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Depth on defensive line a welcome surprise

Aug 9, 2011, 2:54 PM EDT

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

For Notre Dame fans that have been following the team for the past decade or so, there’s every reason to be confused. That confusion arose again last week, when the Irish accepted the commitment of defensive line prospect Sheldon Day, an Indianapolis native that’s among the nation’s best and most versatile prospects. That the Irish beat SEC powers like LSU for a defensive linemen — even one from in state — has the Notre Dame faithful mystified at their good luck under head coach Brian Kelly, who has seemingly reeled in every big name defensive lineman he’s looked at since arriving in South Bend. In retrospect, maybe we should’ve seen this coming. Kelly (with a big assist from Tony Alford) landed Louis Nix before he even accepted the head coaching job.

But Day’s commitment meant the Irish had to tell four-star defensive tackle Tommy Schutt that the bus is full, a move that had some Irish fans apopleptic that Kelly and his coaching staff (a group that’s spent over 18 months evaluating 2012 defensive line prospects) would have the nerve to turn down a player that recruiting websites had rated higher than Day. (Michigan would tell Schutt the same thing 24 hours later, supporting the claim that Schutt might be overrated by websites like Rivals.)

With the Irish corralling Day to go along with the sizable defensive line haul in the last recruiting cycle, the coaching staff have been able to focus on other positions of need as they balance recruiting with a full 85-man scholarship allotment. (Jordan Prestwood officially became No. 85 last week.) More importantly, for the first time in recent memory, the strength of the defensive roster is a stacked defensive line.

Here’s a quick look at the first official two-deep depth chart along the defensive line for the Irish.

DE: Ethan Johnson: 6-4, 300, Sr.
DE: Aaron Lynch: 6-6, 265, Fr.

NT: Sean Cwynar: 6-4, 285, Jr.
NT: Louis Nix: 6-3, 326, So.
NT: Hafis Williams: 6-1, 295, Sr.

DE: Kapron Lewis Moore: 6-4, 300, Sr.
DE: Kona Schwenke: 6-4, 285, So.

Not listed on that depth chart is the most physically imposing defensive end on the roster, freshman Stephon Tuitt. Also missing is Brandon Newman, a guy that in the past would be anchoring the interior of this defensive line, and freshmen Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell, both of whom have impressed the staff early in camp.

All of that means choices and options for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and defensive line coach Mike Elston. As you’d expect, Elston tried to dampen the enthusiasm for his two signature freshman defensive ends, Tuitt and Aaron Lynch.

“Even though the kid can sack the quarterback, he’s still going to have to know how to sack the quarterback within our scheme,” Elston said. “If he’s going in the wrong gap and pressuring the quarterback, everbody else around him is in a weak situation. Yeah, we’ve got some guys across the front that could be difference-makers, but they still have so much to learn.”

Nobody can blame Elston for trying to tamp down expectations, but in reality, the Irish have more playmakers in their front seven than they’ve had in a decade. Those options allow Diaco to experiment with odd and even fronts, helping the Irish to get four pass rushers in the game along the defensive line, only to be complemented by guys like Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo, two of the top pass rushers on the roster.

The Irish finished 55th in the country last season in sacks, finishing with 26 in 13 games on the season. Whether Diaco and Elston will admit it or not, there’s every reason to believe that number should sky-rocket in 2011, as the Irish will have a full allotment of options both young and old to choose from.

It might be confusing, but here’s hoping Irish fans can at least enjoy the splendor of good fortunes along the defensive line.




  1. oldestguard - Aug 9, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    Actually, things are looking very clear and focused to me these days. The D is going to blow up alot of Offenses this year.

    What little I’ve seen of Tuitt, he looks like he has a pro-size developed body already.

    Have you seen him up close, Keith ? Anyone ?

    It’s going to be fun.

  2. smurphdoggy29 - Aug 9, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    Fellow compadres, I so SO want to jump into the pool of optimism and just get all lathered up about this years team. I do.

    I am convinced they will have a very good season, my personal hope is relevant Bowl Game at the end of the Season, and I know it will be exciting and a great experience.

    Yet I am reminded constantly (by the detractors) of the track record of our Beloved Irish since 1993/1995.

    Hence I am reluctant to cannon ball into the deep end. Because we all know that the expectation will not mirror the reality in the beginning, and thusly our glowing hope will be dulled. I fully invite a tidal wave of “told me so’s” to rain down upon me once the first few games have been played and this magnificent defensive renaissance has taken root, I do.

