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Needed tackle depth keys Notre Dame’s defensive commits

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If there is a concern about Notre Dame’s defense moving forward, it stems from losing both starting defensive tackles and both starting inside linebackers after this season. The prospects who signed Wednesday are not likely to be the ones changing that, but it should be noted both consensus four-star defensive tackles will enroll in January, giving them a decent chance at being ready to contribute when the Irish head to Louisville on Sept. 2.

Even if that does not come to fruition, Hunter Spears and Jacob Lacey very well may be able to handle 12-15 snaps once Notre Dame gets to October, filling a role similar to Jayson Ademilola’s this season (and presumably how Ja’Mion Franklin may have fit if not for a quad injury in September). The Irish will not be able to replace Jerry Tillery with one player, but Wednesday’s haul may have yielded a piece or two of filling that hole with many parts.

Landing four linebackers may not have the same effect stepping into the void left by Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill, but they should prevent such a vacuum emerging down the line.

LINEBACKERS
J.D. Bertrand: Blessed Trinity High School; Roswell, Ga.
Measurements: 6’1”, 210 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 17 inside linebacker, per rivals.com, and the No. 36 prospect in Georgia.
Brian Polian’s take: Polian would not confirm Bertrand received a scholarship, as it is a bit of an odd situation where his commitment to Georgia came apart late in the process. In time this may not matter, but for now, Polian simply spoke highly of landing another linebacker.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have him be a part of our class and our family. I know that the scholarship count through the spring and summer becomes a really popular topic in the social media world. … I will tell you this, J.D. Bertrand’s recruitment took a long and winding path for a Georgia kid to be committed in-state to Georgia and then that relationship, for whatever reason, doesn’t end the way they wanted it to, for his recruitment to go from 0-to-60 in a heartbeat. I’m just grateful that young man is a part of our family.”

Osita Ekwonu: Providence H.S.; Charlotte, N.C.
Measurements: 6’2”, 215 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 12 inside linebacker, per rivals.com, the No. 10 prospect in North Carolina and No. 228 in the country.

Marist Liufau: Punahou; Honolulu.
Measurements: 6’3”, 200 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star; No. 32 outside linebacker, per rivals.com, and the No. 6 prospect in Hawaii.
Brian Kelly’s take: “Here is another young man that just fits our university, and we love his upside. He’s a guy that’s going to develop. He’s not ready to come in and start, but he is a guy that is going to develop into a great player here. … We’ve had really good success with everybody that has come from the islands here and been really good players for us. So why wouldn’t we continue to move in that direction?”

Jack Kiser: Pioneer; Royal Center, Ind.
Measurements: 6’2”, 210 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star; the No. 15 prospect in Indiana, per rivals.com.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Howard Cross: St. Joseph’s; Montvale, N.J.
Measurements: 6’2”, 245 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 27 defensive end, per rivals.com, and the No. 8 prospect in New Jersey.
Polian’s take: “Howard Cross can be a good defensive end that when it becomes third-and-long you can kick inside and now it becomes a mismatch on a guard one-on-one pass rushing. I think we’re always looking for those types of players that can offer that type of flexibility.”

NaNa Osafo-Mensah: Nolan Catholic; Fort Worth, Texas.
Measurements: 6’4”, 220 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star All-American; No. 9 defensive end, per rivals.com, the No. 24 prospect in Texas and No. 200 overall.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Hunter Spears: Sachse; Texas.
Measurements: 6’5”, 260 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 33 defensive end, per rivals.com, and the No. 49 prospect in Texas.

Jacob Lacey: South Warren; Bowling Green, Ky. (pictured above)
Measurements: 6’2”, 290 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 21 defensive tackle, per rivals.com, and the No. 8 prospect in Kentucky.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Litchfield Ajavon: Episcopal; Alexandria, Va.
Measurements: 6’0”, 185 lbs.
Rankings: A rivals.com four-star, the No. 5 safety, No. 3 prospect in Virginia and No. 87 overall.
Polian’s take: “He’s a really unique, terrific young man. (Safeties coach) Terry Joseph and I were laughing this morning when we FaceTimed with Litchfield after he finished his paperwork. Big smile on his face. The energy, 7:15 in the morning, for a high schooler walking around with a vintage Notre Dame sweatshirt.”

Kyle Hamilton: Marist; Atlanta.
Measurements: 6’3”, 185 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star All-American; No. 8 safety, per rivals.com, the No. 9 prospect in Georgia and No. 97 overall.
Kelly’s take: “We really, really love the way he played the game. Since that time, he’s obviously had a great senior year. Terry Joseph did a great job in the process of watching him play other sports and basketball. Really loved his ability to move on the floor.”

Isaiah Rutherford: Jesuit; Carmichael, Calif.
Measurements: 6’1”, 170 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star; No. 10 cornerback, per rivals.com, the No. 15 prospect in California and No. 101 overall.

KJ Wallace: Lovett; Atlanta.
Measurements: 5’10”, 187 lbs.
Rankings: A rivals.com three-star, the No. 59 cornerback and No. 46 prospect in Georgia.