After a breakout year for Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem in the 2018 season, what does the defensive end position look like for Notre Dame football next season?
In a class that returns five total seniors, the Notre Dame football defensive end position should be a place of real strength come 2019.
Returning Okwara and Kareem to the already very formidable Notre Dame defense was a huge win this offseason. Both Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem had monster seasons and should return to have even better 2019 campaigns. Between the two, they racked up 49 total solo tackles and 31 assisted tackles. Even more impressive is the fact that the duo tallied 22.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks from their respective defensive end positions. From a defensive end duo, that is unreal.
In the drop position, you’ll find two stud seniors leading the line for the Irish — Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes. While they will see most of the playing time, the next guys in line are sophomores Justin Ademilola, Ovie Oghoufo and freshman commit NaNa Osafo-Mensah.
When you have stars like Okwara and Hayes on your team that are both NFL-caliber, it’s hard to find playing time for anyone else. However, I can see both Ademilola and NaNa Osafo-Mensah fighting for playing time with Hayes. Both guys are freak athletes and will be hard to keep off the field.
In the strong-side position, you find the Uber-talented Khalid Kareem. The man is simply unstoppable. Expect another massive season from him. Behind Kareem is senior Adetokunbo Ogundeji. Last season, Ogundeji appeared in 10 games and racked up 25 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. From a backup, that is great production.
The other three guys filling in the depth chart are senior Jamir Jones, junior Kofi Wardlow and freshman commit Howard Cross III. Jones saw the field a decent amount last season, but did not make much of an impact. We have yet to see much from Wardlow, but there should be opportunity for either him or Cross to break through and earn some time.
What was the program’s biggest weakness just a few years ago is now probably the greatest strength heading into 2019. This is largely due to announcements from both Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem that they are returning for their senior year.
On top of these two, Notre Dame welcomes back senior to be Daelin Hayes, red-shirt junior Ade Ogundegi, senior Jamir Jones, red-shirt sophomore Kofi Wardlow, red-shirt freshman Justin Ademilola and incoming freshman NaNa Osafo-Mensah. The coaching staff also hopes to land Isaiah Foskey to finish off the 2019 class. Needless to say, the talent and depth is in a good place, and Notre Dame fans should have high expectations for 2019 and beyond.
As for 2019, Okwara and Kareem are expected to retain their starting positions at drop end and strong-side defensive end (SDE), while Hayes should see time at both spots on a regular basis like this past season. Ogundeji will look to improve on a good 2018 and expand his role from situational player to full blown rotational SDE. The end two his red-shirt sophomore season was impressive. That is a four-man rotation that should rival most programs in the country.
Add in Jamir Jones on the goal line and in obvious rushing downs to keep the others fresh, and Ademilola should be able to provide the team something similar to what Ogudeji did this past season.
With a solid six-man depth chart and rotation, Coach Lea and Coach Elston can afford to ease Wardlow into some playing time, as well as be strategic with Osafo-Mensah and Foskey’s (hopefully) usage. Neither should have to burn redshirts in 2019 — emphasis on the have to.
I know I have been pretty happy and positive with just about every position grouping thus far in Nathan and I’s positional breakdown, but I can’t emphasize enough just how excited I am about the defensive end position in 2019. Returning Kareem and Okwara is so big for this Irish defense.
Even behind them, there are so many guys I am very excited to see more of. I can’t wait to see more action from Hayes, Ogundeji, Ademilola, and more. The defensive ends and their pass rush will be key to Notre Dame’s success in 2019.
Prediction: Not only does this prove to be the strength of the 2019 roster, but it will be one of the best units in the entire country. Okwara and Kareem will be what Coney and Tranquill were to the linebacker unit and defense as a whole in 2018 — providing close to 20 sacks as a pairing. Irish fans will also catch a nice glimpse of the future with Ogundeji, Ademilola and the freshmen flashing in somewhat limited action. Look out for a Hayes breakout senior season as well. His coverage ability and flexibility to play both end spots is valued by the staff. The production should come this season.