An Early Look at the 2012 Fifth Year Seniors

kapron lewis moore
Having back a 5th year senior with Kapron Lewis-Moore's experience and talent back along the defensive line is not a luxury Notre Dame has had much in the past. (Photo - Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

While the official process for approving 5th year seniors has not yet been completed, it is clear who will be back and who won’t be among those eligible for one more season for Notre Dame and the 2012 Irish will feature a mix of high end starters and quality backups with this year’s crop of 5th year seniors.

The lone surprise in the group is Dan McCarthy.  McCarthy came to Notre Dame as a more highly touted recruit than his brother Kyle – a former captain and standout safety for the Irish – but has seen injuries derail his career up to this point limiting him primarily to special teams action the last three seasons.

Had Notre Dame experienced a little more success down the stretch in recruiting, it’s very likely that there wouldn’t have been room for McCarthy, but with the available scholarship the presence of a 5th year senior in an inexperienced defensive backfield that loses the leadership of Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, and Gary Gray should be a welcomed sign.  It would be a major surprise for McCarthy to come out of nowhere to challenge for Smtih’s vacant starting spot, but at a minimum, he will provide some solid depth and much needed leadership.

Joining McCarthy in the defensive backfield will be the much more experienced Jamoris Slaughter – another safety the Irish coaching staff will be depending on to play a much larger role on defense than McCarthy in 2012.  Slaughter has been in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career while battling through an array of minor, nagging injuries.  In the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, however, Slaughter seemingly had his breakout performance playing a hybrid safety/linebacker position.

Slaughter found a niche in the Champs Bowl against the Seminoles recording two sacks in the contest – two more than he had in his entire career.  Whether or not he will be able to replicate that kind of success without the element of surprise by opposing offenses remains to be seen.  What we do know for sure, however, is that when healthy, Slaughter is a hard hitting safety whose game should translate nicely over to Harrison Smith’s vacated starting strong safety position.  Keeping Slaughter healthy and in the lineup will be paramount to keeping Notre Dame’s green secondary from being a liability in 2012.

Sticking on the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame lucks out a bit with the return of Kapron Lewis-Moore.  Had Lewis-Moore not suffered a season ending injury in 2011, he may have tested the NFL waters in next month’s draft.  With his return, Notre Dame will now boast one of its deepest and most talented defensive lines since the early 90’s.  KLM has been a mainstay in the starting lineup for the Irish over the last three seasons, but in his absence last year, freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt really came into their own and could end up locking down the starting defensive end positions this season.

Having Lewis-Moore back is a major luxury that few Irish defenses have had in the past.  With him, Lynch, and Tuitt providing three high end quality starters and a mix of younger players such as Chase Hounshell and Kona Schwenke providing depth, Bob Diaco will be able to keep rotating his defensive linemen this season without sacrificing production.

Over on the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame will return two offensive line who saw time in the starting lineup a season ago.  Braxston Cave has been a regular now at center for three seasons for the Irish and will provide senior leadership in a deep and talented group of offensive linemen.  Cave has been on the cusp of becoming an elite lineman for a couple seasons now, but just hasn’t quite reached that status yet.  Learning a new blocking scheme might complicate reaching that goal for Cave in 2012, but at the very least Cave gives Notre Dame a good, if not great anchor for the center of the offensive line.

Having Cave’s leadership will go a long way in helping some of the younger linemen pick up new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s blocking schemes.  Remember, Cave has played under multiple offensive line coaches while at Notre Dame and his experience in learning new systems should help out the underclassmen as they try to grasp the new system.

Also back on the offensive line will be Mike Golic, Jr.  After three seasons of roaming the sidelines in search of quality playing time, Golic was thrust into the starting lineup when Cave went down to injury last season.  Despite very limited experience, Golic played admirably and was solid will filling in.  At times Golic was over matched, but that is to be expected of a player seeing his first real action.

Having Golic back is another luxury the Irish haven’t had in recent years.  While Golic might not be an elite lineman, he is more than steady and gives the Irish staff a capable backup at guard and center so that they do not have to throw an underclassmen into the mix too early should the Irish suffer an injury up front.  If you watch any of the Notre Dame Athletic Department videos on YouTube, you also know that Golic is a great team leader and has a genuine love for Notre Dame making his return in 2012 a welcomed sign.

Lastly, John Goodman will be back for a 5th season in South Bend as well.  Known more for his punt returning struggles than his receiving to this point in his career, Goodman will have one final chance to show that the promise he showed on Halloween night in 2009 was not a fluke and that he can be a big play receiver for this offense.

With the departure of Michael Floyd to the NFL, Notre Dame will be in desperate need of a big bodied receiver to step up this spring and fall.  Goodman will get first crack at that role.  With just 28 career catches for 315 and a single touchdown though, he will have to really elevate his game to crack the starting lineup and fullfil the potential that had many comparing him to Jeff Samardzija coming out of high school.

