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What we’ve learned: Defense

Aug 12, 2012, 1:17 PM EDT

Stephon Tuitt 1

The Irish have Sunday off, wrapping up an eight-day stretch of practices for the Irish. After a quick look at the offensive players, let’s flip to the other side of the ball and run through everything that’s happening on the defense.


For appearances, it seems the Irish are locked in to their starting rotation, with Stephon Tuitt at one end, Kapron Lewis-Moore at the other, and Louis Nix sharing the nose tackle duties with Kona Schwenke.

From there, the depth is young, but Chase Hounshell fought his way onto the field last year and Sheldon Day looks good after an impressive spring semester. We may or may not see Jarron Jones this year, but it’s pretty clear the Irish have another intriguing prospect at a position that used to be like Kryptonite to Irish recruiters.

It’s hard not to play the inevitable “What would they look like?” game if their best pass rusher didn’t flee during spring drills, but Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and line coach Mike Elston aren’t looking back.

And for all those worried that the Irish won’t have a game-breaking talent along the defensive line, sophomore Stephon Tuitt seems intent on allaying your fears.

“I expect myself to be an impact player. I’m not going to lie,” Tuitt told reporters on Saturday. “But I’m going to stick to my assignments, stay humble with it, and do it the best way possible to help my defense and to help my team.”

If you’re wondering why many inside the Irish program were relieved to hold on to the massive defender from Georgia, this quote gives you a good idea why.


Even though Carlo Calabrese won’t be traveling with the team to Ireland, it’s clear the coaching staff isn’t treating his absence like they are Tommy Rees’ at quarterback. Calabrese is still splitting No. 1 reps next to All-American Manti Te’o, with he and Dan Fox expected to platoon once again. But after an impressive redshirt season, Jarrett Grace is going work his way onto the field, with the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder showing some impressive physicality. Kendall Moore is also too talented to keep off the field, but until Te’o’s gone, he’ll be working in a reserve role.

On the outside, Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams are the preferred duo at the Cat linebacker position. But the seriousness of Danny Spond‘s injury — one Kelly classified as a non-concussion — has left the Dog linebacker position depth precariously short behind Ben Councell, and Kelly has responded by shifting freshmen Romeo Okwara and CJ Prosise to the position, with the understanding that Shembo can also play there if needed.

You get the feeling that the Irish would like to save the eligibility of Okwara if it can, even if the 6-foot-4, 239-pound 17-year-old has been impressive. It’s also interesting that the Irish picked Prosise, who has been taking reps in the return game, as the guy to move down to linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 208-pounds, Prosise is the second most physically imposing safety on the depth chart, and with a sprinter’s pedigree, he might be an intriguing weapon that close to the line of scrimmage.


After having a roster nearly barren of safeties when this coaching staff arrived, the roster is jammed full of them, giving the staff the flexibility to move certain guys to spots where they can fill a need. We just saw that with Prosise, and last week Kelly also announced that Elijah Shumate would work with the cornerbacks as well.

Early returns on Shumate are incredibly positive, with the New Jersey native a physical specimen that looks like he’s been in Paul Longo’s strength program for years. He’ll fit a need at cornerback (or in the nickel) where Diaco and Kerry Cooks are looking for strong guys that can also run and cover.

At safety, Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are locked into the starting jobs. The third safety position that would’ve likely been handled by Austin Collinsworth seems to be in the hands of fifth-year vet Dan McCarthy. Athleticism and size have never been a problem for McCarthy, and it’d be great timing for a breakout season, similar to his older brother Kyle, who burst on the scene late in his career.

Bennett Jackson has locked down the boundary corner position that Gary Gray played. But the surprise of camp has been the steady play of Lo Wood. Kelly praised the junior for a great offseason, and it looks as if he’ll hold off Josh Atkinson heading into the Navy game.

“If you ask me after the first five days the guy that’s really impressed the staff the most it’s been Lo Wood,” Kelly said. “He’s 192 pounds up from 178. Breaking on the ball, tackling, communicating.”

There’s confidence in Cam McDaniel if he’s needed to see the field. There’s also hope that Jalen Brown has made strides after a first year spent swimming in the deep end.


  1. keelio19 - Aug 12, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Lo Wood’s appraisal from BK can either be good or bad here.
    Good; if he is actually playing well and locking down the WR’s, we really don’t know with the brief video coverage. Though the fact that he put on 14lbs shows some dedication and focus, which could very well be a ‘Good’ sign.
    Bad; BK may think Lo Is our best bet as our 2nd CB right now, and to publically call out Lo Wood and say he’s really impressing the coaches may just be a confidence booster for our obviously weakest position on our team.
    For now the signs look to be in favor of this being a good thing, and unfortunately we’re going to have to wait and see how well he’s actually doing until the Purdue game, which even there, there may not be much talent on the WR side of the ball for Purdue, but at least he will get 2 practice games under his belt at the position until we play the Mich St and Mich.

