The infusion of transfers for Notre Dame may have been highlighted by quarterback Sam Hartman, but defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste arrives after spending four seasons at Ohio State. As the Irish’s new edge rusher, he has the stiff challenge of trying to take over the spot previously held by NFL-bound Isaiah Foskey.
Jean-Baptiste is reunited with Notre Dame defensive line coach Al Washington, who was hired last year from Ohio State. Washington got to see Jean-Baptiste on a daily basis during their time together with the Buckeyes and knows what he has to offer. Earlier this year, Jean-Baptiste indicated that he’s flexible with playing at either end, though Jordan Botelho appears to have a tight grip on the Vyper spot.
During his time with the Buckeyes, Jean-Baptiste was never able to put together a breakthrough campaign. That struggle was due in part because of the difficulty in emerging amid the talent-laden roster the Buckeyes seemingly possess on a yearly basis. With one year to make his mark, Jean-Baptiste is looking to finally deliver.
The Path to Columbus
At New Jersey’s Bergen Catholic High School, Jean-Baptiste had a knack for getting to the quarterback and simply making stops. As a senior in 2017, he collected 88 tackles, including 14.5 behind the line as well as 11.5 sacks. At that time, he was a linebacker, in part because of his lean 215-pound frame.
Despite the Irish’s success in collecting New Jersey linemen, such as the Ademilola twins and Howard Cross, they weren’t really a contender during Jean-Baptiste’s original recruitment. Ohio State managed to beat out Nebraska and Virginia Tech, with Texas A&M also making a spirited bid.
Jean-Baptiste’s first season in Columbus in 2018 was largely spent bulking up in order to play up front. The following year, he finished with 14 tackles and managed to make two stops behind the line. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he was limited to just six tackles and two tackles-for-loss.
Despite a return to a full schedule in 2021, Jean Baptiste only finished that year with 12 tackles in nine games and largely matched his stops in opposing backfields. The 2022 season was his best yet, with 19 tackles, four sacks as well as a forced fumble as the Buckeyes narrowly missed a berth in the national title game.
A New Beginning
Ordinarily, Jean-Baptiste’s college career would have ended, but the pandemic-year waiver instead allowed him to make to move to Notre Dame. This time, the Irish had to outlast Texas and Mississippi when it came to enticing him and now hope to reap the benefits of their effort this season.
Even though Jean-Baptiste is preparing to be on the field for all of the Irish games this season, the Sept. 23 clash against the Buckeyes is undoubtedly the one in which he wants to thrive. That may be a tall order, though the Buckeyes do have to replace both starting tackles from last year. At the very least, he has the potential to perhaps provide some under-the-radar information when it comes to the scouting report.
If Jean-Baptiste is going to be challenged for playing time, the push is likely to come from Nana Osafo-Mensah. Osafo-Mensah has struggled to see consistent playing time during his time with the Irish, but is seen as a team leader and has had a strong camp. That means that Jean-Baptiste can rest easy, with Tyson Ford and freshman Brenan Vernon already having gotten the attention of Washington as well.
Over Jean-Baptiste’s four seasons at Ohio State, he racked up a total of just eight sacks. That’s in comparison to Foskey reaching double-digits in each of his two final seasons. What those numbers mean is that barring a major jump in productivity, the contributions of Jean-Baptiste and Osafo-Mensah combined may still not match either of Foskey’s yearly sack totals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Jean-Baptiste can’t finally reach the potential that Ohio State envisioned nearly six years ago. There’s certainly enough incentive for him to turn it up a notch since it could mean the NFL comes knocking. In addition, the fact that he saw an uptick in his numbers last year when given the chance to play offers a certain amount of promise.
One potentially overlooked byproduct of Jean-Baptiste’s lack of playing time with the Buckeyes is that he largely remained injury-free. Notre Dame knows what it’s like to see depth issues created from a wave of injuries, so they’re hoping that he can stay fresh and have a real impact in 2023.