One player who won’t be back that many felt might be at one point or another is Sean Cwynar.  While Cwynar provided more than just quality depth -he was at times a difference maker – he decided against coming back for a 5th season and will instead pursue his professional career.  Others such as Brandon Newman, Deion Walker, Hafis Williams, Lane Clelland, Anthony McDonald, and David Posluszny will not be back in South Bend next year but are free to transfer to another school and play their final year of eligibility without sitting out a year.

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  1. While I would like to know more about the Tee Shepard situation , that is great news about Carlisle! Really look forward to seeing him play. He is very talented. I am really excited to see where this team is come August. They have talent and they continue to bring in more speed and playmakers. Just need to cut out the turnovers (26 last year was the difference between a good year and a very mediocre one). Go Irish!

  2. Tee leaves ND but Carlisle is cleared. Bad and good news in one day.
    I wonder why he left though? From what I understood he was a ND fan also and when he got the chance he was happy to be Irish.

  3. The Irish gave up 20.7 points per game over the course of the year (good for 24th in the nation), but when the game was on the line, the defense faltered too often (late-game collapses against Michigan and Florida State have are still giving fans nightmares). 24TH HOW BAD IS THaT

    1. Bj,
      For the love of sanity please get over it! We get it, you don’t like Diaco and you think the D is terrible. Please stop with this constant whining about the D. The season is over, get on with your life. Let’s see how they do next year. It doesn’t do any good to keep re-hasing the same old story and old statistics over and over again. If I got on here every other week and gave you some stat about how Rees turns the ball over too much it would get really old. We are all fans, we watch the games, we know we have to improve.

      Quit your whining!!

      How GReaT would THaT be??

  4. Robbie parris turned into a solid WR in his final season after not contributing much in 3 seasons. Nothing would make me more excited as an ND fan than Goodman taking a punt return to the house… With the entire stadium waving one arm for a fair catch statute.

  5. By the way guys,

    The old tag line on Goodman coming out of High School: “Goodman may not run the fastest forty time, but he has game speed and that is all that matters. He is an outstanding deep threat and he runs very precise routes. Goodman shows outstanding toughness and will go across the middle of the field to make a tough catch.”

    Well, definately another Jonas Gray project and I hope it pans out for John. Actual forty is 4.71 or 4.5 depending on which article you read.

  6. JC,

    My gut feeling tells me that Miami is “Payton’s (next) Place.” Here’s why: 1) lavish-spending owner, 2) good salary cap situation, 3) warm-weather team, 4) no other QB on roster, 5) has some decent weapons on O, 6) solid D, 7) Payton puts the Fins at a play-off level.

    What’s your take?

    Also what do you think of my idea of the Irish D experimenting with a hybrid 34, sometimes converting to a 43 pre-snap? Esp. against younger QBs could cause them some confusion for a half at least. That would be enough time for the Irish O to build a decent lead.

    1. Rob,

      Miami seems like a good fit for Peyton. Especially with the warm weather alleviating some injury stiffness.

      Unfortunately the body does not respond the same at 35 as it does at 22. I tested this theory playing fast-pitch soft ball in a traveling league till 39. Wrong move, should have got out at 29.

      As to the hybrid 34D + 43 pre-snap. I like it. Yeah, with Teo in charge coupled with some experienced team speed we now have should produce aggressive hybrid 34D results.

      We started to create some confusion last year but just did’nt have all the pieces to the puzzle put together. Hopefully this year is different.

    2. Rob,

      I know you will hate me saying this but the hybrid 3-4 the way the Ravens runs it is what I see this defense being built like. You have Teo like Lewis in the middle and a bunch of people walking around pre-snap. You have a bunch of OLB-DE (Suggs) that can walk up onto the line of scrimmage and play with their hand down. Play a nickel or dime package with your back players able to play OLB positions. You have guys that can drop or rush. In that alignment you need a saftey like Reed or Clark to make up for possible blown coverages deep and I don’t see anyone on the roster as a saftey that possess that kind of cover skills and speed.

      1. jack,

        Spot on analysis, as usual!

        I like the fact that BK is recruiting some versatile athletes that can allow the Irish to have different looks on D. Like I said, esp. against younger QBs (i.e., not so much against Barkley or the other experienced QBs we play this season) this hybrid look could cause some confusions early on. That could give the O a chance to build a nice lead.

        Keep the keen insights coming, jack!

  7. Chris,

    I hear you!

