Newest commit Rylie Mills will play wherever on Notre Dame's defensive line

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Rylie Mills spent time at three different positions last season as a high school junior.

Lake Forest (Ill.) High played Notre Dame’s newest commit all across its defensive line in a 3-4 scheme. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder also manned left tackle when needed. What he will play in college is to be determined.

Jerry Tillery once found himself in a similar situation.

Before becoming a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Tillery switched from offensive tackle to defensive tackle at Notre Dame. 247Sports regarded him as its sixth-best offensive tackle. He played for Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian’s offensive and defensive line.

Tillery and Mills do not compare much physically. Tillery departed high school as a 6-6, 310-pounder. The uncertainty regarding Mills’ position, though, compares to that of Tillery out of high school.

The Irish project Mills as a three-technique — Tillery’s former position — and big defensive end. Tom Lemming, a CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst, said Mills proved he could play on the offensive line as well.

“I don’t think he was quite as athletic as Jerry was,” Lemming said. “And he’s not as big as Jerry was coming out of high school. But he has the quick feet, really good use of hands and the kid is really technically sound. Does everything right.

“You could say they compare since they played similar positions.”

247Sports considers Mills its No. 8 strongside defensive end and No. 170 overall player, while Rivals pegs him No. 10 at the position and No. 155 overall. The four-star recruit recorded 37 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and four sacks last season. His future lies on the Irish defensive line.

Mills trains with EFT Football Academy twice per week to sharpen his speed, agility and defensive line skill work. EFT’s head performance coach, Kerry Neal, said Mills’ could develop his build for either spot.

“You look at his frame, he could definitely move at a three-technique,” Neal said. “But he’s got the frame that if they wanted to, they could drop his weight down and run him at defensive end at 265, 270.

“He has the same body type as Jerry Tillery, almost.”

Notre Dame recruited its share of versatile defensive linemen over the years. Hunter Spears and Howard Cross III now know they will play defensive tackle. The Irish once recruited the 2019 signees with defensive end in mind.

Aidan Keanaaina committed to ND’s 2020 class unsure if he would play defensive tackle or nose guard. Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston recently told Keanaaina he wants him at the three-technique. Injuries plagued the position during ND’s spring football.

How Mills’ body develops could determine which spot he fills. The Irish might also need him at one position more than the other due to injuries or roster turnover.

To develop into a quality defensive tackle, Mills must learn to play with a lower pad level and polish his technique. He dwarfs most of his opposing offensive lineman by at least a few inches. Tillery faced the same challenge in high school.

Chuck Spagnoli, Lake Forest’s head football coach, said Mills played 60 percent of his defensive snaps outside, with 40 percent spent inside. Mills must shed some weight while improving his technique and quickness to play big end.

“That size, he’s a big body,” Spagnoli said. “There’s not many of those running around across the country. He’s got great ability for a guy his size in terms of his speed, movement and quickness.”

Mills began working with Neal following his freshman season. Neal also trained Irish wide receiver Micah Jones and cornerback Houston Griffith, along with several former ND players. Neal said Mills’ strength and how he uses his hands are among his best qualities.

Being coachable also helped Mills stand out, Neal said. That quality will remain imperative for Mills as he looks to play at whichever position Elston needs him to play. Or both.

“He wants me to be honest with him,” Neal said. “He’s one of those kids who I can lay into in a positive way. It motivates him to do better. A lot of high school kids can’t really take that hard coaching or criticism.

“He’s one of those kids who asks for that positive feedback. He doesn’t take an offense, it really motivates him.”

Lake Forest (Ill.) High’s Rylie Mills, a 2020 defensive lineman commit, could play big end or defensive tackle at Notre Dame.