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With Te’o’s return, 2012 front seven looks solid

Dec 12, 2011, 11:55 PM EDT

Manti Te'o junior

Manti Te’o‘s return means a lot of things to the Irish. Off the field, Notre Dame will have one of the nation’s premiere student-athletes representing their university. An All-American on and off the field, Te’o will be the unquestioned face of the program heading into a season that’ll have the Irish on center stage.

The decision to come back took many people by surprise, especially with news leaking late Sunday night after an awards banquet in Newport Beach for the Lott IMPACT Award. But Te’o had a chance to discuss the pros and cons of leaving and staying with his family, and in the end the junior couldn’t turn down playing his senior season in South Bend. Te’o discussed some of the reasons that went into coming back for his senior season during an official interview with UND.com.

“This was a tough decision, and I found myself praying about it often,” Te’o said. “Ultimately, I really want to experience my senior year at Notre Dame. The happiest moments so far in my life have come when I am spending time with people I love. I wanted to spend another year with my teammates and the coaches on our team. I don’t think any sum of money can replace the memories I can create in my senior year.

“Graduating from Notre Dame is really important to me. Many people encouraged me to go to the NFL because I could always earn my diploma later in life. If I did that, though, I would not have the chance for the same experiences that are ahead of me in my senior year, and I would not have finished at Notre Dame with the guys I started with and care so much about. When I weighed all the factors that went into this decision, it just felt right to stay at Notre Dame.”

Off the field, there’s nothing I could write about Te’o that hasn’t already been said. As Brian Kelly appropriately said, “This is not only a great day for the University of Notre Dame and our football team, it is also a great day for college football.”

But before we get carried away with the ambassador that Te’o is, let’s talk about what his return means to a unit that is shaping up to be one of the most dynamic front sevens in recent Irish memory.

Put simply, with Te’o back, the Irish have the engine that’ll power this defense. Losing Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming won’t be easy for the Irish coaching staff to stomach, but the Irish couldn’t be in better shape to deal with their departures.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the anticipated depth chart:

2012 Projected Defensive Front Seven

DE
Kapron Lewis-Moore, Grad Student
Stephon Tuitt, Soph.
Aaron Lynch, Soph.
Chase Hounshell, Soph.
Kona Schwenke, Jr.
Jaron Jones, Fr.

Notes: There’s really an embarrassment of riches at defensive end for the Irish, even before you consider a guy like Jones, who’ll likely push for playing time. With Lewis-Moore and Tuitt, the Irish have two bruising 3-4 run-stuffing defensive ends. With Lynch, the Irish have a pass rusher who should see his production increase exponentially. At the very least the Irish can go three deep with impact players, with guys like Hounshell ready to push into the rotation as well.

DT
Sean Cwynar, Grad Student
Louis Nix, Jr.
Tony Springmann, Soph.
Sheldon Day, Fr.

Notes: You’ve got to expect Cwynar back, especially when you look at the depth chart logically. He’s a perfect complement to Nix, who should be ready to take his game to the next level after an impressive first-year campaign. The staff is high on Springmann who offers another mammoth body in the middle, and I’m excited to see what Day can do when he gets to campus. In years past, Day would be the signature recruit that has Irish fans salivating. This year? He’s just another guy.

OLB
Prince Shembo, Jr.
Danny Spond, Jr.
Troy Niklas, Soph.
Ishaq Williams, Soph.
Ben Councell, Soph.
Anthony Rabasa, Soph.
Romeo Okwara, Fr.

Notes: There’s less depth here than you’d think. In all likelihood, Shembo will take over for Fleming at the Cat linebacker position, or at least will compete for the job with Williams, who spelled Fleming this season as a raw but impressive freshman. You’ve got to think that Niklas will get the first chance to start at the Dog backer, with Spond potentially running out of time to make a difference as a position player. If there’s a guy that’s a wildcard, it’s Councell, who saved a year of eligibility, but profiled as a perfect field-side linebacker. The Irish aren’t done recruiting this position either.

ILB
Manti Te’o, Sr.
Dan Fox, Sr.
Carlo Calabrese, Sr.
Kendall Moore, Jr.
Justin Utupo, Jr.
Jarrett Grace, Soph.

Notes: Without Te’o, this group feels filled with question marks. With Te’o, it feels filled with depth. Instead of wondering if Kendall Moore can take Te’o’s place, now the question is how do the Irish find snaps for the talented rising junior. With Fox and Calabrese both returning, the Irish have three interior linebackers that know the ins and outs of Bob Diaco’s system, depth at a position that’s plagued Notre Dame for nearly a decade.

The recipe for protecting a painfully young secondary is an impressive front seven. With Te’o in the middle of the group, expect Bob Diaco and his front seven to protect the back-end of the defense.

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  1. Jennifer - Dec 13, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    Webster Dictionary definition of a sage:
    Noun: A profoundly wise man, one who features in ancient history or legend.
    Adjective: having, showing, or indicating profound wisdom: ex: they nodded in agreement with these sage remarks
    UND definition of a sage: Manti Te’o

  2. 04domergrad - Dec 13, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    In today’s college football of 24/7 recruiting, sky-high expectations, ESPN and a million other talking heads stepping on each other to say the biggest and boldest things possible, it’s easy to forget that these are real kids that give their all for their university. The more I watch football, the more I’m convinced that it takes a great deal of luck to be a top 10 team. And while we didn’t seem to have that on our side this year, it’s easy to get angry and talk about failure to meet expectations, but we should all be thankful we have someone like Manti Teo as the face of our football team. This isn’t the first time he chose ND when many people thought he shouldn’t…

  3. nudeman - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:05 AM

    The article seems to suggest that Calabrese returning is a good thing.
    Maybe there’s another Calabrese on the team than the sloth I saw.

    • domer77blowsgoats - Dec 13, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      Glad to see you waived the right to you prelim hearing just to have the time to add some more of your useless negativity.

  4. klownboy - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    Ah, it’s nice to see Notre Dame keep getting the benefit of the doubt from the media. As for me, I’ll reserve judgment when the Irish wins more than EIGHT games…
    http://theklowntimes.net/2011/09/07/its-2012-and-notre-dame-still-sucks/

    • nudeman - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:36 AM

      klownboy
      Any interest in telling us who YOUR team is?
      Or are you just another of those ND bashers who posts under the safety of anonymity?
      Very brave.

      • danno27 - Dec 13, 2011 at 10:41 AM

        easy on him Nude, he’s reached a new level of trolldom: trolling AND plugging his schlocky website. There’s got to be some sort of award for this.

      • borromini - Dec 13, 2011 at 12:25 PM

        “There‚Äôs got to be some sort of award for this”

        Or some form of treatment as it clearly indicates an illness is present.

      • bernhtp - Dec 13, 2011 at 12:44 PM

        I never click on links to these schlocky websites. We’ve had several people hawking theirs here, including those by (ostensibly) Irish fans.

      • klownboy - Dec 13, 2011 at 3:10 PM

        Actually I went to NC State, and am proud to say that our football team sucks.

  5. gtizzo - Dec 13, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    Nice breakdown Keith,

    BK needs to keep on eye on the recruiting class, Ohio State has stolen players from Penn State and today snagged one from Michigan State. Keeping Manti is good news but ND will have to replace him.

    • nudeman - Dec 13, 2011 at 3:45 PM

      Tommy Schutt, the Chicago area kid who wanted to come to ND and had committed to PSU, pre scandal
      Just flipped to OSU

  6. 1historian - Dec 13, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    (Obvious) moral superiority aside – what is wrong with expecting NOTRE DAME to win more than 8 out of 12 games before thinking of her as a force in college football?

  7. mattnef - Dec 13, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Te’o coming back is great news. Now if only Kelly could convince Floyd to come ba… oh wait, that’s right. :(

  8. nudeman - Dec 13, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    They’re obviously intent on becoming mediocre in Kansas
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________

    Ex-Irish QB Powlus joins Weis at Kansas

    Kansas figures to have a decided advantage next season in at least one area: most former Notre Dame coaches on its football staff, the latest being former Irish quarterback Ron Powlus.

    Newly hired Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis announced Tuesday that Powlus, who coached quarterbacks for three seasons (2007-09) at Notre Dame and the last two at Akron, will fill that role on his Kansas staff. Rob Ianello, another former Irish assistant, soon could join Weis’ staff as well.

    Powlus was a four-year starter at Notre Dame from 1994-97 and set 20 school records. He played in the NFL with the Tennessee Oilers, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles from 1998-2000.

    Powlus worked with Jimmy Clausen (now with the Carolina Panthers) during his time at Notre Dame and also served Weis as director of player development in 2005-06.

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