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7 Questions Facing the Notre Dame Defense in 2012

(Photo - Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE)

With the Irish poised to start the 2012 season behind red-shirt freshman and new starting quarterback Everett Golson and an offense in transition without the likes of Michael Floyd and Jonas Gray, plenty of pressure will be on the Irish defense to step up. However, there are many questions surrounding the Notre Dame defense that will determine if the Irish will make strides this season or continue their form from recent years.

1. How will the Irish replace Aaron Lynch?

Last season Lynch led the Irish in sacks with 5.5 as a freshman. With Lynch choosing to transfer to USF to be closer to home and his girlfriend, the Irish find themselves trying to replace their most disruptive and productive pass-rusher. The Irish will need to replace Lynch’s production by committee. Players such fellow sophomore standout Stephon Tuitt, fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, Chase Hounshell, as well as pass rushing linebackers Prince Shembo, and Ishaq Williams will be relied on to pressure the quarterback.

2. Can the inexperienced secondary do the job?

The Irish will return only one of four starters in the secondary this season in Jamoris Slaughter. With Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, and Gary Gray all graduating there are many holes to fill. Senior Zeke Motta will fill in for Smith at safety opposite Slaughter to create a veteran duo. However, the cornerback position is not nearly as experienced. Bennett Jackson will start at one corner spot. The New Jersey native is coming off his first season at corner after spending his freshman campaign at wide receiver. Jackson showed flashes of ability last season and will be counted on to be the Irish’s shutdown corner. Lo Wood was scheduled to start alongside Jackson until he suffered a season ending Achilles injury; as a result converted slot receiver and true freshman KeiVarae Russell will be thrust into the spotlight as a starter. With such inexperience and lack of depth in the secondary the Irish will need to rotate defensive backs often, which means Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Chris Salvi, Mathius Farley, and others will all be relied upon to play different roles.

3. Are the true freshmen ready to step up?

As a result of injuries and depth issues many true freshman will be counted on to make an instant impact for the Irish defense. As a result of the Lo Wood injury, KeiVarae Russell will start the opening game of the season versus rival Navy. With cornerback being a position of need Russell will need to play strongly throughout the season for the Irish. Elijah Shumate is another freshman cornerback that may see the field in certain packages. Early enrollee Sheldon Day has caught the eye of the Irish coaching staff and will see playing time instantly for the Irish along the defensive line. Finally Romeo Okwara could see time at outside linebacker as well as occasionally putting his hand on the ground as a pass rushing specialist.

4. Can the defense create enough turnovers?

Last season Notre Dame’s turnover differential simply wasn’t good enough, and not only because of the numerous turnovers by the offense. Last season the Irish recorded only eight interceptions and eight forced fumbles, recovering six. A total of 14 turnovers and two defensive touchdowns needs to be improved on. With a freshman quarterback the Irish defense need to create turnovers to give the offense extra opportunities to score as well as chipping in by scoring themselves.

5. Can the front seven make enough plays?

With an inexperienced secondary that lacks depth the Irish front seven will be relied on to lead the defense. One of the best ways to protect the secondary is to pressure the opposing quarterback and force him to make mistakes. Another way the front seven can help the secondary is to play well against the run and force the opposition into passing down and distances where the linebacking corps can help in coverage. The Irish front seven also needs to create more turnovers as Manti Te’o hasn’t had an interception or fumble recovery in his Notre Dame career. Furthermore the front seven as a whole only created three turnovers all of last season, all of which by players no longer on the Irish defense, Darius Fleming, and Ethan Johnson whose Notre Dame careers ended, and Troy Niklas who has moved to tight end.

