Aug 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EDT
Providing depth in 2013, sophomore Isaac Rochell just became a very large part of Notre Dame’s plans this season. With the recent suspension of Ishaq Williams casting his season in doubt, Rochell has stepped into the starting lineup indefinitely, ready or not.
The Georgia native didn’t make much of an impact last season, but caught Brian Kelly’s eye last week. That was before the Irish head coach knew he was going to have to throw a starting job his way, making this a much different story.
Let’s take a closer look at another young piece of Brian VanGorder’s defense.
6’3.5″ 287 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 90
Rochell didn’t garner the excitement of a Tuitt, Nix or Lynch, but he had SEC offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and more than a few others before picking the Irish. A Top 150 prospect by any measure, Rochell was a first-team All-State pick in Georgia and played both ways for Eagles’ Landing Christian Academy.
On Signing Day, Kelly talked about the type of player the Irish landed.
“I think Isaac is a guy that didn’t play in lot of the postseason games so he didn’t get a ton of exposure,” Kelly said. “I mean, we’re really excited as a staff to have Isaac Rochell. He’s going to play on the defensive line, and he’s going to impact this program. I think he’s got a huge upside, and we’re really excited about getting a player of this caliber here to Notre Dame.”
Freshman Season (2013): Rochell played in all 13 games, making 10 tackles (including four against Air Force, where his brother Matt plays). Also forced one fumble.
Rochell seemed fairly anonymous until Kelly called him a “beast” last week, raising his profile in camp quite a bit. Add to that the suspension of Williams and a position already desperately searching for answers makes Rochell’s a pretty good candidate for an early-season sleeper.
Ultimately, we need to see how explosive Rochell is off the edge. At close to 290 pounds, Rochell could be better suited for a three-technique type, though that doesn’t do much to help Notre Dame out of their bind. And at this point, you’ve got to think Notre Dame is going to play their best defensive line, even if it means there are a few pieces that aren’t quite a custom fit.
As a prospect, Rochell gives you plenty of reasons to be excited. But as a starter? I guess we could find out in a few weeks.
I tend to throw last season’s results out when thinking about Rochell. You can’t blame a young player for struggling to make an impact, especially as a 3-4 defensive end. But that’s not the case this season, as Rochell now goes from part of the future to piece of the present.
That’s scary, but only because we really don’t know much about Rochell. He was productive against Air Force, though Notre Dame’s schedule is going to need more than just dominance competence against Service Academies. Ultimately, Rochell’s move into the starting lineup will scare you if you expected big things from Williams, and will be a jump-start to the future if you thought Notre Dame would get another season of mediocrity out of the former five-star recruit.
Rochell looks plenty sturdy, and at almost 290-pounds, he’s a defensive tackle in any other era of Notre Dame football. He might still be that on passing downs, sliding inside as the Irish bring in more speed off the edge. But for the Irish defense to hold up, Rochell is going to need to be able to do that against the run, almost a leap of faith at this point.
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