    That being said, when will the comparisons to former “stellar” Notre Dame front sevens begin, and what will the barometer be ?

    [25 days from right now we’ll be watching game 1]

    • xavty - Aug 9, 2011 at 4:34 PM

      Being a Bengals and Reds fan (sigh) I am all too used to expectations not being met. I will say I am cautiously optimistic for this year though. Can’t wait for the season to start, especially for the Michigan State game I will be at.

      GO IRISH!

    • ndgoldandblue - Aug 9, 2011 at 5:04 PM

      As a devout follower on all things Irish, I hear a lot of ideas, opinions, and prognostications on Notre Dame message boards. These takes always span across the positivity-negativity spectrum. However, one thing is always a commonplace: This fanbase is starving for a winner. We are so hungry for a winner that we can’t remember the last time we had a decent meal. And, frankly, we as fans feel like we’re overdue. In every sport, both professionally and at the collegiate level, there are the polarizing teams. People either really love them or really hate them. There are no fans that are in-between when it comes to these teams. You guys know who I’m talking about: the Lakers, the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Red Wings, Duke basketball, etc. These teams are polarizing because they win championships, and they achieve regular success. These teams are the bain of every other team’s existence. Notre Dame is a polarizing team. People either love them or hate them. But, where is the success to back up that polarizing effect? This program has more national championships than every other team in college football, yet they haven’t won one since the 1988-89 season. They haven’t even smelled a national championship since 93 (which they should have been awarded, but I digress). None of the other teams that I listed above have experienced a drought like that. The fans of the Washington Nationals will never get overly upset if their team never wins a World Series, but if the Yankees go five years without being a part of the championship discussion, the fans riot. The pressure to win in New York is incredibly high, but the Yankees rise to the pressure and win. The same idea applies to college football. I doubt that the fans of USF will cause a major uproar if their team never wins a national championship. But Notre Dame is a university that is known for greatness, but the team hasn’t delivered in such a long time. My point in all this is that I agree with you, to a certain extent. I don’t expect greatness anymore, but I do still hope for greatness out of my favorite team. Hope is all that I have left, and I have plenty of it for this season. I was 9 years old the last time the Irish won a national championship. I am now 32, buying a house and expecting a baby. Let’s hope I’m not a retired grandfather by the time Notre Dame wins another championship.

      • oldestguard - Aug 9, 2011 at 5:53 PM

        “Cautiously optimistic ” is a safe place to be. But a few factors have me chugging the juice a little harder than that – the returning starters, the 2-deeps in some key postions, the push that the talented freshmen will give the vets, a second year in this new system, and Kelly – a true winner at this level.

        I go back to the era of Ara. I’ve been up, down, and all over with this team. I’ve seen the Highest Heights of Heaven and the Dankest Dungeons of the Devil.

        I’m usually jacked in July and August by nature, but I’m quite willing to stick my guts out there a little further this year and expect something very good coming our way in this and the next few years and hopefully beyond.

        Stay on board, it’s going to be a great ride !

  3. borromini - Aug 9, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    KA…isn’t Cwynar a Senior or were you meaning redshirt Junior? He might have a 5th year eligible but I believe he was part of that 2008 class.

  4. 1historian - Aug 9, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    I know people are going to dump on me for this but I am writing from the safety of cyberspace, so here I go.

    When team a beats the you-know-what out of team b that is accepted – it happens. BUT when team a rubs team b’s nose in said substance there are consequences – the athletic gods (small g) take note and a CURSE is placed on team a for howsoever long the gods (small g) determine.

    3rd quarter 1993 – BC v. ND. (Before the comeback started.) BC was giving ND a real good whipping. Chris Collinsworth pointed out that the seeds had been planted the year before. 1992 ND v. BC. ND is ahead something like 37-0 in the 3rd quarter, the ND punter goes back to punt, it’s a fake and he runs for a first down. Then the camera shows him on the sideline laughing with his buddies, and then we see the BC players watching this. We all know how that 1993 game ended and I don’t think that ND has not been the same since. They have been humiliated numerous times – I’m sure I don’t have to point that out to any of you nor do I have to go into any particulars.

    ND doesn’t do humble very well, but I think that the gods (small g) have had their fun – it has, after all been 18 years. And perhaps there is some whatever in the fact that Chris’ son will have an active part in the team’s fortunes this season. I’ve said many times that Kelly is the right man for the job, and most important – I think we have a coach who gets it.