6. Can Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt take their play to the next level?

Two of the biggest stars with the most potential on the Notre Dame defense are Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. Both have three years of eligibility left and the Irish will look for the duo to increase their level of play. Nix had 45 tackles last season, the most of anyone on the Irish defensive line; however, Nix found himself in a battle for his starting job all spring with Kona Schwenke. Questions came up regarding Nix’s work ethic, but he will be the opening game starter. Nix will need to continue to record plenty of tackles while eating up blocks in the middle as well as increasing his disruptiveness as he only recorded a half sack last season. If Nix’s play drops off he could find himself on the bench. The other half of the talented duo is Georgia native Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt recorded 30 tackles and two sacks in nine games last season, three of which he started. Tuitt’s workload will increase with Aaron Lynch’s departure and he will be looked to as one of the premier pass-rushers for the Irish. Tuitt has been reported to be looking very strong and dominant at times in practice and the Irish will look for him to continue that form in the season.

7. How will the Irish coaching staff utilize Jamoris Slaughter?

The Notre Dame coaching staff has a good problem to have when it comes to what to do with Jamoris Slaughter. Slaughter will begin the season at his natural position of safety and will be looked on as the leader of the Irish secondary. When Lo Wood was injured there were rumblings that Slaughter would be shifted to corner because he possesses the athleticism to do so. If need be due to further injuries or poor play at the cornerback position Slaughter could factor into the rotation to help the defense. Additionally Slaughter has played a hybrid linebacker role against power run/option teams such as Navy and Air Force, and Slaughter will likely continue that role this year as he has the size and physicality to move up and play against the run. Slaughter is an instrumental player to the Irish success as he possesses the size, speed, and athleticism to be a jack of all trades for the defense.


  1. JTRAIN,

    You nailed it! I guess “Anus Eagle/Buckeye” (I insist that they are one and the same lame name) can’t get enough of being intellectually sodomized by us. Oops, sorry, shouldn’t really bring up sodomy around members of a certain conference apparently fond of pedophiles in high places!

    (BTW: At the risk of opening a real an of worms, I can’t help but have a little bit of respect for the late Joe Pa. Don’t get me wrong, he showed an incredible lack of resolve and common sense with the whole Sandusky affair. No excuses can be made for that [sorry, Franco]. But do we forget about everything else about Joe Pa? I won’t debate anyone who disagrees with me because they’ll no doubt have many fine points of rebuttal.)

    Either way, Buckeye, perhaps like the other sodomites in your conference you enjoy being buggered.

  2. Buckeye,

    You keep accusing jc of using a dictionary for his posts but maybe you should invest in one yourself. You claim we are irrelevant but you have been coming back to a NOTRE DAME WEBSITE to discuss NOTRE DAME….what part of “relevant” are you having an issue understanding? This has been going for days and you are still around. We don’t even have to try with you. The material is literally writing itself.

    Lets discuss some of osu’s bcs wins shall we
    02 who was the star on that team? Why didn’t he stick around? Oh yea thats right! He went to prison. Maybe ol’ pinkett wasn’t so far off after all!
    ’10 arkansas…hey weren’t like 5 of you’re players ineligible for that game. Why was that again? Something about hanging out with some guy that was being investigated by the fbi for being involved in a drug ring.

    Like i said its all too easy with you…

  3. Amen SteelFanRob,

    I hope he takes my recommendation and visits his Proctologist by ambulance!

    Thank you for the back-up!

  4. Buckeye,

    When you said “OSU has been one of the top football programs in the country in terms of graduation rates” where were your facts? Like the lying pile of you know what that you are you thought you could just make this crap up. I don’t know what it’s like on your bogus OSU sites, troll, but here you’re challenged to back your points up with facts.

    You really thought no one here was going to call your horse s _ _ t out?

    Stick to your lame OSU sites and stop trolling where smart people have opinions baked up by facts!

  5. Buckeye,

    Go here for the real facts as opposed to your fantasies:


    Note that while ND graduates almost 100% of its football players, including its African-American athletes, OSU barely graduates 60% of all football players only a little over 50% of its black “student”-athletes. And that’s not even taking into account the bogus majors OSU players can have.

    The report was produced by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports of the Business School of the University of Central Florida and is thus not biased for or against OSU or ND. Of course, fcats and ethics are meaningless to OSU and its boosters!

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