When you have a mission of commitment to defense, this is the way the world works.
When you have a clear scheme, clear player size and character profiles, and recruit to those profiles, this is the way the world works.
When you balance recruiting horizontally across the depth chart and vertically across the classes, this is the way the world works.
When you develop players physically, and in their position and group skills, this is the way the world works.
Remember our three disclaimers from the article about the offensive depth chart:
(1) changes will occur due to injury, attrition or otherwise
(2) recruits listed at press time may change
(3) frosh, as the team matures, will contribute less, with one notable exception for the 2013 defense (so far!)
Losses from the 2012 defense approach an all time low. We may never have this many returning contributors (measured by career minutes played) for a decade or so, so enjoy this 2013 defense while it lasts. Further with the offensive improvement,this year’s defense will not have to “protect” the offense.
RETURNING STARTERS: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
TOP RETURNING SUB: Sheldon Day
OTHER KEY SUBS: Tony Springman and Kona Schwenke
FROM INJURY: Chase Hounshell
REDSHIRT FROSH: Jarron Jones
INCOMING FROSH: Isaac Rochell, Jacob Matuska (so far!)
SQUADMAN: Juston Utopu
Nix and Tuitt alone could wreak havoc on most offenses. Most of the OLs we play will have difficulty handling either player one one one, with the possible exception of the magnificent Taylor Lewan of Michigan. But Day, clever and with great technique beyond his years in 2012, will be ready to step in and start. And this defensive coaching staff is deft and resolute about deploying their depth. Hounshell was no gimmee as a frosh, and Elston raved about his readiness to contribute before the injury hit. Springman and Schwenke are a notch below the starters, but they were solid last year, even while Springman was in his first year of varsity participation. And then there is Jarron Jones. Because of the depth being built on this team, he was not forced into action last year, despite getting a lot of good reviews in pre-Fall and during the season. With Florida losing Sharif Floyd to early entry, and LSU losing Mingo, Montgomery and Bennie Logan to early entry, Notre Dame’s should be the strongest defensive line in America. Of the top 7 only Nix and Day are shorter than 6’4″ and Nix compensates for that in both circumference and total surface area. It appears that the freshmen can be redshirted. This DL’s strong suit is stopping the run, and they can improve their pass-rushing skills.
LONGO project: Louis Nix. Imagine how unblockable he would be if he lost 20 points while
he was converting another 15-20 to useful muscle mass.
RETURNING STARTERS: Danny Spond, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo
KEY SUBS: Ben Councell, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, Ishaq Williams
OTHER SUBS: Romeo Okwara, Kendall Moore, Anthony Rabasa
INCOMING FROSH: Jaylon Smith, Michael Deeb, Doug Randolph
This unit made a major leap forward, not unusual as players like Spond and Shembo were entering their third year. Player development may have been most palpable in Spond, Fox and Shembo, at least during calendar 2012. Grace showed why Diaco had labeled him “a werewolf.” He plays with violence and darkness in his heart. With the returnees, you’d expect we have enough. But make no mistake. Jaylon Smith is going to play, somewhere, some how, some way, and it won’t just be on special teams. He is remarkably athletic and is mature both physically and emotionally. This unit does not have the potential first round draft choices as the DL does in Nix and Tuitt, but it is experienced and deep. You’d like to see Ishaq and Councell take some minutes away from Spond and Shembo, and it is their third year. Ishaq is the one whose development, even by improving as much as Spond and Shembo did in 2012, could push this unit upward. It’s at least one of the ten best linebacking corps in America. At least.
LONGO Project: Ben Councell. Admitted he struggled with Niklas last year, and that’s why you get better when you have great players on both sides of the ball. If, with his speed, he can bulk up to be more competitive against Niklas, then he’ll be just fine with any other team we play, including whatever gargoyles Stanford will roll out to replace Ertz and Tuilolo. At least outside of the SEC, there is not a better front seven in the country.
Remember the Spring of 2012, when we were worried about replacing Blanton, Gray and Harrison Smith?
Remember when Collinsworth got hurt last Spring?
Remember when Lo Wood got hurt last September and went out for the year?
Remember when Slaughter went down and went out for the year?
Remember worrying about Landry Jones and Matt Barkley on the road, Denard Robinson at home, Stephen Morris in Soldier Field?
