Replacing Stephon Tuitt Tall Order for Notre Dame

Replacing Stephon Tuitt Tall Order for Notre Dame
Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (7) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

When Stephon Tuitt announced that he would forgo his senior season at Notre Dame in favor of entering the 2014 NFL Draft on Sunday, a giant hole was created on the 2014 Notre Dame defensive line.  A hole that Brian Kelly and his to be announced defensive coordinator will need to fill in order to get the Irish into the playoff race on the heels of a 9 win season.

Simply put, Notre Dame does not have an individual on the 2014 roster like Stephon Tuitt mainly because there are very few individuals that exist in the mold of Stephon Tuitt and even fewer that have worn a Notre Dame jersey.  That doesn’t mean, however, that Notre Dame can’t replace Tuitt on the line and still have a stout defensive line in 2014.

The first step in replacing Tuitt is to just get healthy up front.  Before the season Notre Dame lost both Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell for the season.  Both players should be back for the 2014 season although Springmann likely won’t be able to participate in Spring ball as his recovery from an ACL injury has been slowed by an infection.  Hounshell though was practicing with the scout team during bowl preparations and will be back for the spring.

Will Hounshell, a one time four star recruit, finally stay healthy as he enters his senior season though?  Hounshell has missed the last two seasons with shoulder problems and hasn’t played a meaningful down since 2011.  In an ideal world, Notre Dame wouldn’t have to rely on Hounshell for much playing time next year given all of the time he’s missed, but with Tuitt and Nix both gone, it would be a huge boost for the Irish defensive line if Hounshell could stay healthy and start to play up to his recruiting pedigree.

Sheldon Day played in 11 for Notre Dame in 2013, but was slowed down for most of the season with a high ankle sprain that lingered and limited his effectiveness.  Much was expected of Day in 2013 but as the sophomore labored through the nagging injury he was limited to 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and just a half a sack.  With a full off-season in the weight room, Day will be back to full strength and could be ready for the breakout season many envision he would have in 2013 next fall.

The one positive of all of the injuries that ravaged the defensive line this year was the playing time that both freshman Isaac Rochell and sophomore Jarron Jones received that they may not have tallied had injuries not forced them into the lineup.  Jones played extensively after Nix was shut down after the PItt game and after a slow start against the Panthers, Jones began to emerge over the final three games of the season.  Jones ended the season with 20 tackles, a sack, and two blocked kicks while starting one game.

With just Day, Jones, Rochell, and Hounshell coming back with any experience, Notre Dame could take a look at Ishaq Williams at defensive end permanently in 2013 after he played more of a hybrid role in 2013.  Williams played at a listed 261 lbs last season, but would likely need to spend some additional time with Paul Longo this off-season to pack on a few additional lbs to hold up to playing defensive end more extensively.   Williams too was hobbled by injuries in 2013 and missed two games completely.

Anthony Rabasa has been listed as a defensive end at times in his career as well, but his listed playing weight of 243 pounds nor his height of 6’2″ really fits the ideal profile of a defensive end in Notre Dame’s defense – that is assuming that Notre Dame’s next defensive coordinator uses a similar defense.  Brian Kelly has said that he wants the next defensive coordinator to run a similar defense to what they’ve run for the past four seasons, but the rumored next defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has extensive experience with the 4-3 even though he spent the last season working with the New York Jets as a linebackers coach for Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense.

The only freshmen defensive lineman to redshirt in 2013 was Jacob Matuska.  He will get a lot of playing time in the spring and might be called upon next season for some depth.   Matuska came in at a solid 275 lbs but needed a redshirt season in 2013 after many projected him to be a tight end out of high school.

Notre Dame is bringing in an impressive front seven class in the #GoldenArmy14, but it’s not clear if the Irish will receive much immediate impact up front.  Andrew Trumbetti figures to be the most likely to contribute early since he is set to enroll early this month and will have the benefit of an off-season with Longo.

Jay Hayes and Matt Dickerson might have the size to provide a few snaps, but it would be a shame to have to force either into action unless they show they are ready.   Both are listed in the 260 lbs range but would likely benefit from a redshirt season – especially Dickerson since he missed his entire senior season due to injury.   Jonnathan Bonner and Grant Blankenship are other potential ends in this year’s class, but both will also likely need time in the weight room before being ready for meaningful playing time.

Day, Rochell, Jones and Springman will give Notre Dame at least four very solid defensive lineman to rotate for the three starting spots in 2013, but for the Notre Dame defense to replace Stephon Tuitt, they will need a combination of Hounshell, Williams, Matuska, and Trumbetti to provide depth up front.

If the injury bug strikes Notre Dame along the defensive line again in 2014 though, things could get hairy for the Notre Dame defense in a hurry.  In 2013 Louis Nix Sheldon Day, and Sheldon Day combined to play just 23 snaps together.  If Notre Dame’s 2014 starting trio combines for that few combined snaps, Notre Dame is going to need to win some shootouts to be in the playoff mix.


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  1. I really hope it is not true that BK wants a Defensive Guru who will run
    the same non aggressive defense. People that dont understand look up the
    facts, where they finished in the country in sacks, turnovers forced etc
    and mabe you will learn this doesnt work.

    1. It specifically states in the job posting on that he is looking for a defensive guru to run a non aggressive scheme.

  2. With a shortage of experienced DL, keeping a 3-4 D would make sense;
    except having so few ILBs with experience, a 4-3 D would require only one MLB,
    with having lost two ILB starters and not having Grace back until next Fall.
    So I expect we will employ both formations to adjust to the down and distance of each situation,
    maximizing opportunities for success. Where we place the players is important,
    but they still have to make the play when the opportunity presents itself.

