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Counting Down the Irish: 25 to 21, Notre Dame’s defensive reserves crack the rankings

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Once you notice the first name in this year’s “Counting Down the Irish” is one of Notre Dame’s backup defensive tackles, you will presume both starters are also in the top 25. Spoiler alert: They are.. To put that into context, the lesser of last year’s two starters, Jonathan Bonner, ranked No. 25. (Jerry Tillery was slotted, appropriately at No. 2.)

There are two ways to view a third player at a position of two still cracking a projection of this season’s most-impactful players. Either it is a compliment to that backup or it reflects a lack of faith in the two starters. Both are probably in play to some degree at defensive tackle, but when a backup defensive end shows up one spot further into the ranking, it is solely meant as a compliment to that player.

RELATED READING: Others Receiving Votes

As always, thank you to the 13 Irish media members who took the time to rank the top-quarter of Notre Dame’s roster …

25: Jayson Ademilola, sophomore defensive tackle, 30 points
High ranking: No. 18
Low ranking: No. 24
Six ballots total (out of 13)

Anytime a team loses both starters at an interior position, there is cause for concern. If the Irish are going to survive that natural cycle this season and successfully navigate not returning a single start from a defensive tackle, Ademilola (pictured at top) will play a key role.

“[Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish] can’t play the whole game,” head coach Brian Kelly said Friday. “We’re aware of that. So some younger guys are going to have to step up and give us some quality playing time at that position, and we’re pretty confident that somebody’s going to be able to do that.”

Ademilola is not the only option — sophomore Ja’Mion Franklin and early-enrolled freshman Hunter Spears are both steadily recovering from injury, early-enrolled freshman Jacob Lacey  impressed in the spring, and freshman Howard Cross may cross-train at both end and tackle — but Ademilola is the only option with a tackle to his name.

In 12 games last year, he made 19 tackles. Although in a different role than Hinish’s, it should be noted Ademilola had six more tackles than the presumed starter. He will get plenty of playing time this season, and Notre Dame needs him to handle it with aplomb.

Ade Ogundeji (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

24: Ade Ogundeji, senior defensive end, 37 points
High ranking: No. 17
Low ranking: No. 24
Six ballots total

Granted, at least two defensive ends are on the field at a time, but it is still notable Ogundeji is considered No. 4 in a pecking order of the Irish ends and still breaches these rankings. If he finishes the season this low among Notre Dame’s impacting players, it will be more about those other three ends than about him. There are only so many snaps and chances to chase the quarterback.

But when he gets his chances, Ogundeji has proven tenacious in getting into the opposing backfield. Will he have thaӓt many more tackles for loss than his three in 2018? Perhaps not, but any team would be happy to have an end the quality of Ogundeji as its fourth horse.

23: Shaun Crawford, fifth-year defensive back, 38 points
High ranking: No. 15
Low ranking: No. 22
Five ballots total
Last year: No. 16

If media members had seen Crawford practice in the last 11 months, his ranking would have drastically skewed in one direction or the other. Either he still has the quickness and agility that made him the consummate defensive play-marker, or three season-ending injuries have robbed Crawford of his greatest assets. There is really no way to know or even properly speculate until he is watched in a few contact sessions.

The Irish expect Crawford to return in form, but such optimism is standard protocol in August.

“He had a great summer and (is) cleared to do everything for us and will be poised to make an impact for us,” Kelly said.

Five Notre Dame beat writers hedged their bets, while eight others opted to wait until they could see it to believe it when it comes to Crawford.

Tony Jones (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

22: Tony Jones, senior running back, 43 points
High ranking: No. 11
Low ranking: No. 24
Eight ballots total
Last year: No. 17

At some point, the backup running back has to carry the load. It is inevitable. The questions then become, will junior Jafar Armstrong get banged up early in the season or late, and how severely? If early, Jones could become the fulcrum of the Irish offense.

Even if that does not occur, he has proven himself reliable in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system. He had 549 total yards last year, including 51 on the touchdown that sent Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff. Nearly every time he caught a pass out of the backfield, the Irish moved the chains. (Six catches, five first downs, including one touchdown.)

Jones may not be viewed as the focus of Notre Dame’s offense, but he is a form of lubricant that keeps things running smoothly, and that is vital in an era when averaging more than 30 points per game is not necessarily high-octane enough.

21: Michael Young, junior receiver, 74 points
High ranking: No. 15
Low ranking: No. 24
12 ballots total

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Irish offense needs to dial up the production this season if it wants to find the Playoff once again, or even a Playoff-access bowl. It will need to push to a Kelly-era high in scoring, a mark currently set at 34.2 points per game.

To reach those heights, it seems safe to presume every starting receiver will be a part of it. Unless a sophomore excels this month, Young should be the starter on the wide (field) boundary, where his speed will always threaten to take the back off the secondary.

The voters:
Mike Berardino, Indianapolis Star
Michael Bryan, 18 Stripes
Bryan Driskell, Blue & Gold Illustrated
Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily
Ellen Geyer, The Observer
Tyler James, South Bend Tribune
Jack Leniart, Slap the Sign
Marek Mazurek, Fighting Irish Wire
Tim O’Malley, Irish Illustrated
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons
Pete Sampson, The Athletic
John Vannie, ND Nation
Josh Vowles, One Foot Down