Honestly, we were in dire straits, and it was not merely normal Irish paranoia. But the kids responded, Motta led, and the coaches kept it all together. BUT DON’T FORGET THIS: Diaco was clear that he had to adjust some things to compensate for the youngsters in the secondary. That was then. 2013 is NOW!
One of the roster’s most intriguing players is in this segment. Elijah Shumate. Thought to be a surefire safety candidate he helped fill the gap at cornerback, and, despite just beginning in mid-August, was very effective. Elijah finished tied for 4th in Passes Broken Up. He’s fast and has great ball skills, and where he winds up will be an interesting aspect of Spring. One other thing, it is usually when the bulk of a unit’s players reach their third year that a unit fully blossoms. Because so many of the key secondary parts are still in their second year, that it is probably a year away. But where, once, we were lost, we’re about to be found!
RETURNING STARTERS: Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell
I GOT WALLY PIPP’ED BUT I’M BACK: Lo Wood
RETURNING NICKEL: Elijah Shumate
RETURNING RESERVES: Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson
INCOMING FROSH: Cole Luke, Devin Butler, Rashad Kinlaw (all 6’0″ or taller, as in PROFILE)
With each passing Saturday, Jackson and Russell let us breathe easier. By the time we went to Norman in late October they were able to hold their own with OU’s great receiving corps. They are now grizzled veterans and a strength going into 2013. Bennett Jackson will probably be drafted in the 2014 draft. The depth here is still shaky. If you saw Brown and Atkinson, they were not very strong, which was proven by Shumate’s move to CB and the key snaps he took there. Kelly was building Lo Wood up before his injury but that may have been more inspirational than observational.The 2014 Cornerback starter across from Russell should reveal himself this Fall. If it’s not going to be Shumate, then it better be one of the freshman. You also need a solid nickel and dime from the CB group to be able to do everything you want on defense. Expect Diaco, Cooks and Elliott to allow more man and man-principle coverages this year. Frosh here may not get big minutes, but Luke, Kinlaw or Butler may be jockeying for a 2014 starting job. When Luke, Butler and Kinlaw arrive in June, they will be needed because with 5 QBS and 10 or so WRS on campus we should want and enjoy some lively and combative 7-on-7′s and passing drills through the South Bend summer. To fully stock this position we STILL need a couple of cornerbacks in the 2014 recruiting class.
LONGO PROJECT: Russell- not even a year on campus, he can add 7-10 of sinew without any speed loss.
RETURNING STARTER: Matthias Farley
BACK FROM INJURY: Austin Collinsworth
RETURNING SECOND TEAMER: Nicky Baratti
CLAIMS HE’S READY TO EXPLODE: Eilar Hardy
MOVING OVER FROM DOG: C. J. Prosise
RAN SILENT, RAN DEEP: John Turner
STILL REACCLIMATING? Chris Badger
INCOMING FROSH: Max Redfield
Farley showed spunk against Navy and was ready, and productive, when Slaughter went down. Collinsworth is no gimmee, and had 18 tackles in 2011. Baratti played sparingly, but is rangy and looked comfortable even though he was converting from quarterback. Kelly spoke glowingly about Prosise and his performance at dog (remember Okwara and Prosise shifted there when Spond’s medical problems occured.) Hardy now speaks glowingly about Hardy, and he was on the fast track in pre-Fall 2011 before his devastating injury. And Redfield is Redfield. Remember he was a star hooper, so his body will thicken as he stops playing buckets and gets Longo’d-even for a summer. There is not a surefire answer for the starting role opposite Farley, but nearly a half-dozen intriguing alternatives. It will not be decided by UHND posters, but by Elliott and Cooks. They’ll make a good decision. And we should have significant depth by midseason.
LONGO PROJECT: Baratti-very lean last year but has the frame to Zeke Motta his body. The secondary, overall, will most probably not be rated one of the top ten preseason, but may deserve such ranking at year’s end.
Now go back up and look at the list of players (9 for CB with Shumate grouped there; 8 at Safety). Of those 17 players, only Bennett Jackson runs out of eligibility after the 2013 season. A year from now, this area will be a team strength.
This 2013 defense is experienced, deep, large and quick. With the returning vets in the front seven, and an older and wiser secondary, this defense should be even more dominant than in 2012. Go Irish!