MTA activated: Tagovailoa-Amosa applying what he learned from DT Jerry Tillery

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa spent this past year as an astute observer.

As a sophomore last season, Tagovailoa-Amosa watched almost all of ND’s 12-0 regular season run from the sidelines. He suffered a broken foot in the first quarter of the season opener against Michigan.

Tagovailoa-Amosa returned for the finale against Clemson, but not before enduring the Navy game. His older brother, Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa, drew his second career start at left tackle for the Midshipmen.

Myron missed the chance to face him a final time.

“That Navy game, I saw my family in the stands while I’m in a boot,” Myron said. “I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could be out there.’”

Now a junior, Tagovailoa-Amosa observed more this offseason but in a positive manner. He looked to improve his pass-rushing abilities after not recording a sack through his first 15 games. So the Kapolei (Hawaii) High product aimed to learn from the best, studying the likes of last year’s starting defensive tackle, Jerry Tillery, and ND’s standout defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem.

Tillery landed with the Los Angeles Chargers, who drafted him 28th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Tagovailoa-Amosa scoured the four seasons of film on Tillery. His team-best eight sacks last season — along with 30 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, five hurries and three forced fumbles — helped lift him to All-American recognition.

Defensive ends Kareem and Okwara were two of seven Irish players named as team captains. In the months leading up to their captaincy admittance, Tagovailoa-Amosa took notes from his observations of the two seniors.

“Coming out of spring ball, I felt that my run (defense) was good,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “It still needs improvement, but I think the biggest improvement I needed to make was pass rushing. If I wanted to be running with the 1s, I needed to perfect my pass rushing.”

Defensive line coach Mike Elston’s decision to run Tagovailoa-Amosa with the 1s has not wavered. He will line up opposite of starting nose guard Kurt Hinish for the Sept. 2 opener at Louisville and onward. The Irish plan to rotate backups Jayson Ademilola and Howard Cross III with Tagovailoa-Amosa a decent amount.

Pressuring the quarterback has been a focus for all three players.

“That’s what we’re spending a lot of time on,” said Elston, “is just making sure all of those young guys get the chance to get in the game can get on the edge and break down the protection of a guard and get pressure on the quarterback. He’s been working on that and that’s where we want to see he and the rest of the guys make that next step.”

Tagovailoa-Amosa is not foreign to high-leverage situations. He saw the field on critical plays as a freshman, seeing action in all 13 games and recording 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. He registered two tackles in 2018.

The bigger workload rather than the work itself will be the adjustment.

“Myron’s healthy,” Elston said. “He’s great. He’s coming on. He needs snaps in the game. He’s done a really nice job in practice and his next step, his next development, is going to be getting game snaps. Which he already has. But getting six, seven, 800 snaps in a season to sharpen the axe, as coach (Brian) Kelly says.”

Studying the 6-7, 305-pound Tillery might seem like a perplexing decision for a lineman standing four inches shorter than him. Tagovailoa-Amosa also watched film of five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams. Reflecting his game is a different animal.

What Tagovailoa-Amosa looked for, though, can be found in any elite defensive lineman. The get-off as the ball snaps, the footwork, the hand swiping — these were all attributes Tagovailoa-Amosa noted. The differences in style and size didn’t matter.

“When it comes to pass rushing, I feel like being lower is what’s going to help you more,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “Jerry is a tall dude, but for pass rushing he always had a low pad level. Anyone in football will tell you that it’s not about the size of the person; it’s all about the fight in the dog.

“If you want to make that sack, then you’ve got to use your techniques quicker and just go.”

An assessment of Tagovailoa-Amosa’s progress would be premature. In the eight preseason practices observed by the media this month, defenders were not permitted to tackle the quarterback. Rarely were they permitted to bring running backs to the ground.

But he looks healthy, moves well and doesn’t seem out of shape. Though Tagovailoa-Amosa looks to fill the void left by Tillery, it might not be as gaping as previously thought. Okwara and Kareem figure to attract plenty of attention from opposing offensive linemen.

Lightening their load with a respectable pass rush of his own is the goal for Tagovailoa-Amosa. Now it’s time to apply what he studied to the field.

“When you are hurt, sometimes you are going to have those selfish moments where you pull yourself aside like, ‘Man, I want to be out there,’” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “You self-pity yourself, but I had to get out of that mindset.

“This whole offseason working with them from spring ball to the summer, it has been a great opportunity to grow and become healthy.”

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (95) looks on at the start of Notre Dame football practice at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, August 17.
Notre Dame’s Jayson Ademilola and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, right, run drills during practice Wednesday at the Irish Athletic Center.