January 31, 2013 // Notre Dame Football

Duranko’s Digest: Defensive Personnel 2013

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Notre Dame Football - Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III

September 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) and defensive lineman Louis Nix III (9) look over the Michigan State Spartans offense during the 2nd half at Spartan Stadium. Notre Dame won 20-3 Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

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.

DEFENSIVE LINE

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.

LINEBACKERS

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.

SECONDARY

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!

CORNERBACKS

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.

SAFETIES

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!

Comments to this Article

  • JC commented on January 31st, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Hmmm…I can’t remember who the head football coach is at ND?? Must be my selective amneeeesia. One thing I do remember vividly! Bama’s running game annihilated our defense! Not to mention, our running game was annihilated by Bama’s defense. Hmmm…hopefully my sometimers won’t kick-in now but really our modus operandi is near perfect without a title?

    It’s nice to know ND’s glaring weaknesses against Bama are for only people suffering from a severe case of acatalepsia, like myself. Mea Culpa, I think I just forgot what happened in the whole damn Championship Game recently? Yeah, damn them UNHD posters! How dare they make a suggestion that makes sense. Yeah, I attack all my clients for being stupid. Who is Elliot and Cooks? I forgot!

    [Reply]

  • westcoastirishfan commented on January 31st, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I’m very axious to see what happens with Hardy, Okwara and Rabassa, especially Okwara. With his frame and aggression, he’s got the perfect foundation to become a pass-rushing freak at the DE/OLB position.

    A lot of people have rightfully forgotten about Hardy. He was one of the jewels of his class and is supposed to be super quick. He dominated central ohio football in high school. I think he’s a sleeper.

    Rabassa appears to be a bit of a tweener, along the lines of Filer and Fleming. I’d rather see him take a look at the ILB position then wait to become a starting OLB or DE.

    [Reply]

  • Todd Swisher commented on January 31st, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    There is no doubt that the 2013 defense could be special. They will have more experience, more depth, and more athleticism. They just need to fill the leadership void left by the departure of Te’o and Lewis-Moore – and I think they will. Hopefully, they will not incur the number of injuries that they experienced last year. It’s remarkable what they achieved after losing Collinsworth, Wood, and Slaughter. If they can become more consistent on the offensive side of the ball and score close to 30 points a game, they will be extremely difficult to beat.

    I think what is most exciting for those of us who follow ND Football very closely is that, without question, they are back. They have the athleticism, speed, depth, and talent of a legitimate top-10 program. My friends, order has been restored in the universe! Go Irish!

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 31st, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    JC, of course you are correct. But this is not the first time this has happened when a once in a decade offensive line (I’ll document this in another post, and of course, it’s APPROXIMATELY once a decade) destroys a defense hitherto thought excellent. How those defenses responded or fared otherwise is intriguing.

    On the depth issue, this is where things get intriguing. Just for some pre-Spring DCE, let’s try this as a swag at a SECOND STRING DEFENSE
    DL-Jones/Springman or Schwenke/Rochell
    LBS-Councell or Okwara/Calabrese/Kendall Moore/Ishaq Williams
    CBS-Lo Wood and Shumate
    Safeties-Baratti and Redfield

    We’ve come a long way.

    [Reply]

    Michael the Archangel replied on January 31st, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Indeed, we have come a long way.

    “Next man in”
    is truer than ever.
    The past two years it was more a target than a tangible expectation.

    Great analysis, duranko

    Three comments and a key ?
    1) Shumate and Ishaq getting more minutes will pay off big time.
    2) The DL looks dominant- a key to any BCS team
    3) When the best team gets that much time to prepare, any opponent’s in trouble!
    ? Will Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield be ready to impact upon arrival ?

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on January 31st, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    I’m guessing that Smith will be ready for immediate impact. He was dominant in high school and in all the camps and all star games. When Niklas was a frosh, at one point the staff told him, just go out there and
    create “havoc” Smith has much more positional sophistication, and with the vets in place, the staff can use him situationally, and effectively.
    I’d surmise that he should be at least as much of a contributor as Sheldon Day was.

    With Redfield, it’s a tad trickier, as adjusting coverages and positioning players are part of the job description. So, the guess here would be that he sees fewer snaps than Smith, by a margin.

    But this defensive depth chart is starting to be a lot of fun!

    [Reply]

  • JC commented on February 1st, 2013 at 10:52 am

    We can make pretty charts all day long BUT, will we be able to stop Bama’s THUNDEROUSLY CRUSHING running game? Yes indeed, we certainly have come a long way only to discover, we also have a long way to go to get past Bama. We show up defensively zombified again, we will definately achieve the same result or worse in a title rematch.

    The cold reality is, BAMA is without question, a balanced smash-mouth-football team! We unfortunately, still have to much finesse on both sides of the ball at the moment.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on February 1st, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Yes, some of us have come a long way.
    CF Sadak, Waters of Oblivion, as set forth in the “Taste of Ashes” piece.

    Too much finesse? Ah, the wonders of free speech!!

    [Reply]

  • JC commented on February 1st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Amen Coach duranko,

    Your pretty good! Besides, I like your ‘Magic Carpet Rides’ back to the days of Ara. Makes me really feel liberated!

    I also gave you some guff over on your offensive post too! Just to keep your keen senses sharp! I know your atleast one year older than me. Haha!

    Here come are beloved Irish!

    [Reply]

  • Shazamrock commented on February 1st, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Good luck to Ian Williams and Darius Fleming.

    Two former Irish football players playing in this year’s Super Bowl.

    (Both are part of the 49er’s defense)

    [Reply]

    JC replied on February 1st, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Kudos on that Shaz!

    Here come our beloved Irish!

    [Reply]

  • ARMAC commented on February 1st, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Bear in mind that this is a half-built team.

    By the 2012 season Kelly had two recruiting classes. The defense had already been substantially upsized. The result was a young defense that went undefeated and was statistically number one in the nation.

    The offense is next. When we finally see an all-Kelly offensive line, featuring names like Bivin and McGlinchey, we will be seeing the maturity of the Kelly program. 2012 was a foretaste. The future Kelly offense will be bigger, faster, and more versatile than anything the Irish have ever put on the field.

    [Reply]

    jeff replied on February 2nd, 2013 at 1:10 am

    I agree and the finished product wont arrive until the 2014 season starts. The depth at the skill positions will be loaded. The offensive line will be huge and I believe Gunner will be Notre Dames starting QB.

    [Reply]

  • duranko commented on February 2nd, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    ARmac, good point about the defense, the taller players like Okwara, Jones, Councell, Ishaq and Redfield will just start dotting the two deep.

    Agreed that this is the year the offense arrives, and my guess is that by
    mid October we\re going to surprise a lot of people with our wide receiver corps.

    [Reply]

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