Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2 ½, 286 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: Junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: With Jerry Tillery gone to the NFL, Tagovailoa-Amosa (above, right) will be the likely starter at the three-technique tackle, a position where penetration and disruption are expected. Sophomore Jayson Ademilola backs up Tagovailoa-Amosa.
Recruiting: Considered a three-star prospect by rivals.com, Tagovailoa-Amosa was one of the late additions in the class of 2017, following the 4-8 debacle in 2016. Of the three to commit on that National Signing Day — Tagovailoa-Amosa’s recruitment delayed partly due to island prep scheduling — Tagovailoa-Amosa and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could both end up 2019 defensive linchpins.
CAREER TO DATE
As a freshman, Tagovailoa-Amosa impressed with 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, appearing in all 13 games. His ability to provide genuine contributions as only a freshman offered the Irish much-needed defensive interior depth.
Notre Dame anticipated that same contribution, in even greater quantities, in 2018. Instead, Tagovailoa-Amosa broke his right foot in the season opener before he logged a single tackle.
Such an injury was part of the logic behind the NCAA’s increased leniency regarding years preserving eligibility. In the prior system, Tagovailoa-Amosa would have been ruled out for the entire season as soon as he broke the foot, no matter the expected recovery time, thus guaranteeing him a medical redshirt. Nowadays, Irish head coach Brian Kelly could immediately hope for a late-season return from Tagovailoa-Amosa, which he made in the Cotton Bowl.
Tagovailoa-Amosa was one of the healthier defensive tackles this spring, despite presumably protecting that foot. Sophomore Ja’Mion Franklin remained on the sideline due to a torn quad in the fall and early-enrolled freshman Hunter Spears worked his way back from a torn ACL. With their statuses in question for the 2019 season, the remaining healthy options were frequently lumped together.
“We have three really good ones in [junior Kurt Hinish], Tagovailoa and Ademilola,” Kelly said before spring practice began. “… There’s three guys right there, and maybe one of those freshmen — Jacob Lacey looks good right now. I think he’s ready to play early on.”
WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“There is no question of Tagovailoa-Amosa’s place in the defensive scheme. Few, if any, defensive tackles take every snap of a game, and Tillery will be no exception. Tagovailoa-Amosa should ably pick up that slack, be it 15 or 30 snaps per game. That workload ought to lead to an uptick in his stats, but that will not be the metric of success for Tagovailoa-Amosa’s sophomore season. Rather, his ability to keep offenses on their toes in Tillery’s stead will determine how often Tagovailoa-Amosa can be leaned on and how fresh he can keep Tillery.
“The necessity and impact of that depth should not be underestimated. More than capable defensive line backups are what distinguish great college football teams from very good ones.
“… Even if either incoming freshman tackle Jayson Ademilola or Ja’Mion Franklin makes great leaps immediately, it is unlikely a freshman defensive lineman shows up ready to make an impact from the outset two years in a row. Thus, Tagovailoa-Amosa will be primed to start in 2019 and lead the way on the defensive interior for two seasons.”
Losing 2018 lowers expectations for Tagovailoa-Amosa entering 2019, but the necessity of his success remains vital for Notre Dame’s defense. Even if he does not approach Tillery’s numbers from last season — 30 tackles with 10.5 for loss, including eight sacks — Tagovailoa-Amosa will need to cause some mayhem to complement the dangerous Irish ends.
Notre Dame’s most-lethal defensive fronts in 2018 featured Tillery along with three ends, all four threatening the quarterback. If Tagovailoa-Amosa cannot match that, he may lose the role to Ademilola. Defensive coordinator Clark Lea would assuredly prefer the two split snaps relatively equally, both in quantity and in quality.
DOWN THE ROAD
Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ademilola are now equal in eligibility terms. On the one hand, that works against the elder of the two, as he does not have the experience advantage. On the other, splitting snaps in the middle should increase effectiveness.
A solid two-deep at defensive line is an absolute requirement for the Irish to remain in Playoff contention. Reaching the Cotton Bowl last season while leaning so heavily on Tillery was a minor miracle in its own right. (Thank Notre Dame’s schedule for that.) Kelly and Lea would much rather look at Tagovailoa-Amosa and Ademilola as 1A and 1B moving forward.
NOTRE DAME 99-to-2: