Just one look at the two-deep depth chart for the defense shows you how quickly a defense can change. If you’re looking for physicality, a quick look at the defensive line shows you how transformed the unit is from year’s past. Of the starters, only Sean Cwynar weighs less than 300 pounds. In the two-deep, only Louis Nix — hardly considered small at 6-foot-3, 326 pounds — is shorter than 6-foot-4.
While the veteran starters Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are back, the future isn’t that far in the rearview mirror, as both Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, mega-sized freshman, are primary backups, a sign that both should contribute immediately.
Other freshman in the two-deep include outside linebackers Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas, both looking the part of veterans from a physical standpoint.
Here’s a look at the defensive depth chart:
OPENING WEEK DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART
DE: ETHAN JOHNSON, Sr.
DE: Aaron Lynch, Fr.
NG: Sean Cwynar, Sr.
or Louis Nix III, So.
DE: KAPRON LEWIS-MOORE, Sr.
DE: Stephon Tuitt, Fr.
DE: Kona Schwenke, So.
OLB: DARIUS FLEMING, Sr.
OLB: Steve Filer, Sr.
or Ishaq Williams, Fr.
ILB: Dan Fox, Jr.
or CARLO CALABRESE, Jr.
ILB: MANTI TE’O, Jr.
ILB: Anthony McDonald, Sr.
OLB: Prince Shembo, So.
OLB: Danny Spond, So.
or Troy Niklas, Fr.
CB: Robert Blanton, Sr.
CB: Lo Wood, So.
S: HARRISON SMITH, Sr.
S: Dan McCarthy, Sr.
S: Jamoris Slaughter, Sr.
or: ZEKE MOTTA, Jr.
S: Austin Collinsworth, So.
CB: GARY GRAY, Sr.
CB: Bennett Jackson, So.
It’ll be interesting to see how snaps are broken up between Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese. As you can tell by the caps-lock, Calabrese is the returning starter, but he’s not as mobile as Fox is, something that the Irish coaching staff could prefer when facing a dual-threat quarterback like B.J. Daniels.
To prepare for Daniels’ speed, the No. 1 defense saw plenty of freshman Everett Golson and sophomore Andrew Hendrix, two great athletes that have plenty of wheels.
“Everett and Andrew certainly assisted in that preparation,” Kelly said. “Both of them helped us this week in preparing for B.J. Daniels, because they’re both guys that you have to defend as it relates to running the ball.”
Kelly also mentioned using some of his No. 1 offense in the simulation, something that’ll help the Irish defense be up to speed when the time comes to tackle the guys wearing the other uniform.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish decide to roll through front seven defenders. From the looks of it, there’ll be seven guys in the defensive line rotation, all of them ready for action.
The key for Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will be proper situational use to get the most out of guys like Louis Nix, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.
“That’s what we’ve been working on, that situational substitution, getting the right guys on the field and maximizing the talent,” Kelly said. “We think we found the right formula and you have to be ready for injuries, a guy that needs a blow because it’s 89 degrees and high humidity, so I think we have a good feel, but you always have plan B ready to go.
With a weather report that’s pretty crazy (high 90s on Friday, 81 on Saturday), it’ll be a great advantage to be able to roll through a lot of guys, though I imagine that kind of temperature doesn’t exactly intimidate South Florida.