Notre Dame has suffered its first major loss of the 2015 season just a week into training camp with Brian Kelly confirming what multiple reports stated last night that senior nose tackle Jarron Jones has suffered a serious knee injury that will sideline him for the 2015 Notre Dame football season.
Losing Jones for the year would be a crushing blow to Notre Dame’s playoff chances. The defensive line is the one area of the defense where they could least afford to lose a starter – especially one at a position as pivotal as nose tackle. Jones was starting to become a dominant force in the middle of the Irish defense a year ago before suffering a season ending injury a year ago and missing the final two games of the season.
Early enrollee Jerry Tillery rapidly ascended the depth chart in the spring and moved into a backup position behind Jones and could very well move into the starting lineup now. Relying on a true freshman at a position like nose tackle, however, is not usually a recipe for a playoff run. Kelly stated on Saturday that Tillery and sophomore Daniel Cage will be the next men in at nose tackle with Jones lost for the year.
Another possibility for Notre Dame would be moving Isaac Rochell inside in certain situations to ease the load on the youngsters. Rochell played inside during Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU after injuries ravaged the Irish defensive line in 2014. Kelly said on Saturday that moving Rochell inside permanently with the base defense was not an option but left open the possibility of him playing inside in certain situations.
With Jones lost for the year, the status of Ishaq Williams becomes even more intriguing for Notre Dame. If Williams were to be available for Notre Dame this fall, it would give the Irish more options at defensive end allowing more flexibility for moving Rochell around. On Saturday, Kelly said that there was no update on Williams on Keivarae Russell with regards to their eligibility status.
A year ago injuries along the defensive line were one of the root causes for Notre Dame’s defensive meltdown in the second half of the season and it appears as though the Notre Dame’s luck this year isn’t starting off any better than it ended in 2014. Jones was primed for a huge senior season and could have provided the disruptive force in the middle of the defense to open up lanes to the quarterback for a team that is lacking elite pass rushers.
While a huge loss for the Irish, losing Jones for the season doesn’t completely derail Notre Dame’s playoff hopes. Remember, in 2012 Notre Dame’s secondary looked paper thin in August and unable to sustain any losses. Then Notre Dame lost Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood for the season and a true freshman who converted from wide receiver stepped in an started every game at cornerback and that worked out well.
Granted, it’s much easier for a freshman to start at corner because it’s not as physically demanding as nose tackle, but baring any other major injuries up front, Notre Dame could still sustain this loss and still make a run towards the playoffs.