    If you have to ask what “it” is please don’t – you wouldn’t understand.

    Besides, if Grace Kelly is going to be at the home games, how can we lose?

    24+ days to go.

    • 1historian - Aug 10, 2011 at 6:21 AM

      Correction – “I don’t think that ND has not been the same since.”

      duh (just one h thankyouverymuch)

      remove the word “not” from the above sentence

      We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming (while I take the dog to daycare)

    • ndbostonfan - Aug 13, 2011 at 12:33 PM


      I understand the sentiment to this post, but it is really does not hold up to logic. How many times has USC or Floriday run it up on opponents? Faking filed goals and going for it on 4th down? I remember outrage for both, yet they won national titiles for what seemed on end. They have been the standard of success. Ohio State had a couple of games over the years where I thought they poured it on some lower oppents. That is what BC was the year ND stomped them. They were struggling and ND did some things that were questionable, but many folks said they were “showing it” for the next opponent. And like you posted….1993 was the Bowden “lefetime achievement” national title. ND deserved the national title by all the logic used by voters previously.

      • 1historian - Aug 15, 2011 at 10:48 PM

        Florida State deserved the title because

        1) Notre Dame lost at home to an unranked team the week after the big game.
        2) Florida State beat Florida (a ranked team) AT Florida the week after the big game.
        3) At no point did I say that FSU’s winning the title in 1993 was a “lifetime achievement” award for Bobby Bowden.

        I understand that USC and OSU and PSU and others rub it in – that’s what they do.
        Notre Dame is NOT supposed to do that and I don’t say that sarcastically. They DID rub it in in that 1992 game and the fact that they DID is, in my opinion, one of the reasons for their descent into mediocrity over the last 18 years.

        “Many folks said they were ‘showing it’ for their next opponent. Poor excuse.

        I remember a game at ND in the 60s when they were ahead of Pittsburgh 49-0 at the half. As the story goes in the 2nd half they ran almost 100% running plays to keep from making it any worse. It was said that there was an agreement between the two head coaches to do so.

        THAT is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about. She has not been like that for a long time and she is paying the price.

        Anyone who wishes to bring up 51-0 over USC in 1966 is free to do so. I listened to that game on a short-wave radio in the mid-east – I was working the 10 pm – 6 am shift. Legend has it that the USC coach was overheard saying – “I’ll never lose to that Armenian b…..d (Parseghian) again!”
        He didn’t. Among other things – The next year USC showed up with a halfback named O.J. Simpson.

  5. 1historian - Aug 9, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    With all due respect – what is the point in being ‘cautiously optimistic’? They won the last 4 regular season games, they won a bowl game for the first time since the war of 1812, they have a cracking good bunch of freshmen coming in on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff knows the players and vice-versa, the defense has a chance to be something really special for the next few years, there’s a nifty fight going on to be the starting QB, and let’s be honest with each other – we have been waiting for YEARS to feel like this, so let’s just enjoy it.

    I know I will – join me.

  6. papadec - Aug 9, 2011 at 10:10 PM

    I kissed “cautiously optimistic” goodbye on March 8th, when I had my son place a bet, in Vegas, on ND to win the BCS Championship this year. I’ll be @ the AF game this year with my son. My first game @ ND since I think 1968 – his first game there, ever. We’re both ready for a ND Championship, not next year – THIS YEAR. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. smurphdoggy29 - Aug 10, 2011 at 1:45 AM

    In addition to the University of Notre Dame it is the Notre Dame fan base that continually keeps me emotionally invested, for they are unfailingly loyal, ever vigilant to stand up for what they believe in, and have the “what though the odds demeanor”. We all get that tingle in our spine and a tear in our eye when we hear the roar of “There is a magic in the sound of her name, HERE COME THE IRISH of Notre Dame !!!

    Here is hoping for the best from this moment forward !!! Well played 1historian, well played!!!

    • 1historian - Aug 10, 2011 at 6:15 AM

      Thank you.

      Does anyone out there remember “Ara stop the snow”? It was a (November?) game in 1968 or 1969. I don ‘t remember who the opponent was, but snow started falling and the chant started up in the student section out of nowhere. It was one of those “you had to be there!” moments. It was really funny and I’ve never forgotten it.

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