Deciphering the depth chart


While head coach Charlie Weis won’t be making the depth chart for week one public until next Tuesday, he did give more than a few hints at what’s to come when it’s revealed.

Here’s a link to the preseason depth chart, that both and the preseason media guide show.

A few thoughts before analyzing Weis’ Monday comments:

* It’s pretty amazing to see Kapron Lewis-Moore’s name atop the left defensive end spot. Here’s a guy who has gained 50 pounds since he last played in a football game, and never sniffed the field last year (most likely, by design). That’s a lot of South Dining Hall and weight room time. More importantly, that’s a huge responsibility in the 4-3 defense that the Irish will be running. That Weis’ preseason review of Lewis-Moore has been abundantly positive is reassuring, and it’s a huge bonus that we’ll get to start pumping our fists and screaming “KLFM is gonna rock you” when he makes a big hit.

* Holy Smith. Right now, the defensive depth chart has Scott Smith, Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, and Harrison Smith all sitting atop it. It’s a good thing that ND doesn’t do names on the back of the jerseys or that’d get ugly quick.

* It’s great to see Mike Ragone back on the two-deep. He’s been a favorite of mine since I found out he won the 2005 “Beast of the East” wrestling tournament. I’ve got a ton of respect for high school wrestlers, and the last few that ND has had on the roster (John Sullivan, Trevor Laws, Ryan Harris) have been studs. I think both the running game and the passing attack will improve with Ragone back in the mix.

* Having James Aldridge as a fullback is more of a positive than a negative. I hope the Irish can use him the same way USC uses Stanley Havili, who is built similarly to James. While Aldridge may never be the All-American that people like Tom Lemming built him up to be, he could carve a Rashon Powers-Neal like niche in the backfield and still have a chance at a career playing the game on Sundays.

Now getting to a few of the things Coach Weis did say about the depth chart…

* Nick Tausch won the kicking job decisively.

“The field goal kicker is going to be Tausch and the kickoff guy is also going to be Tausch… He won the competition significantly, plus statistically. We just tracked every competitive kick for the entire camp and he won it fairly convincingly.”

Weis now has three scholarship kickers on the roster, two punters, and a long snapper. That’s got to be a record of some type, and I think a sign of how the Irish’s specialists have really plagued them. (It’s even more of a reason why missing out on All-American Kai Forbath has haunted Weis and company.)

* Left tackle is still up for grabs. Weis spoke highly of Matt Romine, another heralded recruit that had started to slip from our collective thoughts. Weis is already cross-training Romine at left tackle and right tackle, and mentioned that Paul Duncan has missed some time with injuries. I obviously don’t need to remind people that the offensive line is going to be one of the largest X-factors of the season, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if Weis had Jimmy Clausen’s blind side protector already set in stone.

* Steve Filer and Manti Te’o are coming. Some of the best news Irish fans have heard. Both heralded prospects came to South Bend with high expectations, and hearing Weis rave about Filer was very exciting.

“His arrow is pointing up,” Weis said. “Now, not only is he in the hunt at the SAM position, we look at him as a guy who could find his way on the field in nickel as a regular. If he finds his way on the field as a regular, he might end up being on the field 75 percent of plays.”

Terrific news. And the news on everybody’s favorite Hawaiian is equally promising. Besides battling some nicks and scrapes, Te’o sounds as if he’s already pushing Brian Smith at the WILL position and will also see some time in the Nickel defense from day one. I think that speaks highly on Te’o’s athleticism, and seeing Filer and Te’o in the nickel has to make Irish fans smile, and opposing defensive coordinators cringe. This defense is going to fly…

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”