  2. jomilly - Aug 12, 2012 at 6:27 PM

    I think its time for starters to be named. This seems pretty bush league right now.

    • bernhtp - Aug 12, 2012 at 8:45 PM

      Kelly clearly uses competition as an integral component of his development process. He wants the extra effort that competition always brings. There are always some exceptions (e.g., Te’o and Eiffert), but he keeps many positions up for grabs.

    • NotreDan - Aug 12, 2012 at 10:44 PM

      Bush league is whatever team jomilly actually roots for

      • nudeman - Aug 12, 2012 at 11:36 PM

        I don’t see the need to announce a QB starter
        All signs say it’s Golson, especially if you read the premium stuff
        No need to demotivate AH
        In the next week he’ll be getting more than 50% of the reps.
        AH will play in Ireland; EG, barring a monumental meltdown will start vs. Purdue
        Sounds like Tommy has been marginalized.

        Here’s what I hope we see those 1st 2 weeks:
        1) No mo more than 2 turnovers
        2) A positive turnover margin
        3) At least a couple deep balls completed, preferably to Davonte and who knows? Maybe Ferguson or Brown too
        4) 200+ yds rushing each game
        5) No injuries

        That wouldn’t stink, would it?

    • audomer - Aug 13, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      Looks like jomilly got banned from Bleacher Report and still needs to voice her opinion from her mothers basement……have fun!!

      • gtizzo - Aug 13, 2012 at 11:54 AM

        Nude I would add Daniels to the list of long ball possibilities. I think Tuitt has a huge year my bet is he has 3 sacks before September is over. Nice to see some of the youth starting to step up and get into the mix.

  3. simmel65 - Aug 12, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    I think our defense is going to really carry us this year! Losing Lynch hurts, but I think the effects of Longo’s stregth trainging and BK and Diaco’s system in place for 3 years now is going to pay dividends. The offense just needs to hand the ball off to Cierre and GA and throw to Eifert when they go 8 in the box. Hopefully, Golson is the QB and he can break off some big plays when things break down. Back to defense though, I think the corners (big concern) will not be exposed due to the front seven. Also, not much conversation about Slaughter, but I think he will have a big year and get drafted pretty high after 1st rounders Eifert and Teo…

    GO ND and can’t wait for Sept 1st!

  4. jomilly - Aug 12, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    only because Lynch was brought up. I gotta say having one sack to every personal foul, and a crap attitude. Him leaving is probably going to make the defense better. Im done, will never mention said clown again…

    • ndschwapp - Aug 13, 2012 at 7:29 PM

      You sound crazy besides Manti Lynch was our most dominant player he WILL be missed he didn’t want to be at ND anymore get over it he will be a 1st round pick in a few years and you will be sitting on your couch WATCHING the draft

  5. idratherbeinsouthbend - Aug 13, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    We’re blessed to have a defense like this. Here’s Bob Davie’s outlook from his latest post-practice interview….

    “I’ll be honest, we’ve practiced a lot, but If we had to go out there today and try to stop somebody, we’re totally dependent on them fumbling the ball o them missing an assignment.”

    Wish him luck with the Lobos, but he’s got a bigger climb than Sir Edmund Hillary

  6. jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    I hope we see great things out of Tuitt as it sounds like he’s got the attitude to be a real gamer. Getting some nice production out of Ishaq off the edge would be great as well. Keelio, I had the same thought when I read BK’s statement about Lo Wood, that maybe he was just putting some good PR out there for the benefit of upcoming opponents. However, if he can run and cover in a respectable way, I think we will be fine back there. No chance of seeing much of that vs Navy, as they hardly throw the ball. Week #2 will begin to tell that tale.

    On another subject, other than Fuller, is there any chance of getting any PSU commits to come our way? Anybody heard anything? I read an article about a local kid, who is standing by his commitment to PSU, as are a bunch of other players. What’s up with that? I get that they want to honor their commitment, but this could effect the complete direction of their lives. A PSU degree is not exactly A paper out there in the business world and with the restriction on scholarships and postseason play, that program is going into a real tailspin at the moment. I know I’d be shopping my options if I were in that position.

    • alsatiannd - Aug 13, 2012 at 11:38 AM

      Navy’s passing game has taken two hits this summer. They just lost their second receiver to injury as reported this weekend in the Washington Post.

      But then, their receivers aren’t so much ball catchers as they are cut blockers.

      • papadec - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:26 PM

        Good – maybe ALL the ND legs will survive the game.

  7. bearcatirishfan - Aug 13, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    I might be in the minority here, but I kind of wish we would stop playing the navy game very year. I know it’s tradition, but there is not benefit to it. If we win oh well you bet navy who cares, if you loose it’s a huge deal, even through thy’ve had 8 wins for like 6 seasons in a row.

    But he’s a few other things, you have to take a week off from getting your defense better to work on the triple option. You have an extreme chance of injury due to cut blocking, and in my opinion semi-ethical blocking strategies, and the game is a let down for the team in many years where they struggle because the team thought they are supposed to win.

