Breaking Down the Defensive Depth Chart

After sitting out the 2008 season, Darrin Walls has returned to his starting role for 2009.

Yesterday we broke down the first offensive depth chart of the year.  Today we take a look at the defensive side of the ball (full depth chart here) where there a few more question marks facing the Fighting Irish heading into the season.  Much like on the offensive side of the ball, however, Notre Dame enters fall camp with more depth across the board than they have had at any time in the Weis Era.

Strong-Side Defensive End

  1. #89 Kapron Lewis Moore (So) – 6-4 ,270 lbs
  2. #53 Morrice Richardson (Sr) – 6-2, 255 lbs
  3. #91 Emeka Nwankwo (Jr) – 6-4, 274 lbs

We heard a lot about Kapron Lewis-Moore from Charlie Weis this spring and KLM got a little bit more props from the head coach on Friday. Weis mentioned that Lewis-Moore arrived to Notre Dame at 220 lbs last summer and was up to 270 heading into fall camp this year. That’s a pretty remarkable change in just a year’s time. Lewis-Moore will have to hold off senior Morrice Richardson for the starting spot while Emeka Nwankwo, who spent some time as a starter last spring, is listed third. Nwankwo is another player who has really transformed his body at Notre Dame and could surprise people.

Nose Tackle

  1. #95 Ian Williams (Jr) – 6-2, 295 lbs
  2. #99 Brandon Newman (So) – 6-0, 295 lbs
  3. #92 Tyler Stockton (Fr) – 6-1, 290 lbs
  4. #93 Paddy Mullen (Sr) – 6-3, 295 lbs

Ian Williams returns as the man in the middle of the defensive line for Notre Dame 15 pounds lighter than he was in the spring. Weis praised Williams’s off-season conditioning and remarked that the junior is in the best shape he’s ever been. Williams took a bit of a step back last year after an impressive freshman season, but with some more depth behind him in Brandon Newman and Tyler Stockton, he should have some fresher legs this year. Newman also comes into camp 15 pounds lighter off the heels of an impressive performance in the Blue/Gold Game.  Stockton, an early enrollment true freshman, could push for playing time as well.

Defensive Tackle

  1. #9 Ethan Johnson (S0) – 6-4, 280 lbs
  2. #79 Hafis Williams (S0) – 6-2, 295 lbs
  3. #98 Sean Cwynar (So) – 6-4, 283 lbs

Ethan Johnson had his breakout game in the Hawaii Bowl and has slid over to the defensive tackle spot for 2009.  He’ll still see some time at defensive end on running downs when Notre Dame wants to be bigger up front. Hafis Williams, the only player who was not 100% cleared medically at the start of camp, is listed as his backup and like his classmate Newman, he comes into fall camp after a strong showing this spring.  With three sophomores making up the entire three deep here, this could be the most inexperienced position on the team in 2009.  Weis mentioned on Friday that Williams would likely be cleared medically soon and that the staff was being more catious with him.

Weak-Side Defensive End

  1. #56 Kerry Neal (Jr) – 6-2, 250 lbs
  2. #90 John Ryan (Sr) – 6-5, 255 lbs
  3. #97 Kallen Wade (Sr) – 6-5, 245 lbs

Kerry Neal missed all of spring ball, but will start fall camp as the starting weakside defensive end. He’ll likely be the defensive end to leave the field when Johnson moves over to DE because he is the smallest, but on passing downs, he is the best pure pass rusher along the defensive line for the Irish. John Ryan and Kallen Wade round out the depth here, but I would not be surprised if Richardson ended up backing up Neal since the two are built very similarly should Richardson not be able to overtake Lewis-Moore.

Strong Side Linebacker (SAM)

  1. #41 Scott Smith (5th) – 6-4, 245 lbs
    or #46 Darius Fleming (So) – 6-1, 240 lbs
  2. #45 Steve Filer (So) – 6-3, 236 lbs
  3. #48 Dan Fox (Fr) – 6-3, 230 lbs

The only position on the depth chart with the dreaded “or” attachment at a starting position comes here where Scott Smith and Darius Fleming are listed as co-starters to start training camp. Fleming started playing more and more down the stretch last season and had it not been for him missing all of spring ball, he probably would be listed as the lone starter here. Steve Filer, who was listed as a starter at WILL in the spring has been moved down to the 3rd linebacker position. For Filer, it’s really only a matter of time before he starts to make his assent up the depth chart though. I would bet this comes down to a Fleming/Filer race for the starting spot by the end of camp.

