The emergency removal of Jay Hayes‘ redshirt gives you an idea that Notre Dame’s coaching staff believes in the young defensive lineman. But burning Hayes’ redshirt was also immediately followed by a significant ankle injury against USC, making it difficult to get a season’s worth of work in the year’s final three games and bowl practices.
Nonetheless, Hayes moves forward better for the experience, even if he’s started his eligibility clock sooner than expected. And with Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day back, not to mention the emergence of Jerry Tillery this spring, Hayes is fighting for his spot in the interior rotation, suddenly a position of strength after being gutted last November.
For Hayes, it’s time to play like a sophomore, even if he’s essentially a first-year player. But the New York native has never been short on confidence, and we’ll see if that helps him make his move in 2015.
6’3″, 285 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 93, DL
A four-star prospect that was a Top 250 type recruit, Hayes had the offers of an elite defensive lineman out of Brooklyn’s Poly Prep, with Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon and USC all offering scholarships.
Hayes looked like a tweener between defensive tackle and end, but that works just fine as a three-technique in Brian VanGorder’s system, allowing Hayes to be disruptive at the line of scrimmage.
Freshman Season (2014): Saw action in the season’s three final games, playing against Louisville, USC and LSU. Suffered an ankle sprain early against the Trojans, though fought back to play against LSU. Made one tackle against Louisville.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Well, it’s pretty clear that neither Tony Springmann nor Chase Hounshell did much along the defensive line. And then—as mentioned—questionable depth behind Day and Jones all but led Hayes onto the field.
Hayes’ 2014 season is likely going to be dictated by the health and productivity of guys like Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, veterans who will get the first crack at supplying depth on the interior of the defensive line. In a perfect world, Hayes can spend the season learning the system and getting bigger and stronger.
But with depth a question mark behind Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, Hayes could be called into action sooner than later. And while it’s hard to learn too much from a YouTube highlight reel, Hayes does some things on the football field that are freakishly good. Watch him block an extra point, steam-rolling his blocker. Get upfield and deflect a pass that turns into a defensive touchdown. He’s a blocker on punt return and an offensive lineman collecting pancakes. All signs that the Irish inked a very productive athlete in a really big body.
The transition from New York high school football to Notre Dame is a pretty rude awakening. But Hayes has a good head on his shoulders — not to mention the boulder-sized chip needed to be a great football player — and it’ll be fun to see him evolve. He could be the type of profile prospect that does a serviceable job throughout his career. Or he’s an early target that the Irish coaching staff unearthed early.
If Hayes is the latter, he’s a much needed building block in the future.
Brian Kelly said it best when he noted that Notre Dame has had a tough time keeping talented defensive linemen on campus for more than four seasons. That’s the type of compliment you want to hear about a young player, and the only shame is that we really didn’t get to see if Hayes was capable of holding his own because he went down against USC with an ankle injury.
Yet with Sheldon Day taking it easy this spring and Jarron Jones out with a healing foot, Hayes took starter reps next to Jerry Tillery, a role both likely relished. That’s a combo that could be in the starting lineup as soon as 2016, with Hayes needing to be the smaller, more disruptive player while Tillery anchors and destroys the line of scrimmage.
Right now, the best thing Hayes has going for him is a coaching staff that believes in him. And we’ll see how prepared he is to make an impact come September.
Hayes will be one of Keith Gilmore’s test cases. The veteran defensive line coach was brought in to get the next wave of players ready along the defensive line, and Hayes certainly fits in that first tier.
At this point, you can’t feel 100-percent positive about Day or Jones until you see them running and fully healthy in fall camp. (That’s the pessimist that doesn’t naturally come out in me.) So if there’s any issue with either of those two, you’ve got to assume that Hayes is going to be the beneficiary—ready or not.
Notre Dame could use a disruptive force along the defensive line, especially with a pass rush all but missing in action last season. Is Hayes that player? I don’t get the feeling he is, though it’s certainly not a prerequisite for a defensive tackle.
Either way, Hayes has the makings of a good one. We’ll find out how good come September.
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
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL