A year ago at this time, Jay Hayes was listed by many as a potential breakout candidate for Notre Dame. Primed for a starting role after a redshirt season in 2015, Hayes suffered an injury in camp that lingered into the season leading into a disappointing campaign. A year later, the clock is ticking for the senior with two years of eligibility remaining to make his mark in the Notre Dame defense.
Pedigree & Career to Date
Four years ago Jay Hayes was one of the most sought after defensive lineman in the country. Before committing to Notre Dame, Hayes held offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Michigan, and Ohio among many other upper echelon schools. Normally when I list the schools that offered one of our Now or Never candidates I’d include schools like UCLA, Wisconsin, and Oregon initially, but Hayes’s offer list was so impressive they weren’t needed in this case.
Hayes was thrust onto the field too early in 2014 when Notre Dame went through the insane run of injuries they suffered throughout the 2014 season. Hayes got his redshirt season back as a sophomore, but his time spent on the scout team led to some frustrations that spilled over onto social media and got him in the dog house.
2016 was supposed to be the year that Hayes finally broke through. He was penciled in as a starter heading into fall camp before suffering an ankle injury that at the time Kelly said probably wouldn’t linger into the season. It did as high ankle sprains tend to do for big men like Hayes. After that Hayes never really got back on track and got lost in the train wreck that was the 2016 Notre Dame defense. He played in 10 games but collected just 10 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.
Reason for Optimism
Let’s revisit that offer list again for a second. Jay Hayes was a defensive line recruit with offers from Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. Like it or not, those three schools have become barometer schools when judging a defensive line recruit these days and all three wanted Hayes on their defensive lines. He has the potential to be a big time defensive end if he puts it all together.
Hayes’s career to date has also been marred by setbacks and unideal circumstances. Right off the bat he was forced on the field before he was fully ready as a freshman and then spent what should have been a year learning as a reserve on the scout team. For his long term development, that year on the scout team was a prudent decision by the Notre Dame staff. Good luck getting a 19 year old kid to see it that way though.
Hayes still has two years of eligibility remaining and like every Notre Dame defender, he will benefit from Mike Elko’s new defensive scheme. The Brian Vangorder experiment was an unmitigated disaster for Notre Dame. Any defensive player on the roster who hasn’t quite lived up to their hype in the past should be taken with a big grain of salt at this point.
Reason for Doubt
While Hayes has all the potential in the world, offers four years ago from Clemson and Alabama don’t mean squat when he is lining up opposite Georgia and Michigan State offensive linemen in September. To date, we have not seen Hayes turn his potential into any production and while he has had some extenuating circumstances, at some point it comes down to Hayes stepping up and playing to his potential.
Hayes exited spring practice atop the depth chart at the strong side defensive end position but has a familiar name right behind him – Andrew Trumbetti. Trumbetti has been in an out of the lineup for the last three years but he’s never quite put it all together either. Trumbetti has spent most of his time on the weakside where he lacks the pure speed and athleticism to thrive. Now on the strong side, if Hayes slips up even a little, he will be there waiting.
Hayes also has sophomore Khalid Kareem waiting in the wings at strong side defensive end. Like Hayes, Kareem was heavily recruited by Alabama as well and has plenty of potential in his own right.
It is in Notre Dame’s best interest if Hayes locks down the strong side defensive end position in camp. At 6’4′, 280 lbs he is built perfectly for the strong side in the same mold as Isaac Rochell. Where he could struggle though is in the pass rush. To date Hayes hasn’t shown the ability to get to the quarterback from the edge in somewhat the same way Rochell struggled as well.
Look for Hayes to be the starting strong side defensive end Labor Day weekend when Temple comes into town and stay in the lineup throughout the season. Mike Elston and Mike Elko will be able to get Hayes ready for a starting role and the senior will pass his tackle total from the 2016 by the end of September.
What will be interesting to watch is what Notre Dame does with Hayes on passing downs. Hayes has the size to play inside in passing situations so he could slide inside to give Notre Dame more of a pass rush on interior just like Rochell did last year. That could open the door for Trumbetti or Kareem to play on the strong side on passing downs. That could allow Notre Dame to maximize Hayes while getting more of a pass rush on the field.
If Hayes struggles this year or gets passed on the depth chart, a graduate transfer could be in the cards in the 0ff-season. He still has two years of eligibility remaining and if he heads into the off-season without a set role, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he ends his collegiate career somewhere else other than Notre Dame like Malik Zaire, Justin Brent, John Montelus, and Corey Holmes this fall.
A graduate transfer in the off-season would be a surprising development. Rather, look for Hayes to be one of the players to benefit the most from the new defense and to head into 2018 as one of the leaders of the Notre Dame defense.