Weak-Side Linebacker (WILL)

  1. #58 Brian Smith (Jr) – 6-3, 240 lbs
  2. #5 Manti Te’o (Fr) – 6-2, 244 lbs
  3. #54 Anthony McDonald (So) – 6-2, 230 lbs

Brian Smith has slid over to the WILL position after playing the MIKE position last year. The emergence of Toryan Smith in the middle made this move possible, but with super freshman Manti Te’o listed as Smith’s backup here there’s a good chance one of them moves over to the starting MIKE position by the end of camp. Smith is the emotional leader of the defense and will be on the field a lot this year. Te’o reported to Notre Dame looking like he was ready for the NFL Draft at an impressive 245 lbs. Te’o was the only non special teams freshman to be listed in the two deep on this depth chart. Translation – expect to see a whole lot of Te’o early and often.

Middle Linebacker (MIKE)

  1. #49 Toryan Smith (Sr) – 6-1, 244 lbs
  2. #36 David Posluszny (So) – 6-0, 225 lbs
  3. #44 Carlo Calabrese (Fr) – 6-1, 235 lbs

Toryan Smith had an excellent spring and enters fall camp as the starting middle linebacker. He is the best linebacker against the run for Notre Dame and will see a lot of playing time this year. Smith will undoubtedly will be on the field in running situation, but whether or not he ends training camp as the starter will be interesting to watch. Jon Tenuta has a lot of talent to work with on in the linebacker corps this year so look for him to use a lot of different combinations based on the situation.

Left Cornerback

  1. #12 Robert Blanton (So) – 6-1, 185 lbs
  2. #8 Raeshon McNeil (Sr) – 6-0, 190
  3. #4 Gary Gray (Jr) – 5-11, 190 lbs

Robert Blanton took hold of a starting position by the end of his freshman season and doesn’t appear ready to let it go anytime soon. Raeshon McNeil, a starter all throughout 2008, starts camp as Blanton’s backup with Darrin Walls reassuming the starting position he held before sitting out all of 2008. Gary Gray is also back after not being enrolled at Notre Dame this spring. Notre Dame’s success recruiting cornerbacks is on full display with this depth chart. Blanton, McNeil, Gray, and Walls are all Division 1 starting caliber corners.

Right Cornerback

  1. #2 Darrin Walls (Sr) – 6-0, 190 lbs
  2. #26 Jamoris Slauighter (So) – 6-0, 182 lbs
  3. #37 Mike Anello (5th) – 5-10, 180 lbs
  4. #27 EJ Banks (Fr) – 5-11, 185 lbs

Darrin Walls was not enrolled at Notre Dame last season, but returned for the spring as a backup. He now enters fall camp as the starting right corner. Walls was ready to emerge as an elite cornerback in 2008 before having to sit out the season and will hopefully be able to take over where he left off at the end of 2007.  Rising sophomore Jamoris Slaughter and special teams maven Mike Anello round out the depth here, but look for McNeil to fill in for Walls should he go down with injury or need a rest.

Strong Safety

  1. #38 Kyle McCarthy (5th) – 6-1, 210 lbs
  2. #31 Sergio Brown (Sr) – 6-1, 205 lbs
  3. #17 Zeke Motta (Fr) – 6-2, 215 lbs

Kyle McCarthy was Notre Dame’s most sound tackler last year and will be retaining his starting role again this year. Backing up McCarthy is senior Sergio Brown. It’s interesting that Brown will play strong safety considering his skillset matches that of last year’s starting free safety David Bruton. Brown played a lot of nickel back last year, but will have a hard time fighting McNeil off for that role this year.  Third  stringer true freshman Zeke Motta enrolled early and is going to be very tough to keep off the field on special teams.  In fact, I’d be a little surprised if he wasn’t on the kick coverage units for the Nevada game.

Free Safety

  1. #22 Harrison Smith (Jr) – 6-2, 207 lbs
  2. #15 Dan McCarthy (So) – 6-2, 203 lbs
  3. #6 Ray Herring (5th) – 5-10, 200 lbs
  4. #24 Leonard Gordon (Sr) – 5-11, 187 lbs

Harrison Smith completes his move back to free safety after spending last season as an undersized linebacker. Now that he is back at his more natural position, look for him to start to establish himself as a player in this defense. Sophomore Dan McCarthy is listed as Smith’s backup despite not playing as a true freshman in 2008.

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