Springmann Loss Will Press Frosh Into Early Action

Tony Springmann - Notre Dame DL
Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Tanner Price (10) throws under pressure from Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Tony Springmann (69) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 38-0. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the biggest take aways from Brian Kelly’s 2014 season kick-off press conference were the career ending injury  senior defensive tackle Tony Springmann and the development of the 2014 freshman defensive linemen during summer conditioning.   One on hand the Irish lost a potentially some of the little experienced depth they had along the defensive front, but on the other the early returns on the frosh linemen give hope that those trenches will be fully stocked in short order.

First off, the loss of Springmann can’t be understated.  Notre Dame had so many questions along the defensive line even before Springmann’s latest injury.  Losing Springmann adds even more questions for new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to answer before the season kicks off.

After missing the entire 2013 season with an ACL tear and then missing the spring after suffering a setback in his recovery, Springmann was expected to provide depth behind Jarron Jones on the interior of the Irish defensive line.  Outside of Springmann, there aren’t any returning players capable of playing the nose tackle position which means Notre Dame will now be forced to play some freshmen early and potentially often in 2014.

The good news here is that Brian Kelly spoke absolutely glowingly about the young bulls that VanGorder and defensive line coach Mike Elston now have at their disposal. “We got a chance to evaluate our freshmen, and we got a chance to see Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah, and really believe with him, with those two guys, and Jarron Jones, that we have got some pretty good depth at that position,” said Kelly on Friday afternoon.

Kelly went on to state that physically, both Cage and Mokwuah are further along than any freshmen defensive linemen they have had on the roster during their time at Notre Dame.  “Their volume is ahead of any of the freshmen that we have had at that position since we have come here,” he said.

Kelly did, however, caution that just because they are physically ready it doesn’t mean they will be impact players from day one. “Both of them physically are able to compete right away,” Kelly said.  “We’ll have to see what their football ability brings, but from a work volume standpoint and from a strength standpoint, and obviously their size, we feel pretty good at that position right now.”

If Notre Dame is able to get significant contributions from either of Cage or Mokwuah this year, not only will it solve a potentially pressing problem for the Irish, it will only add further support the notion of not putting too much stock into recruiting rankings.  While Cage was rated a 4-star prospect by 247 Sports, other services had him as a 3-star and Mokwuah was universally a 3-star prospect.

What would make contributions from Cage and Mokwuah even more remarkable for Notre Dame is the fact that at the beginning of January, Notre Dame fans hardly knew who either prospect even was.  After Notre Dame lost Matt Dickerson to a decommitment and reevaluated their recruiting board following the arrival of VanGorder, the Irish put on a full court press to reel in a few more tackle prospects and was fortunate enough to peel Mokwuah away from Rutgers and won a heated battle for Cage on Singing Day.

Now, before anyone gets too excited.  There are countless examples in the past of hearing Notre Dame coaches sing the praises of some freshmen players who have never materialized into regular contributors let alone impact players.  Given the depth problems Notre Dame has on the defensive line this year though, having two 300+ pound defensive at least able to take reps is a better situation than we’ve seen in the past when undersized frosh were forced into action because of depth issues.  Kona Schwenke comes to mind for instance and right about now I’m sure Kelly and VanGorder would be doing cart wheels if they still had someone with Schwenke’s experience and talent eligible for a 5th year.

The defensive line was already an area to watch closely during fall camp, but this latest injury for Springmann has made it potentially the most important position to watch between now and August 30.

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  1. Jerry, you are right about Gardner,but he might have had his best game against us. Another Farley misplay aided the Blue. I am skeptical, very skeptical, about the Michigan offense, but I think their defense may well be the third best we play behind mighty FSU and Stanford. that game is the litmus test for our offense. We must get 6 scores and generate over 450 yards in total offense to validate the offseason optimism about the Irish offense.

  2. The secondary will be a real key. However to say we dont play a good offense
    until NC is wishful thinking. Michigan ha the type of QB that always drives
    ND nuts. He wore down last year than got hurt but this is the second game.

  3. Mike, you are correct, but we whistled past the graveyard of depth on the DL in 2012. Starters were Nix, Tuitt and Kapron Lewis Moore. Day the supersub and Schwenke and Springmann filling in. Jones was a redshirt
    Utopu a squadman along with Stockton. Springmann had 11 tackles and Schwenke 5. NOw, I NEVER feel safe unless you have a functional three deep, enabling you to have a fresh pass rush in the 4th quarter. But Rochell, Hounshell, Utopu are there, and if we can get some double digit snaps from Trumbetti, Bonner, Cage and Mokwuah, we might have enough.
    Interestingly, this will no longer be a problem by Spring.

    Remember, we don’t play an outstanding offense until North Carolina shows up in October.

    The script is flipped. In 2012 the DL protected the thin young secondary.
    This year it is vice versa.

    1. THB,

      Happy (belated) Birthday!

      Even though you’re a year older…
      You haven’t lost a step!


  4. This was my biggest concern coming into the season, even more than the ILB situation. I hope these guys are as good as Kelly thinks they are. Depth on the DL, especially the interior, cannot be overstated and they’ve struggled with that. Not only in this regime, but in past regimes as well.

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