    The Steelers use Troy Palomalu a lot in the way you’re suggesting the Irish use Slaughter (which is totally unlike how the Ravens use Ed Reed; Polamalu and Reed are two totally different types of safeties). This alignment is especially useful against option and spread attacks. You’ll still need somebody to cover his and the other DBs backs. Look at what happened to Pittsburgh against Denver when the safeties were caught cheating up at the line of scrimmage.

    I’ve said it here before, I think the Irish can use a hybrid 34/43 D. With the D personnel the Irish now have, Diaco can give the QB one pre-snap look and change it up right before the play happens. With an experienced and savvy ILB like Teo calling the alignment this is doable.

    1. What about it Rob, Peyton Manning flying around in his private jet looking for a job?

      Where is he going to land??

  8. Thanks, Frank – Instead of @ Bleacher Report,
    it’s great to read about ND from someone who knows ND.

    With a greater depth and experience at DL than at LB,
    I hope we see a lot more of 4-3 “D” with pressure coming from all sides,
    including safeties and DBs w/LBs. . .

    Like the ’85 Bears, when your DBs aren’t that experienced,
    bring the “D” to the QB, especially @ OK., and @ $C and vs. Michigan.

    No more play not to lose – like last year against Michigan and Fla. St.

    Bring on the pressure, with however many it takes.

    1. Micheal,

      I think you will see more 4-6 fronts with players like Slaugher able to play that hybrid saftey linebacker. The only difference between the 4-6 the Bears ran and now is that teams will spread you more forcing you to put faster smaller players on the field. I would like to see a D-front of Nix Tuitt at tackle with Shembo and Lynch coming off the edge.

      1. I absolutely loved it when Slaughter played LB. He was so quick off the snap that the Tackle couldn’t get out to him in time. Also, he was able to cover the tight ends no problem because of his speed. I don’t understand sometimes why coaches think that a player has to be a certain size to fit the mold of an outside linebacker. Today’s game is more passing than running. More guys like Slaughter that fly around the field, cause pressure on the QB and make plays in coverage are the guys I want starting. How many interceptions do our linebackers have in the last few years? I’m not even kidding that it might be 0.

      2. Michael,

        Keen observations. Recall that the only team to get the 85 Bears, the Marino-led Dolphins, did just what you said. They put a bunch of smaller receivers out on the field, led by the “Marks borthers,” Clayton and Duper, and spread out the Bears D. Chicago had no response to Marino’s quick release.

  9. I really wish Pozluzny and McDonald would have panned out. I also thought Hafis Williams would have been a beast. Not sure what happened. I really thought Goodman was going to be a stud. He seemed faster than the Shark. I hope he has a break out year

  10. Frank, no real surprises except Cwynar? Your spot on there. However, I hope long shot Goodman turns the wheels loose this year. Personally, I think he has the speed to make a difference. Most of the players returning will indeed be a plus shoring up our depth chart giving the young guys time to develop. OK Chris, go ahead and bust my chops on Goodman!

    Go Irish!

    1. Sorry JC, but Goodman is not going to see the field much this year, just like the rest of his career. Like I said before, worst player I’ve seen come out of ND. I didn’t even realize there was that kind of hype on him coming out of high school comparing him to The Shark. I think he has more drops than he does receptions. The touchdown in Texas that year was when we were playing Washington State, killing them at the time, and Crist throws an absolute bullet that hit Goodman’s pads so hard that it stuck. Michael Floyd comes in for one game as a returner and takes one for 40+ yards. Goodman may have had negative yardage on punt returns for his entire career. If he sees the field much, I will truly be disappointed. I’m not completely counting him out yet, because Jonas Gray turned out to be a freak his senior year, but I just dont see it happening with Goodman.

      1. Chris,

        Good points, Goodman really came here to play QB and when that did’nt happen he’s certainly been on a downward spiral his whole career. Yeah, he needs a Jonas Gray type of year no doubt. Well, it is now or never for Goodman. Hopefully, he will make the best of it.

      2. JC,

        Goodman was a QB in high school that was projected to be a WR at the next level. I think that Goodman just didn’t pan out as a wide out. Didn’t have the elite speed needed to run in BK’s system. To run the spread the way BK wants you want a lot of Robby Toma, Riddick, and several of the small shifty players he has recruited. Jonas Gray was a stud back coming out of high school with all of the tools that never worked hard until a conversation with Bettis turned him around.

      3. Lets hope so, JC…Shark didn’t break out until his Junior year. Maybe Goodman needed that extra year!

      4. Jack,

        Maybe the conversation with Goodman will be similar to Bettis as Bettis basically said to Gray, run straight…you are 240 lbs. I never once saw Gray pitty-pat through the holes the entire season. Someone needs to talk to Goodman and say ‘Just catch the ball! Don’t worry about turning your head to get extra yards. Just catch it!’ This is because Goodman is definitely a possession receiver and not a gamebreaker.

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