Notre Dame adds defensive tackle depth via Harvard graduate transfer

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Only a few weeks after losing rising junior defensive tackle Aidan Keanaaina for the 2022 season to an ACL tear, Notre Dame added some interior depth with the transfer of Harvard graduate Chris Smith.

Smith was set to transfer to Minnesota, committing there in January, but a visit to South Bend this past weekend changed his mind. He was named first-team All-Ivy League in 2021 after recording 40 tackles with five for loss including 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 10 games. In Harvard’s biggest game of the season, Smith made six tackles against Yale to end the season, his second-highest tally of the season. (Full disclosure: This writer was cheering for Yale.)

At 6-foot-2 and a shade under 300 pounds, Smith may appear undersized to hold up at the next level of college football, but he sheds his first block quickly with clean hand action. He is disciplined in his pursuit of a quarterback, and on running plays, Smith absorbs his block, allowing the linebackers to track down the ball carrier.

Smith will not start at Notre Dame, not with fifth-year Jayson Ademilola (out for the spring after shoulder surgery in the winter) and rising senior Jacob Lacey leading the way, not to mention rising senior Howard Cross as the likely first man off the bench. But Smith should join rising sophomore Gabriel Rubio as the key depth pieces in Keanaaina’s absence.

Junior Rylie Mills could also be an option, but he may see more time at defensive end, at which point only sophomore Jason Onye and incoming freshman Donovan Hinish can add further depth for the Irish.

Hence, the importance of Smith’s transfer. Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman may have downplayed this need last week, but even he acknowledged, “If there’s the right fit to come here and help our team, we’ll look for it.”

Adding any transfer can be difficult for Notre Dame, as exhibited by the brief delay in bringing in Northwestern safety Brandon Joseph in January, but a graduate transfer from an Ivy League program will never have trouble in that regard.