Irish A-to-Z: Isaac Rochell

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When last summer’s never-ending academic investigation froze Ishaq Williams’ football career, the next man on the defensive end depth chart was Isaac Rochell. After a mostly anonymous freshman season, counting on Rochell to be a starter looked like a stretch that exacerbated the Irish’s roster inefficiencies at defensive end.

But instead, Rochell turned in the best season of any player on the Irish defensive line. The Georgia native stayed healthy, was productive behind the line of scrimmage and proved himself to be up to any task that was thrown at him, adding another promising piece to a front four that looks to have added another frontline starter to a pair of defensive tackles.

After an impressive sophomore season, let’s take a look at what Rochell has planned for an encore.

 

ISAAC ROCHELL
6’3.5″, 287 lbs.
Junior, No. 90, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

He wasn’t viewed through the same lens as Stephon Tuitt, but Rochell left the state of Georgia as a first-team All-State player, turning down offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and several others to head to South Bend. Not too shabby.

A Top 150 prospect, Rochell looked a little bit like a tweener between a defensive tackle and end, but that didn’t stop Brian Kelly from keying in on him during his Signing Day press conference, the first time he talked about his impressive upside.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, making a total of 10 tackles. Rochell also forced a fumble. He made four tackles against Air Force.

Sophomore Season (2014): Started in all 13 games for the Irish, one of just three defensive players to do so. He made 39 tackles, tying for second on the team with 7.5 TFLs, including 2.5 sacks. He also had 10 quarterback hurries and blocked a field goal.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Maybe we should’ve taken Brian Kelly’s preseason comments calling Rochell “a beast” more seriously. I underestimated his ability to hold up at defensive end.

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.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Overlook Rochell if you want. But I can guarantee you opposing offensive coordinators won’t do it. That’s because the rising junior looks poised to be one of the breakout stars of the Irish, a 290-plus pound defensive end who can wreak havoc as an interior pass rusher while also showing enough speed off the edge to do well as a strong-side end, as well.

Rochell went viral with his steamrolling of Stanford All-American Andrus Peat. And his 10 quarterback hurries are a sign that his pass rush skills are almost where the Irish need them to be, a crucial development when you look at where the Irish defense needs to be this season.

We spend a lot of time talking about Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, wondering about their NFL future. I expect this season to end with Rochell fitting into a similar discussion, an impressive trajectory for a third-year player.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I see Rochell breaking through and going for double-digit TFLs in 2015. Part of that is the fact that he’s still at a position where he’s clearly better than any other option, and the other part is the versatility that exists in Rochell’s game—the capability of being a three-down player.

We still don’t know the fate of Ishaq Williams, going through an NCAA petition process that’ll decide if he’s able to play football in 2015 or not. But even if Williams comes back, it might only be to spell Rochell, who deserves to stay on the field as long as he can.

Working with defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the new Irish assistant will know very quickly that he has a special player. And if Rochell is able to ramp up his productivity as a pass rusher, he’s got the chance to break loose just like Stephon Tuitt did in his sophomore 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
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
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR