Depth Chart Engineering 103 – Projecting the Defense

Here’s my initial crack at projected the defense. Let me start off by saying, this is 10x harder than projecting the offense since we really aren’t sure what the defense will look like. Weis said the Irish were going to run a “3-4 personnel” as opposed to a traditional “3-4” defense, but didn’t give too much detail as to what that would mean.

Projected Defensive Depth Chart

Position Starter Backup
DT Trevor Laws Pat Kuntz
NT Chris Stewart Ian Williams
DT Derrell Hand Paddy Mullen
OLB/DE John Ryan Dwight Stephenson
ILB Maurice Crum Scott Smith
ILB Toryan Smith Joe Brockington
OLB Morrice Richardson Kerry Neal
CB Ambrose Wooden Raeshon McNeil
CB Darrin Walls Gary Gray
FS Terrail Lambert Sergio Brown
SS Tom Zbikowski Ray Herring

Nose Tackle
Chris Stewart has been rumored to be moving over to defense for the last few weeks and is there a more natural NT for a 3-4 defense on the Notre Dame roster than Stewart? He’s been in the strength and conditioning program for a full year already after enrolling early last year and could be the force in the middle Notre Dame needs. I have Ian Williams backing up Stewart. Weis said they expect him to come in and get right in the mix and as the only true defensive tackle in last year’s class he could back up Stewart.

Defensive Tackle
With Stewart manning the middle, Laws could play to the side of Stewart. Laws is a pretty good fit for a 3-4 defensive tackle as he is not ideal size for a DT in a traditional 4-3, but also doesn’t have the speed to be a DE. For now I have Kuntz penciled in as Laws backup and as a junior he should have enough experience to provide some depth here.

Defensive Tackle
If he is healthy, I think Derrell Hand could start. Like Stewart, Hand had to transform his body once getting to Notre Dame, but after tow full years in the program, he could be ready to make an impact. Hand is another guy who could be a really good 3-4 defensive lineman. Sophomore to be Paddy Mullen should be ready for some playing time and has the quickness to be one of the off tackle positions.

Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
Ryan was a bit undersized for DE this year, but looked pretty good in spot duty. Using the outside linebackers/defensive ends of the Baltimore Ravens as a guide, Ryan fits in here in terms of size, but does he have the speed to play the position? I’m not completely sure, but if the Irish are indeed going to play a “3-4 personnel” as Weis suggested, Ryan is the most natural DE to play this position. An interesting possibility here is Dwight Stephenson. Stephenson has been a tweener almost since he landed at Notre Dame and he looks to be in the OLD/DE mold. Remember, Stephenson was recruited by a bunch of SEC teams, including Florida. Stephenson is my pick for the guy to come out of no where to earn meaningful playing time this year. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Stephenson challenged for a starting spot.

toryan-smith.jpgInside Linebacker
Crum will probably still be playing in the middle of the linebacking corps next year. I still don’t think he is a natural inside linebacker, but he is the most talented and experienced linebacker on the roster. If he is lined up next to a bigger linebacker though, Crum could be a very, very effective linebacker for the Irish again this year. For now I have Scott Smith backing up Crum because he has the size to play on the inside.

Inside Linebacker
I don’t think the Irish coaches will be able to keep Smith off the field this year. Smith is a prototypical inside linebacker and could flourish in Corwin Brown’s defense. Smith saw a good bit of time in goal line and reserve situations last year and should be ready to make an impact on defense this year. The Irish coaches loved Smith when they recruited him and it should be time for him to earn a starting spot. Brockington should be back for a 5th year and will provide experience depth and a hard working mentality on defense.

morrice-richardson.jpgOutside Linebacker
This is a pretty difficult position to project. I think both Richardson and Neal are perfect fits for the OLB in a 3-4 defense. Both can rush the passer and both have the speed and athleticism to drop back into coverage when need be. Richardson saw some playing time very early last year and showed a lot of speed coming off the edge, but was too small to be very effective from the defensive end position. If Ryan proves to not have the speed and coverage skills to play the other OLB position, I could see both of these guys starting at the OLB positions.

Corner Back
Walls took his lumps early last year, but with a year under his belt, he should step into a starting role. Walls is probably the most talent pure cover corner Notre Dame has had since Bobby Taylor and he should start showing it this coming season. Another talented under classman who should make an impact is Gary Gray. He enrolled early and should challenge for playing time immediately with Leo Ferrine and Raeshon McNeil for nickel coverage playing time.

Free Safety
This is some serious depth chart engineering here, but in an effort to get the most talented players on the field, Lambert could move to free safety and provide the deep coverage skills that the Irish have been severely lacking. Sophomore to be Sergio Brown brings a lot of talent and ability though and could challenge for the starting position here. Notre Dame has the talent and depth at corner back to account for Lambert’s move.

Strong Safety
A lot of people speculate that Zbikowski should move to linebacker but I just don’t see it happening. Zibby is a great run stuffing safety and could flourish playing closer to the line with Lambert in deep coverage. Ray Herring and David Bruton would back up Zibby here. The two are pretty similar and would probably battle it out for the backup position through the summer.

Corner Back
Wooden was slowed by injuries last year and lost his starting spot, but heading into the season I thought Wooden was going to become an upper echelon corner in the NCAA. I still think Wooden has the ability to be a top notch corner if he can stay healthy and have another season under Bill Lewis. Raeshon McNeil, however, will be tough to keep off the field and should at least be the nickel corner this year.

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  1. need bruton on the field as much as possible.the kid can make plays.i think lambert needs to stay at cb. where does steve quinn fit in in the 3-4. solid special teamer, not sure he fits into their lb plans.

  2. Mike Frank from Irish Eyes said the one thing he is most confident on with the defense is that Vernaglia will be starting.

  3. I agree with ndirish084, particularly with respect to David Bruton. With his special teams play last season, he has earned a shot at the starting rotation.

  4. Bruton very well could start. My safety predictions are based on Terrail Lambert moving over to safety, which could very well happen if the young corners can play. As for Brown, I am really not sure where he is going to fit in with this defense. He was on the small side for a defensive end in a 4-3 and is even smaller for a DE in a 3-4. Vernaglia is an interesting case as well b/c he is another player who has needed to add size and isn’t really an OLB.

  5. I think sometimes we get a little too excited over the young recruits were getting recently and overlook the older more experienced talent. With that being said I think seniors Anthony Vernaglia (LB), David Bruton (FS), and Justin Brown (DE) will at least crack the 2 deep, if not start.

  6. People assume that the run defense won’t miss a beat, even though we’re losing a fixture in Landri, and switching to a 3-4 which is searching for answers at two of the three down lineman. Along with that, most of our linebackers are either the right size and inexperienced at LB (Richardson, Wade, Ryan) or veterans who are undersized (Crum Jr, Brockington). Getting smaller by moving a 188 pound corner to a position which he has no experience at will only compound the problems.

    Besides, Lambert finally emerged at corner, so why mess with a good thing? This defense will need as much stability as it can get, and keeping Lambert at his natural position will help to achieve that.

    If you want other ideas to chew on what will help out the pass defense:

    – Improved pass rush with the 3-4 scheme meeting up with tweeners like Neal, Richardson, Stevenson Jr.
    – Hope that Harrison Smith can emerge @ FS wit his sub 4.4 speed.

  7. Wow, it’s scary to think of how little experience there is along the defensive line. It seems like the edge rushers are really going to be counted on to create pressure. I’d have to think Vernaglia will compete here too, along with maybe Kallen Wade for his size and athleticism, though I haven’t heard much talk about him since he enrolled last year. Terrail Lambert moving to FS doesn’t really seem feasible with all the guys currently there, not to mention he’s the best cover corner right now. If he does move I’m all for it, since it would provide great range and mean the rest of the corners really stepped up.

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