Freeman, Elston Targetting Length at DE for Notre Dame

Notre Dame has picked up four defensive end commitments for the 2022 and 2023 class combined since Marcus Freeman was named the defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish and one thing is abundantly clear, Notre Dame is going to target length at defensive end under Freeman’s watch.

A quick look at the four defensive ends the Irish have recruited and the trend is pretty clear.

  • Tyson Ford (2022) – 6’5, 260 lbs
  • Aiden Gobiara (2022) – 6’6″, 235 lbs
  • Darren Agu (2022) – 6’6″, 225 lbs
  • Keon Keeley (2023) – 6’5″, 230 lbs

Three of the four are also four-star prospects. Agu is the only one currently listed at three stars, but his upside is substantial given his relative newness to football. Now, not all will stay on the edge by the time they graduate. Ford in particular looks like he’s got the frame to be a terror on the interior of the line. It’s pretty clear though, that they all have a very similar profile.

Targeting length for EDGE players isn’t anything new or groundbreaking to college football, but it is relatively new for Notre Dame. The only current defensive ends who fit a similar profile to the quartet currently committed are junior Isaiah Foskey at just a hair under 6’5′ and Alexander Ehrensberger at 6’6″.

Jordan Botelho is listed at 6’2.5. Nana Osafo-Mensah is listed at just over 6’3″. Justin Ademilola 6’1.75. 5th year senior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa will play on the edge this year at 6’2.5. Freshman Will Schweitzer is listed at 6’4. Rylie Mills and Gabriel Rubio are listed over 6’5′ but are interior players. Freshman Devin Aupiu is listed at 6’5″ too, but he is listed as a linebacker on the Notre Dame roster.

Length just hasn’t been a characteristic of Notre Dame’s edge players over the last few years. Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, and Daelin Hayes weren’t overly long players on the edge in recent years either. Ovie Oghoufo, who transferred to Texas this off-season when it looked like he was primed for a larger, if not starting role in 2021, was listed at 6’3″.

Based on the early returns from the combination of Marcus Freeman and Mike Elston, it looks like we should get used to seeing some taller defensive ends flanking the Irish defensive front. In addition to the four defensive ends committed already, Notre Dame is still heavily in the mix for Bishop Gorman product Cyrus Moss. The 4-star defensive end is listed at 6’6′, 220 at the moment.

The lack of length hasn’t exactly prevented the Notre Dame defensive ends from producing for the Irish in recent years. Hayes, Okwara, and Kareem will all collect NFL paychecks this fall. So too will Ade Ogundeji who was one of the taller ends for the Irish in recent years. That said, you can’t teach or develop height and length and those characteristics certainly come in handy for edge rushers.

I’m sure Notre Dame would have ideally been targeting players with the profile of Keeley, Ford, Gobiara, and Agu all along, but it just worked out that the top-end talent the Irish had the best chance at, didn’t have it. Elston did a hell of a job developing the ends over the last few years with Ogundeji being a prime example of that. If he’s able to have similar results with a prospect like Agu who also just happens to have a little more length, the results could be even better.

The idea of Notre Dame having its defensive line flanked by two 6’6″ monsters should be pretty exciting to Notre Dame fans. At times in the ACC Championship and Rose Bowl, the Irish sent out some undersized ends that got overmatched when facing the tackles for Clemson and Alabama. Even in the first matchup with Clemson that Notre Dame won, the Irish struggled to get to the quarterback until the very end. Hopefully, that won’t be the case in the future with the defensive ends the Irish are adding to its future rosters on the recruiting trail.

Notre Dame’s recent success here is a combination of the kind of recruiting they had been excelling at on the defensive line mixed in with the aggressive approach of Marcus Freeman. Aiden Gobiara and Darren Agu were more raw prospects with big upside when Notre Dame got involved in their recruiting. Gobiara has since seen his star rise, but at the time of his commitment, he hadn’t blown up yet. Notre Dame’s done really well with those kind of defensive line recruits in recent years.

Ford, on the other hand, was already an established blue-chip defensive end recruit with an impressive offer list. Notre Dame did not lead for his services when Freeman was hired. That all changed in a hurry once Freeman was on the scene.

Mike Elston has done an outstanding job coaching and developing the Notre Dame defensive line for years now. It seems clear that Marcus Freeman is going to help elevate the talent level along the line as well. That is a combination that should have Notre Dame fans very, very excited.

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