Seven of Notre Dame’s 27 recruits in the class of 2018 enrolled early. Their jersey numbers are known. The other 20 are not. For the purposes of this summer series, those 20 become educated guesses. The numbers hardly matter at this point, as the real intention is to simply take a look at each player.
For context, placing incoming freshman defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin at No. 93 immediately after sophomore defensive tackle Darnell Ewell adds to the conversation. The two may compete for playing time this fall. Furthermore, no one on the Irish roster currently wears 93, making it a plausible fit for Franklin.
Ja’Mion Franklin probably will not wear No. 93, but it is possible, and it is certainly more likely than No. 16 or No. 32, both of which are also unclaimed.
Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Freshman yet to enroll.
Depth chart: Fifth-year Jonathan Bonner will start at nose tackle, and sophomore Kurt Hinish will back him up, possibly taking more snaps than expected if Bonner’s injured wrist limits his offseason conditioning. After that, opportunity exists for Franklin, competing with Ewell for mop-up moments.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star, Franklin was rated the No. 34 defensive tackle in the class of 2018 by rivals.com. He chose Notre Dame over finalists Wisconsin and nearby Virginia and Virginia Tech, being from Maryland himself. As that is ACC territory, it is not surprising more than half the conference extended offers to Franklin.
OFF THE FIELD
In recruiting day praise of Franklin, Irish coaches focused on two aspects of Franklin’s profile: His ability to shed blocks thanks to quick hands and an explosive first step, as well as his general demeanor and personality. Franklin’s father was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in the fall, yet Franklin continued to excel in his senior season while handling a myriad of familial duties. In mid-January, he donated stem cells to help his father combat the effects of chemotherapy.
“He’s been dealing with the mental part of it with his family,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said on National Signing Day. “He’s shown that mental toughness, and he has the physical toughness.
“… I wanted to add toughness. We’ve been able to change the culture of the defensive line. We’re not there yet, obviously, but we’re changing that culture. Identifying Ja’Mion very early as a guy that is going to add to that and improve that with an aggressiveness and a toughness, he was a marquee get for us because of that.”
An agile 300-pounder is usually a top-flight recruit. Franklin, though, bounced back-and-forth between two high schools and was not in a recruiting hotbed. To some extent, he flew below the national radar, to Notre Dame’s benefit.
“Not a big spotlight on a young man like that, but [he] had the traits,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in February. “Explosive first step, a guy that’s hard to block, is always coming up with tackles for a loss.
“I think there’s always circumstances as to why maybe they’re not as high a profile, and I think that we strictly try to work on their fit athletically and their fit culturally here at Notre Dame.”
During December’s early signing period, Kelly focused on Franklin’s quickness and agility, skills partly-honed on the basketball court as the post mainstay of a state runner-up team this spring.
“Ja’Mion has the ability to play [nose tackle] for us,” Kelly said. “He has that ability to lockout, hold the point, but also that quickness at the position. He’s going to be a 300-plus [pounds] player at that position where you’ve got to have the ability to hold the point in there.”
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN FRANKLIN’S NATIONAL LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Franklin’s abilities may shine through more in stopping the run than in pursuing the quarterback. His frame carries his 300 pounds without trouble, a prototypical mound in the middle.
“… Along with [sophomore] Darnell Ewell, Franklin is one of few true defensive tackles on the Irish roster. That is not the case just because he breaks 300 pounds. Rather, Franklin’s ability to consume blocks is only rivaled by his hands’ ability to shed individual offensive linemen. Before long, that is likely to move him up the depth chart to a consistent role.”
Last year’s emergence of Hinish reduces the need for Franklin to burn a season of eligibility this year, no matter how Ewell progresses over the summer. Bonner’s wrist ailment, however, may mitigate that leeway.
If that or any other injury limits Bonner (or Hinish), Franklin will almost certainly be plugged in as quickly as Ewell is. They are, at worst, equally unproven. Franklin’s strong hands and block-shedding ability could elevate him over the yet-to-impress Ewell.
If the top two in the depth chart remain healthy, Franklin is more likely to remain sidelined, letting Ewell handle garbage time duties while the freshman preserves a year and improves his overall fitness.
DOWN THE ROAD
Franklin’s highlights show an adeptness at stopping the run and holding the point of attack, otherwise known as the primary duties of a nose tackle. He should remain there for the long haul. With Bonner gone after this season, Franklin stands behind only Hinish in the depth chart moving forward, on equal footing with Ewell.
Franklin’s chance at bypassing Hinish will be foreshadowed from the outset by how time in a collegiate strength and conditioning program transforms his body. If Franklin becomes 300-plus pounds of mostly muscle, he could offer more of a defensive focal point than the 292-pound Hinish does, especially if Franklin’s nimble feet continue to match Hinish’s.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore