loss. It’s almost like you have to be trying on purpose to be bad to accumulate stats like that at this level.

Much has been said about Jerry Tillery’s work ethic, internal drive, and focus on the football field. To his credit, there were times when he would put together impressive consecutive snaps and flash his potential. However, he arguably took a step backwards from a decent freshman campaign and then didn’t cover himself in glory with his antics inside the Coliseum.

Bonner has mostly been ineffective throughout his career. He was someone I was hoping would take a step forward in 2016 and he still feels every bit the question mark today as back in 2015.

The snap count is very sobering while showing just how little Cage played this past year. Everyone please keep saying your prayers that he is going to be healthy enough to play in 2017.

I’m not sure disappointment is the right word but getting such a lackluster first season from Daelin Hayes is going to be tough to deal with heading towards spring. Even if he’s 50% better as a sophomore that’s going to surpass Trumbetti but where are we in the big picture, still?

When VanGorder was fired it was Brian Kelly specifically mentioning that Jay Hayes was going to get more playing time—and he did not. Your guess is as good as mine with what’s going on with Hayes and his development.

Elsewhere, Taylor looked like an All-American for a couple plays against USC so that’s cool. Mokwuah has moved from dead weight to someone who could be a serviceable backup. See, it’s not all bad is it?

Oh yeah, there are a couple wasted redshirts on Kareem and Okwara that are likely to sting really bad in the future.

New Faces

DT Micah Dew-Treadway, r-SO
DT Brandon Tiassum, r-SO
DE Ade Ogundeji, r-FR
DT Darnell Ewell, FR
DT Kurt Hinish, FR
DE Jonathan MacCollister, FR

The Irish are only losing 2 linemen so the need for extra bodies is far from overwhelming. However, the defense is now in a bad spot where the two best players are gone, a new combination of starters needs to step up, and quality backups need to be found as well.

The return of Dew-Treadway (missed all season with a foot injury) is certainly welcome. He was receiving some quality praise during August camp. Do we know how that will translate into next season? Who really knows, right?

Tiassum will be entering his third year in South Bend and still appears like he’s a long-term project. Likewise for Ogundeji who could make a big jump in his second year but realistically has longer to grow into his considerable frame.

Depending on the shape of the new Irish defense prepare yourselves for Ewell or Hinish to make an impact. On the interior they offer something the defense needs badly right now: Strength, stoutness, and an edge. By all accounts, MacCollister is going to be a project similar to Ogundeji and we’ll likely check back with him in spring 2018.

Grade: D+

Everything isn’t about backfield disruption. In fact, the Irish rush defense dropped their opponents average by over half a yard from 2015 to 2016, leading to a 33-spot rise in S&P+ rush defense rankings to 23rd overall.

To be fair, the hurricane game against NC State didn’t boost the rush defense all that much. On the other hand, it’s tough to look back on the season and appreciate any strong rush defensive performances (sub 4.0 YPC or thereabouts) except for the Miami and Virginia Tech games.

The ugliness comes when you consider the modest numbers from 2015 and still we saw a 50% drop in tackles for loss and a mind-numbing 81.2% drop in sacks in 2016.

If there’s a worse season in Notre Dame history I’d be happy to read about it. Looking at this you can see why new defensive coordinator Mike Elko probably wasn’t too keen about D-line coach Keith Gilmore sticking around. Whether you blame Gilmore or not this season will forever stay at the bottom of his resume.

If you want to stay positive there’s obviously nowhere to go but up for this unit. The bad news is that they have a long way to go just to get to replacement level among Power 5 teams.

By |2017-01-12T07:45:07+00:00January 12th, 2017|Film Room|27 Comments

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tlndmaOrlokdannan14idocdEric Murtaugh Recent comment authors
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The reasons for the problems were many, and you did a good job touching on them…scheme, confusion, development, etc. But that disparity in snap counts is concerning for that position group. It’s the easiest and most important position group in football to work up a rotation. And I’m not so sure it’s as simple as guys not developing. I think even after BVG, this staff was just not good at managing that part of the roster on gameday or working it into the gameplan.

I would assume that will improve with Elko, but I’ve been bitten so many times making positive assumptions about this program.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

An already poor unit loses its 2 best players with no obvious replacements. Ahh, what could go wrong!?

Gallows humor aside, d-line is the biggest trouble spot on the roster, IMO. I feel pretty good about Elko coaching up the safeties and there’s no other glaring positions like this (though I suppose QB is more of an unknown and has scary little depth).

Not sure what the solution is- probably just hope Cage can play and maybe he and Tillery can at least make the middle of the group somewhat stout. Ideally D. Hayes takes a huge step and can flip his snap-count and Trumbetti’s next season. Then, I dunno, pray Bonner or J. Hayes show improvement as well. Not very confident that next year’s grade will be much higher than this one, to be honest. I get that Ewell isn’t a 6’5, 340 pound freak like the true frosh at Clemson but agree with FTQ above that they should at least build a rotation and give guys more of a chance.


Thanks Eric.  That analysis was both depressing and accurate (which made it even more depressing).  Let’s hope someone(s) steps up big and Ewell/Hinish develop quickly.



I didn’t understand this unit at all, or the way they were deployed.

As you mentioned, Taylor had a good few plays against USC.  I think his 4 tackles occurred in a six play span, then he disappeared again, and I don’t think had played all season before that.

I could not think of a reason why Trumbetti even saw the field.  Either Hayes deserved a chance, and once you burned Kareem’s redshirt, I am not sure why he was not out there more.  As you said, Trumbetti’s stats were worse than what a random player would get.

Perhaps Gilmore took a page from the BVG playbook.  The schemes were so complicated that knowing where you needed to be, even if you couldn’t get there, mattered most.

