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Notre Dame Football: What have we really learned about the defense this spring?

We kind of know some things

NaNa Osafo-Mensah notre dame
NaNa Osafo-Mensah

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have six spring practices in the books with eight more to go before the annual Blue-Gold Game. That means we are “almost” halfway there, so take my hand and let’s talk about the few things that we kind of know right now.

Interviews are plentiful, but practice viewing is pretty light. One full practice has been available to the media, and that felt a little underwhelming for the most part.

We’re keeping this as basic as ND’s media availability.

We took a look at the offense yesterday, and now the defense takes the mic.

Defensive Line

It feels like it’s been kind of quiet along the defensive line so far this spring, but the fact that the line caused a lot of pressure in the full-practice viewing is pretty encouraging. Rylie Mills should completely be on the inside now and could finally see a big season at the 3 technique. Howard Cross is not an impressive physical specimen but will look a lot like one with his high-motor play. Gabe Rubio and Jason Onye are two players that will (and ND really needs them to) emerge as frontline rotational players. Rubio, ran with the ones on Saturday next to Cross. There is a lot of potential here with these four — if Al Washington can put it all together.

With the loss of Isaiah Foskey on the edge, Notre Dame desperately needs a playmaker at Vyper — and Jordan Botelho might finally be that playmaker as he gets comfortable (finally) in a home position. Consistency will be huge with Botelho, and we will still need to see some development from Junior Tuihalamaka and Joshua Burnham in their second year of the program. The combo of NaNa Osafo-Mensah and Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste looks like a strong combination on the strongside but the Irish still need to strengthen the edge with more development.


Don’t throw a knife at me, but it still looks like Jack Kiser, JD Bertrand, and Marist Liufau are the top three linebackers heading into the 2023 season — and I doubt that changes much. Now... that doesn’t mean that they should take all the snaps available or even like 80%. Both Prince Kollie and Jaylen Sneed need to see more of the field in 2023, and as long as they continue the upward trend in development — they will. The three freshmen have all impressed to different degrees this spring (Jaiden Ausberry, Preston Zinter, Drayk Bowen) and sophomore Nolan Ziegler has made a little noise.


Benjamin Morrison is a stud and was just selected as a 2nd team Walter camp All-American. Cam Hart is non-contact this spring in the hopes of keeping his body healthy for spring. That combination alone is an incredibly good thing to have on the field, but in 2023 we need four CB’s at a minimum to be ready to play at a high level. Clarence Lewis was forced into the lineup as a freshman, and stalled a bit last year. I really expect Lewis to improve quite a bit this year and could develop into a quality nickel to replace TaRiq Bracy. Freshman Christian Gray is getting a ton of deserved hype this spring, and should be ready to contribute this fall. Jayden Mickey wasn’t ready last year to be on the stage that he was, but that experience could be invaluable this season as he continues to develop (which would make the 2022 CB class a wildly massive success).


Notre Dame NEEDS more from the safety position, and they could still add to the position in the transfer portal after spring ball. The time is now for Xavier Watts and Ramon Henderson, and I am higher than most on the possibility of D.J. Brown in his final year at Notre Dame with a lot of football played on his belt. Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper has been injured this spring, but he’s a guy they are looking to as a possible big contributor at safety and at the nickel. It’s highly unlikely that freshmen Ben Minnich and Adon Shuler contribute much this season outside of special teams.