Listed Measurements: 6-foot-5 ⅛, 259 pounds
2020-21 year, eligibility: Early-enrolled freshman. Maybe that headstart did not yield the usual on-field rewards, but Mills and the seven other early enrollees still experienced two full months of college classes and weight room work. It’s more than nothing, even amidst all this chaos and uncertainty.
Depth chart: The loss of spring practices may impact Mills’ initial placement more than anyone else’s. The plan for March and April was to cross-train Mills at defensive end and defensive tackle. He would not have been in the two-deep at either position, but given defensive line coach Mike Elston’s preference to rotate players extensively, figuring out where Mills will best contribute would have increased his chances at a few games of playing time.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit and the No. 154 overall prospect in the class, per rivals.com, Mills could have gone to just about any powerhouse in the country. More specifically, defensive -linemen factories Alabama, Clemson and Georgia all pursued him.
In what will be a common refrain for this offseason’s series of player profiles, particularly the eight early-enrollees, the lack of spring practices creates an absence of the usual inventory of the most-pertinent quotes. When it comes to Mills, that stands out almost as much as his length does. That trait undoubtedly played a role in Notre Dame’s interest in him.
“If you can get a really good athlete who has got length, that’s better than just a really good athlete that doesn’t,” Irish recruiting coordinator Brian Polian said in December on what has become the de facto National Signing Day. “… There was a concerted effort this year to, if we have two equal grades on a guy, let’s go with the guy that’s got a little bit more length.”
As it pertained to the defensive line haul as a whole — three four-stars and the most notable example of that length preference in 6-foot-7 end Alexander Ehrensberger — its quality played a part in signing at least one consensus four-star offensive linemen.
“I know there are some new defensive line commits,” tackle Tosh Baker said as he committed days after Mills in May. “Getting after it in practice is going to make the games even easier.”
WHAT WAS SAID WHEN MILLS’ LETTER OF INTENT ARRIVED
“Mills’ size will prove useful, be it at end or at tackle. He has the size to carry more weight, but he has never been slow off the ball. Given how well Notre Dame has developed its defensive linemen in recent years, the best-case scenario should be expected from Mills.”
Given there is no new information since he signed — one practice sans pads does not leave that much of an impression, especially from a freshman acclimating to new surroundings — Mills’ assessment changes only a bit from when he signed. Essentially, Mills should still be expected to play in four games, but they are now even more likely to be four in the latter part of the season.
At that point, he should be adjusted to the level of play, at least enough to spell the upperclassmen for 10-20 snaps per week. If he struggles in the role, working at Pittsburgh, against Duke and at Georgia Tech should be three good chances to rest the leading defensive linemen’s legs.
DOWN THE ROAD
The question of where Mills plays for most of his career hinges more on the direction his weight takes in the next two years. If Mills puts on 10-20 pounds of functional weight, then he could become an inside presence reminiscent of Jarron Jones and Jerry Tillery. If, however, two years of collegiate strength and conditioning leads to Mills slimming down to 240 pounds, that length could work on the exterior a la Ade Ogundeji.
Those are all ambitious projections, but Elston has developed linemen at such a rate and with such consistency the last few years, there is no reason to hedge the potentials of his pupils. Mills should provide another mold in that trend.
There is a clear pecking order at all positions along the defensive line for the next couple seasons. Mills may well become a piece of a rotation, but he has time to develop. A starting honor should not be within his reach any sooner than 2022.
NOTRE DAME 99-TO-2:
#NotreDame AD Jack Swarbrick: “We’ll have enough time, as we get to critical dates down the road, if we need to shift course. But our focus is very much on playing a full season.”
Swarbrick also discusses Dublin, July 1 & pass/fail …https://t.co/rIUf3o5NqQ
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) April 1, 2020