The one depressing thing for this year over last, is that at least last year we had Jones coming back and Rochelle coming back.  We felt that there was leadership and rocks around which a line could be built.  Tillery is now an upperclassman, and his last appearance on the field he was kicking an injured player in the head, hardly a leader, and really the only thing consistent about his game is his inconsistency.  Cage may not play.  Would that make Trumbetti the leader of the unit?

Hopefully, Elston will figure out how to get the group to average.  Perhaps the freshmen are better than we can expect.  Or perhaps we can go to a 0-6-5 defense.



Depressing is right (and I apologize in advance for the pessimism of this post). I have been supportive of BK in the past and hoped he would work things out, but the inability to recruit blue chip d-linemen will be a big reason why BK won’t be coming back after this season. Elko seems like he will be an improvement over BVG, but a team cannot overcome problems with a weak d-line. While watching the championship game, I was thinking that not a single member of the ND line would make either team’s 2-deep rotation.


I normally don’t put much stock in the “no talent” argument because we generally are recruiting players that other high-level schools are also recruiting, so presumably the kids have talent. On D-line though is one place that I think it applies. We flat suck at getting the type of D-linemen that wreak havoc at places like Bama or Clemson, or even Wisconsin. And then we mismanage the guys we do get (burned a redshirt on an Okwara? We couldn’t learn the first time??). I don’t know if that’s a Gilmore issue, a BVG issue, or a Kelly issue (ultimately it’s a Kelly issue, for letting his assistants make a hash of it), but we waste years of guys who might actually develop for a few snaps with no value, and meanwhile we’ve got other “development” guys who should be playing FCS ball. We KNEW Mokwuah was never going to give us much more than a practice body, but our recruiting at this position is so bad that we just need bodies.

Maybe there’s some talent to be pulled out of this group, and the change will help that come out. It’s about all we can hope for a the moment.

Russell Knox
Russell Knox

KG just nailed it. It has been so under-recruited, under-developed, and just plain mismanaged. Hands down the most frustrating position group over the past 20 years.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

(burned a redshirt on an Okwara? We couldn’t learn the first time??)

Well put. Imagine Romeo redshirted and was able to play on the 2016 team. That’s not going to turn 4-8 into 8-4 or fix all the errs of the BVG way or anything, but I would have to think the personnel upgrade at DE would have helped…A lot

I wonder if burning these is a function of necessity in recruiting, ala a pitch of “hey come to Notre Dame, we’re going to find a way to get you on the field immediately even if you don’t win a job at your position we will use you on teams..You’ll get a chance to dress and play every week and who knows maybe work your way up so much quicker than just sitting for a full year like you probably would at (fill in the blank)”.

Maybe that’s not a big consideration but otherwise I don’t see why they would burn so many DE and OLB type guys freshmen years for so little involvement when they seemingly need to add bulk and experience that a redshirt would be custom made for.


Are you sure? “That’s not going to turn 4-8 into 8-4”

That loss column had a lot of one score games. A highly productive player at WDE definitely could have made a one score difference in several of those games. The 2016 team was just one or two plays per game from being a very shaky team with a very good record.


If you want to stay positive there’s obviously nowhere to go but up for this unit.

If Daniel Cage can’t play this year, erm… well… there is still room between D+ and F.


Speaking of DL, it sounds like Gilmore is officially out, though that was kind of a given.


Maybe someone who knows scheme could help me out but I tried to read this article in connection with Larz’s most recent joint and I don’t like how our prospective ends fit into the 3rd down alignment. Specifically, Larz said – and showed – that Elko lines his ends up wide. To me, this suggests they are supposed to pin their ears back and speed rush. Can’t really see Jay Hayes doing that.


Yea that’s not J. Hayes, but it is D. Hayes – he has a chance to shine I think in the scheme.  Not sure who that is on the other side, Trumbetti (*gulp*).  Maybe Okwara can do that or someone like J. Jones.




On a similar note who may change positions because of the new scheme?

Many have often said Tranquil to LB – would rover work?  But the rover doesn’t seem that much different than our SLB last year.  Does it have any more coverage responsibilities?

Rover might just be Bilal this year, no?

That question affects who is at safety.  Tranquil might fit just fine at safety if he’s brought into the box a lot (which Elko likes to do) and is used to blitz.  That limits his coverage liabilities.

Larz doesn’t like Tranquil at rover actually:

Larz January 3, 2017 at 12:40 PM – Reply

It’s a great question. Before I did the research I thought Tranquill for rover. After watching I didn’t think Rover was the best position for him. I don’t think he’s best in space lined up over a reciever. I think they could use him as a safety. Provide run support, playing deep, Blitzing. But I don’t know for sure. I think it will be interesting to see what Elko does with that position.

So if Tranquil at safety with Studstill persumably, who at Rover – playing in space?  If Tranquil isn’t comfortable in space would any other of our linebackers/safeties be comfortable (and big enough)?


D.J. Morgan?




Based on Larz’s comments, “Rover” seems like a cross between a nickel corner and a linebacker. A linebacker that can cover like a corner…hmm…I feel like that reminds me of someone…



What’s amazing about this is that I felt the defense – post BVG firing – was as good as it’s been since the beginning of 2014 (just after Diaco, no injuries).  Am I just totally wrong about that?  Or did the defense really improve even with garbage play from the line?


I think that speaks to how bad our D had been, rather than how much it improved, per se. But yes, when you’re not making kids do calculus in Chinese out there, and they can just play, and they (other than the D line) are more naturally talented than all but a few teams we play…things get better!


Seems to be some new offers as well as renewed interest in a few other recruits. Can we expect an update soon?