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Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM PRESEASON 2022 31 BY PATRICK ENGEL A l Golden entered his first pre- season camp as Notre Dame de- fensive coordinator without too much uncertainty at the top of the depth chart. The Irish have just a couple starting spots that need settling. The free safety spot next to Brandon Joseph has several competitors, with graduate student DJ Brown the frontrunner over graduate stu- dent Houston Griffith and junior Ramon Henderson. Head coach Marcus Freeman is leaving the door open, though. "DJ and Houston are still battling," Freeman said. "Ramon is having a good camp. [Junior] Xavier Watts is having a good camp." At Mike linebacker, senior JD Bertrand and graduate student Bo Bauer will both play, though their exact roles still need sorting out. The most likely outcome there feels like Bertrand starting with Bauer re- placing him in sub packages and on third downs. In a mild surprise, the nose tackle spot might rotate between seniors Howard Cross III and Jacob Lacey, with the starter potentially varying by the week. IRISH COULD GET CREATIVE WITH CROSS Notre Dame's gain of defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola for a graduate season was Cross' loss. On an individual level, at least. If Ademilola had moved on to the pros after a breakthrough 2021, Cross would have been the heavy favorite to replace him as the primary three-technique de- fensive tackle. He planted himself in the interior line rotation the past two sea- sons with consistent disruption. He im- pressed as a starter in two 2021 games. His first-step quickness and "violent hands" — as Ademilola called them last fall — were hard to miss. Ademilola's return, though, closed off one starting spot for Cross. Not just any spot. The three-technique tackle posi- tion where he said he feels most com- fortable. Ademilola coming back meant Cross had to stay at nose tackle — where he played last season — or wait until his graduate year in 2023 to start. Turns out, Cross' 2022 reality might be a bit of both. That's his understanding after working at nose tackle and three- technique so far in preseason practice, rotating with Lacey. The assignment for him and Lacey might change by the week. Start at nose tackle one game, rotate as the No. 2 three-technique the next. "From what I've gathered and what I known, depending on who we play, it's me and Jacob intertwined," Cross said. "For right now, I think Jacob is going to be at nose and mainly me at D-tackle, but we can switch either way." Irish defensive line coach Al Wash- ington sees it possibly playing out the same way. "That could be week to week, it's hard to say," Washington said. "Both those guys are getting work at both [posi- tions]. That could be something that happens, for sure." Washington has worked them at mul- tiple spots to make his interior line as versatile as possible. Cross and Lacey aren't alone in that. Harvard graduate transfer Chris Smith, Notre Dame's big- gest lineman (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) is likely to see time as a nose guard and defensive tackle as well. Senior Howard Cross III is expected to see playing time at both at nose tackle and three-technique this season. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER FINAL STAGES Notre Dame's defense began camp with many of its key pieces already known

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