We want to talk about sacks. Everyone wants to talk about sacks. The Irish head into spring losing their top sack leader to graduation and need to find their nom-nom's from somewhere else among a pretty meager total in 2015 anyway. Can this unit get better? Will they be worse?
Returning Snaps from 2015: Rochell (846), Trumbetti (383), Bonner (107), Randolph (28), Blankenship (25)
Lost Snaps: R. Okwara (706)
Early Enrollee: D. Hayes, Kareem
Summer Arrival: J. Okwara, Ogundeji
Take It to the Limit
It seems just like yesterday that Isaac Rochell was physically developed enough to get some playing time as a freshman. Now, he's coming into his senior season already. It's unbelievable how quickly some player's careers progress.
Rochell spent 2015 playing a lot of snaps--4th most on the entire team and leading the defensive line by a solid margin--and performing at a fairly high level most of the time. However, as valued as he is for his ability to play both inside and outside, depending on the matchup and more commonly the injuries, I also wonder if he burnt out a little bit last year. Case in point, Rochell only totaled 2.0 tackles for loss over the final 6 games.
It seems to me that a lot will be asked of Rochell in 2016. He'll need to play a lot (obviously) but can the team rely on him to become one of their leaders and can he turn in a senior performance that moves him from underrated, tough player who does all the little things well to someone who helps improve Notre Dame's attacking front?
It'll be fascinating if Rochell slowly grows into this role through the off-season and into fall camp or if he asserts himself as a possible captain immediately this spring.
Speaking of careers flying by here we have Andrew Trumbetti who also played a little bit as a freshman and is suddenly a junior and in line to become the starting weak-side defensive end.
Many believed that Trumbetti would push Okwara for playing time last year but it didn't exactly work out that way. Okwara (13.5 TFL and 9 sacks) blossomed into a very good defensive end while Trumbetti struggled with some injuries before and during the season. Okwara played 323 more snaps than Trumbetti and many of the latter's snaps came late in the seasons once Rochell needed to move inside and the defense went with both Trumbetti and Okwara on the edges.
Trumbetti never beat out Okwara or really got many shared reps.
We can't forget the memorable touchdown scored by Trumbetti last year but the reality is that he was limited to just 2.5 TFL and 1 sack in 2015. So far through his career he's totaled 37 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Certainly not terrible for an underclassman but probably leaves most wanting more from such a high-profile recruit. Plus, he's not ideal length at this position and hasn't been very stout against the run.
This spring can hopefully be about Trumbetti staying healthy and steadily improving to the point where he's the weak-side end who solidifies himself as the unquestioned starter. Let's hope he stiffens up holding the edge, too.
Okay, we've talked about a couple of veterans but what people really want to know is if some new blood is going to come in and change the pass-rushing dynamic on this team. Good news! A couple of really talented freshmen have been on campus since January and are ready to participate in spring practice.
Bad news, Rivals 5-star (and Composite high 4-star) Daelin Hayes is recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected to be 100% during the spring. But, at least he's on campus and soaking up the playbook. And Khalid Kareem is no slouch, either. Some think as an EE he could be a little more accelerated than freshman-level Isaac Rochell. Don't be surprised if even in the spring he's getting two-deep reps.
The question for the spring becomes how valued are these youngsters versus guys like Randolph and Blankenship who are sinking into career backup mode? Will these older players develop and make a name for themselves? Bonner has played okay at times and may be a solid backup. Can we find anything else from the veterans or will this be a major youth movement in the spring and into the summer?