Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, German defensive end

Alexander Ehrensberger

Listed Measurements: 6-foot-6 ⅞, 247 pounds
2020-21 year, eligibility: Early-enrolled freshman. For Ehrensberger, losing these spring practices does not have an immediate impact on his playing time. He is more a prospect of potential, not a pressing contributor.
Depth chart: While Notre Dame will never release a five-deep, that would be how thorough a depth chart would need to be to include Ehrensberger. As much as that reflects the position as an Irish strength, the factual nature to that description illustrates the long-term plans for Ehrensberger overshadowing any 2020 thoughts.
Recruiting: Once Notre Dame identified and offered Ehrensberger, the consensus three-star prospect put a halt to his recruiting. The fourth commit in the Irish class of 2020, he may have been the most secure pledge of the class since his Feb. 1 decision.

Where is he now? The Düsseldorf, Germany, native returned home for spring break after Notre Dame’s first, and only, spring practice. When the coronavirus pandemic prompted widespread European travel restrictions three weeks ago, Ehrensberger made the decision not to rush to an airport and fly back Stateside, instead remaining with family.

As the South Bend Tribune pointed out, “Had he been en route to South Bend as Notre Dame suspended all football-related activities, and had the university not established a system that included accommodating these international situations, Ehrensberger could have been looking for a place to stay in the United States.

“Would Ehrensberger need to find lodging off campus? Would he have to stay with a teammate? An Irish coach with NCAA permission?”

A rarely-recognized restraint of recruiting is the literal time requirement. Evaluating hundreds of prospects and then wooing a hundred of them to secure signatures from a couple dozen takes time. A massive part of that — as has been discussed ad nauseam the past few months — is in the air, waiting at airports and idling at baggage claims. And that’s just when flying domestic. Heading to Germany not only includes nights above the Atlantic for defensive line coach Mike Elston, but also customs.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame saw reason to invest that time in chasing Ehrensberger, a testament to what the coaching staff thought of him before he even committed.

“Two things, length and his ability to change direction, so where that end product would be,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December on what has become the de facto National Signing Day. “You’ve seen the development of our defensive line, where it came in and where it is. We want to continue to look toward that model where those guys can be looked at as elite players as they develop.

“We can see him as an elite player as he develops in the program. So for us to invest all of that time, we have to be able to see him develop in our program as an elite player down the road. And to do that, you have to have elite traits early on. It can’t be 6’1” and somebody that can’t stand out in a crowd. And 6’7” with really good foot agility and quickness, that stands out early on.”

“Ehrensberger has all the marks of raw potential. His frame will hold more weight and muscle, his length will become an asset once he learns how to best utilize it, and his pass-rush skills already include a few fundamentals. He can start working on each of those thoughts in January as an early enrollee.”

Notre Dame signed Ehrensberger with 2023 and 2024 in mind, not 2020. Maybe that comes across as blunt, but remember Kelly said “develop” four times when discussing Ehrensberger in December, and even mentioned the name of the next section …

In eight months, this may come across as outrageously ambitious, but for now, the framework holds up. Irish fifth-year end Ade Ogundeji is 2 ½ inches shorter than Ehrensberger, but his length is nonetheless one of his key attributes. Furthermore, he was a lightly-regarded recruit back in 2015, a Western Michigan commit before Notre Dame saw his potential.

In his first two seasons, Ogundeji appeared in five games and that was the extent of his statistics. When the Irish ran the table to reach the College Football Playoff, Ogundeji became the fourth of four contributing ends, making 22 tackles in 13 games with three for loss.

Ehrensberger should strive for a similar progression. If in 2022 he backs up Isaiah Foskey and gets into the opposing backfield a few times, it will be a sign of even more to come in 2023 and 2024.

No. 99 Rylie Mills, early-enrolled freshman defensive lineman