Last season Notre Dame rode one of the nation’s top defenses to a 12-0 regular season and a berth in the national championship game. The Irish defense was stout against the run and led by physical and experienced players Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Zeke Motta. With the Irish losing the leader of each level of their defense and the core emotional heartbeat of the team with the three seniors departing for the NFL it is up to the next group of leaders to emerge for the defense to experience similar success to the 2012 season.
Replacing the most decorated player in the history of college football and one of the greatest players in Notre Dame history is no easy task, but it is the reality the 2013 Irish face. Replacing Te’o’s on field dominance will be difficult but the Irish do possess multiple veterans at linebacker who are capable of leading the defense. Hard-hitting New Jersey native Carlo Calabrese is returning for a fifth-year at Notre Dame and will be looked upon to step up and lead both vocally and by example. Calabrese has amassed 146 total tackles in his time at Notre Dame and is a respected voice in the locker room as his passion is unquestionable. Another player who will have an opportunity to step up as a leader for the Irish defense is Dan Fox. Fox, also a fifth-year senior was one of the unsung heroes of the Irish defense last season totalling 63 tackles. Fox’s play has undoubtedly earned him the respect of his teammates and his team first attitude makes him a great teammate who others will be willing to play for.
Kapron Lewis-Moore is a true heart and soul player. The Irish standout suffered multiple devastating injuries in his time at Notre Dame but always played through pain and sacrificed for the greater good of the team. The responsibility of replacing Lewis-Moore’s leadership and guts will fall on his two fellow starters on the defensive line last season Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Nix and Tuitt are the undisputed stars of the Irish defense and are both likely to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft; however, this season they will need to step into leadership roles as well as continuing their dominating play. Both Nix and Tuitt are capable of shining as leaders and exist as a symbol for other Irish players to strive to be.
Notre Dame also lost senior safety Zeke Motta to graduation and the NFL leaving a hole in the secondary. The leadership void left by Motta is expected to be filled by Bennett Jackson. Jackson is only a second year starter but is a senior who has played on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. Jackson must lead a secondary that is still young but talented and possess the skills to do so, his 65 tackles and four interceptions last season speak for themselves and his willingness to change positions and animated attitude on the field will inspire his young teammates.
The 2013 version of the Irish may have more depth and talent than last season’s team but will need leaders to emerge in order to be victorious in hostile environments and tight games to experience similar success to the 2012 team. Leaders will emerge as the season progresses but the Irish possess players who can lead by committee in order to replace the talent that has
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