    Key holes for the new DC to fill. Hopefully scheme will be determined by players available
    rather than coaching comfort and philosophy. Maximizing available talent trumps forcing
    philosophy and scheme. IMHO, Pistol O with TR in the red zone, no Max R. at Safety,
    and allowing teams to pick our ILBs apart with short passes keeping countless drives alive were
    three season-long frustrations.
    But looking ahead . . .

    In today’s offensive barrage of 21st century football, I agree with Frank that our D’
    was seldom the problem. Add horrendous kick coverage, too few red zone TDs, and untimely INTs, we put our
    D’ into some extremely disadvantageous positions. But I disagree that a successful D’ allows opponents to dictate the flow of the game by keeping everybody in front of you and reacting to, rather than forcing mistakes.
    Though we’ll never know, maybe individuals, not scheme, was what kept our D’ competitive.
    Mobile QBs and pressure Ds are where football has evolved.
    Maybe the insufficient # of forced TOs by our D’ reflects a deficiency with the scheme, not the players.

    Nix, Tuitt, and Zach Martin are key losses. But all teams must replace stars;
    with the quality of our recruits, we can reload, not rebuild.
    We are finally at the point where “next-man-in” is more than a rallying cry;
    Kudos to the staff’s recruiting acumen, a concern many had upon BKs arrival.

    Now developing who we have, and maximizing the talents they bring are what’s needed.

    Hope springs eternal. Go Irish!

  3. It sounds as though ND has a few, to say the least question marks for the coming 2014 season. Obviously defensively the Tuitt loss will hurt no matter who they put in his place. They also have a few question marks on the offense. Getting Golson back is certainly an big upgrade from Rees and if the running backs mature that could be a strong point also. Let’s hope that injuries and academic problems don’t put ND behind the 8-ball like they did in 2013. 9-4 for anyone else is acceptable, but not at ND.
    Go Irish!!!

  4. I don’t see why we can’t run a read react defense, plus a more aggressive approach, In my opinion the players we have available will determine which way BK and the DC go.
    I also believe we will have an offense that will be difficult to get off the field and one which may have a big play capability, which should take some pressure off the “D”.

  5. In our Bend don’t break defense, we did the following:
    Played UM 14-14 in 2nd half after Tommy gave up that big reception at the end of the first.
    Spotted OU 14 points and held the Sooners enough to come within 6, but TR couldn’t pull it off.
    Completely shut down USC in 2nd half.
    Held MSU scoreless in 3 possessions after final score was posted.
    Held ASU to nothing while game in doubt.
    Gave Stanford a 14-3 lead in first quarter (13 min to go in 2nd when SU scored and then beat them 17-13 over the last 3 Quarters.
    Shut down BYU.

    People bitch about Navy, a multiple option team in the middle of the season.

    The D kept us in most games this year. The offense was inconsistent.

    1. Please refrain from using facts in your arguments. It’s far more entertaining to ramble, babble, spew and make stuff up.

    2. And we ended up in the BCS Bowl 10-2? With a metal trophy instead of a plastic trophy? No worries though, the clip board always prevails in meaningless game stats justifying playing a 6-6 bowl opponent! Sorry, I did not realize we had such a stellar year with defense? So tell me, stastistically speaking, what year do your stats predict a National Championship for BK? I am sure all of us would be interested in those cast-in-granite-facts.

  6. A lot of questions regarding the defensive side of the ball from personnel, philosophy & coaching. I see we finished 20th, right behind USC. Would like to see at minimum a Top 5 position for 2014. Here come the playoffs.

  7. “Brian Kelly has said that he wants the next defensive coordinator to run a similar defense to what they’ve run for the past four seasons,”

    You got to be kidding me, with the exception of 2012, the 2013 bend but don’t break defensive mirage is completely boring. So we handcuff the DC even before he even arrives at ND. Amazing, they must have the new DC in a head-lock trying to get him to sign a contract? Seems all quiet on the western front? Jack, your right again! NO ONE WANTS TO COACH AT ND!

    1. U are right. How can u tell a guy how to run his defense? Kelly better get aggressive next year on defense. If not if could be a long year for our front 7. We had no pressure on the QB this year, and we lose some talent up front. Also if Kelly is troubled by a change in scheme on defense, imagine how he will tie the hands of his new offensive coordinator. Get ready to throw the ball 3 times, once inside the 10 yard line again. Go irish

    2. Relax. I think he means he’s looking for a coach for a 3-4 system. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of flexibility to run the defense. ND has been recruiting defensive players better suited for 3-4 so he probably wants a DC to coach to the players strengths.

      Remember, one of the things that doomed Weis’ defenses over his 5 years was switching from 4-3 than to 3-4, recruiting players for a 3-4, then bringing in Tenuta and changing back to 4-3. That absolutely wrecked havoc on our ability to play defense.

      To me it makes perfect sense to want to keep the base system intact.

  8. If EG is forced to win shootouts vs good defensive play we are in for a rough year! Furthermore, I find it interesting an assistant coach to Saban won a National Championship in just four years as of tonight!

    So here’s your answer Jack, Fisher just signed before tonight’s title game, a new 4.1 million dollar a year contract good till 2018. So is Fisher worth more at ND? 4.1 million a year is chump change for a National Championship head coach and not to mention what we over paid CW! Please don’t read his bio, I hate to make grown men cry!

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