One of the last members of Notre Dame’s 2014 recruiting class was one of the first people to make an impact on the field. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage saw action early and often as a freshman, making an impact even before depth issues forced him into the mix.
While it was sooner than expected—and probably hoped—Cage immediately validated what Brian VanGorder saw on the recruiting trail, turning in a solid freshman season in the trenches. With a year in the weight room and better conditioning, bright days are ahead for one of the Irish’s most rugged run-stoppers.
Let’s take a closer look at Daniel Cage.
6’0.5″, 315 lbs.
Sophomore, N0. 75, DT
Notre Dame beat out Michigan State for Cage on Signing Day, getting a late January official visit and then sweating out a fax machine victory. Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri were also on the list.
Cage was evaluated by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, but the offer didn’t come until VanGorder took over. Cage’s three-star rating was thrown into the trash bin the minute he stepped foot on campus, and he played past that rating almost immediately.
Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, one of six true freshmen to do so on defense. Pitched in four tackles including a half-TFL against USC. Missed the Louisville game with a knee injury and didn’t play against LSU.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
I’m taking credit for a Bruce Heggie reference. And also for pointing out that some “developmental offers” see the field a lot sooner than others.
What will be fascinating to follow is the “larger net” that Kelly and VanGorder cast for defensive line prospects. Looking back at the earliest offers from this coaching staff, all the way back in 2010 and 2011, the hit rate is about 50-50 on those “developmental” offers. Keeping a complete flier like Bruce Heggie out of it, this staff has done a very good job finding below-the-radar type players like Romeo Okwara and Chris Brown, humble recruiting rankings that will be exceeded come this season.
Cage will be part of a new wave of defensive tackle prospects, with five bodies set to join the program between the 2014-15 recruiting cycles. They’ll be replacing players like Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell, playing a different system, but hopefully turning into effective players.
That Cage came on board at the end of January doesn’t mean anything. But after being in the NFL for the better part of the last decade, VanGorder’s been given a lot of say in player evaluations, and Cage was clearly his call. That he was so quick to jump on the Cincinnati prospect should give us an early litmus test of VanGorder’s player evaluations and also a look at how the defense will change under his direction.
For as different as VanGorder’s system is than Bob Diaco’s, you can’t help but think that Cage has turned out to be a perfect two-gap player, a fit in either system.
With Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day both back on campus, Cage will be a situational player for the Irish. And that’s likely the type of defensive tackle you want entering his sophomore season, a two-down run plugger, though he’s shown in high school that he can wreak havoc in the backfield. (Per Tim Prister’s profile on Cage, he had a ridiculous 22 sacks as a sophomore!)
Still, if Cage continues to shape his body and expand his work volume, you’re looking at Notre Dame’s next starting defensive tackle, likely in tandem with Jerry Tillery. As Kelly pointed out when he took the redshirt off Jay Hayes, Notre Dame hasn’t had too many good defensive linemen stick around for five years. That Cage was one of the first youngsters to play—even before the injuries hit—might mean that his upside could include Sundays, too.
It’s an important season for Cage, and really for the entire defensive line. We tend to forget the success of September and October, but the Irish defensive line was tough to run against, and that should be the case again in 2015.
But there’s no training wheels on to start this season, and that means Cage better be ready to go come jump street, because the opening seven weeks will test the Irish, especially against Georgia Tech and Navy. (Boston College, one of the nation’s best running attacks, is a November opponent as well.)
As for Cage, playing behind Jones will allow him to stay fresh and keep both players at optimal levels. And adding more importance to Cage’s play is the fact that Jones is still making his way back from a significant foot surgery, all but absent during spring drills.
Cage looks like a good one. We’ll find out if he projects to be great after this season.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL