The two positions at which Notre Dame most lacks depth and experience are safety and defensive tackle. Fittingly, the morning after junior safety Ashton White announced he is leaving the Irish football team, a report indicates senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage will miss the 2017 season, as well.
Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson reported Cage intends to spend this season focusing on getting healthy before he decides if he will continue playing football at all. A concussion ended Cage’s season last year and Cage’s mother said the effects of that concussion continue to linger. Additionally, Cage underwent knee surgery this summer.
“He loves football,” Bionne Cage told Sampson. “First and foremost, his health has to be OK. If he can get that straightened out, he can continue playing.”
Cage has suffered three concussions over his Irish career, plus knee and ankle ailments. While the joint issues are obviously a concern for a 320-plus pound individual, the concussion symptoms will be the bigger impediment to Cage finishing his career.
He has appeared in 30 games over three years, making a total of 32 tackles with five tackles for loss. The senior has one year of eligibility remaining.
Without Cage, Notre Dame will need to rely on a litany of unproven commodities in the defensive line interior. Junior Jerry Tillery will lead the way, and senior Jonathan Bonner has shown the ability to hold his own, despite moving to tackle only a year ago.
After that starting duo, though, questions arise. Junior Elijah Taylor suffered a LisFranc injury during spring practice, and the recovery from that can be inherently touch-and-go. Juniors Brandon Tiassum and Micah Dew-Treadway have never appeared in a collegiate game while senior Pete Mokwuah has seen action in six games, making one total tackle.
Suffice it to say, the chance is there for freshmen Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to earn playing time at the outset of their careers.
A 99-to-2 refresher as it pertains to Cage: “This is a tricky spot to project. Concussion issues don’t follow a set timeline. If they are indeed in Cage’s past, his senior season could be a surprising success. If they are not, his time would be better spent tending to those than anything football-related.
For this spot’s sake, let’s operate as if Cage is past any health concerns.
In 2017, he will have abundant chance to contribute, and his track record indicates he will make the most of those moments. Rather than focus on tackle totals, the best measurement of Cage’s success will be how he fills the holes, theoretically stemming an opponent’s running attack. Similar to the Louis Nix/Manti Te’o dynamic, if Cage does his job properly, senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini will see the benefits on the stat sheet. Cage fits that role much better than Tillery or even senior Jonathan Bonner.
From the first game of his freshman season, Cage has shown ability. That has never been the question. It is simply a manner of him staying on the field.”