    Other than tradition can anyone tell me what ND benefits by playing this game.

    • bernhtp - Aug 13, 2012 at 12:08 PM

      I agree. Navy gives scheduling flexibility given both teams’ independent status, but we can get that out of other schools like BYU, which also has more similarities to Notre Dame.

      • nudeman - Aug 13, 2012 at 1:17 PM

        They will never drop Navy because Navy was everything to them during WWII

        Also, drop them because they should be an easy win? Seriously?
        OK, how about a schedule like this:
        Michigan, MSU, Stanford, Texas, USC, Bama, Auburn, UF, T A&M, etc etc

        Don’t mean to insult the Middies, but you gotta have a break in there somewhere.

      • bernhtp - Aug 13, 2012 at 2:28 PM

        WW II was 70 years ago.

        You missed the point that the reason to make a change is not to get a more difficult opponent, but to get one that doesn’t disrupt the preparation of our defense for other (non-triple option) teams. I would be fine with adding a high-academic and/or religious opponent that is typically not strong like BYU, Rice, SMU, Baylor, etc.

      • nudeman - Aug 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM

        Very surprised to see YOU, an ND grad, say basically “Get over it” re: scheduling Navy
        The schools have a bond that is unbreakable

        “WWII was 70 years ago” So what?
        Is there a statute of limitations on keeping your word and having integrity?

        And how would the conversation go with Navy?
        Swarbrick: “Boys, it’s been almost 3/4 of a century since the last shot was fired, and well … you’re playing this goofy option with all that cut blocking and it’s kinda’ disruptive for us.
        So we’re moving on. Sorry. Bye”

        One of the special things about ND is their respect for the service academies.
        Annapolis, AF and West Point are fabulous institutions that represent the very best of what America and American higher education has to offer. And they’ve proven in recent years that they’re no patsie on the field.

        Who else do we drop?
        USC because they throw the ball a lot and we have shitty corners?
        BYU for the same reason?

        Come on.

      • bernhtp - Aug 13, 2012 at 3:50 PM

        Don’t get your panties into a bunch.

        First, this isn’t going to happen. The Navy game will likely continue indefinitely. It’s just my personal opinion that Notre Dame would be better served by not playing them each year and, yes, the statute of limitations has expired on any so-called debt.

        ND could resume old rivalries (e.g., Northwestern, though getting another B10 opponent is problematic now) or do something creative like have Jack call our old friend Kevin White at Duke and schedule a series of both football and basketball games.

        While it has no bearing on the issue, I personally don’t share the same reverence for military academies that most do here (and elsewhere).

      • papadec - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:42 PM

        bern & others – there is no statute of limitations. If Navy hadn’t used the ND facilities during WWII, the doors would have been shut. There wouldn’t be a ND football program, or probably even an academic institution today. I’d rather drop the BC game – I don’t like two Catholic institutions playing each other with the venom that game seems to breed. BUT, both the BC game in New England, and the Navy game played in various large venues (NYC, DC, Baltimore) are important for ND recruiting.

      • nudeman - Aug 13, 2012 at 4:51 PM

        I’m not a right wing “I SUPPORT THE TROOPS” FOX News knucklehead
        Far from it.
        But these institutions themselves are first rate.
        Anyone with a degree from any of those three places is set for life.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Aug 14, 2012 at 12:47 AM

        Nude, don’t forget the Coasties…..although no football program, it is another fine service academy.

  8. bearcatirishfan - Aug 13, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    No the point I was trying to make is that this game is no longer a gimme, even though the nation and sometimes the team thinks it is. I was stating we should avoid the pitfall of looking past a familiar yet underrated opponent. schedule more western Michigans if we need any easy games. At least you don’t have all the cut blocking. My point was more about the risk not being worth the reward not so much having an easier game on the schedule.

  9. bearcatirishfan - Aug 13, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    How about because of your cut blocking we can no longer risk the health of our fine student athletes.

    USC completely different at lest if we win that one we get a bump I the polls and a win in the usually top 25. I.E. the risk is WORTH the reward. I’m simply saying other than tradition, which shouldn’t be completely discounted, there is o upside to this game. Is tradition enough of an upside to continue. I never said never play navy again, but just not every year. We don’t play army and air force very year, and didn’t I read that we will not be playing michigan every year starting in like 2017.

  10. mtflsmitty - Aug 14, 2012 at 2:18 AM

    Nude, I’m sure you’ll be sleeping better tonight knowing I’m with you 100% on this one. I understand Bern’s point completely, but NDs loyalty to the Navy series is really cool. I don’t know the cut blocking translates into any real uptick in injuries; and the prep for the 3Option is a just a cross we’re going to bare in order to do the right thing.

    • NotreDan - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:25 AM

      You said “bare”., to Nudie. hehe. I really wish you had done it on purpose, LMAO.

      • nudeman - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM

        Well, it should have been a cross we’re going to have to “bear”
        So I didn’t get too excited

  11. aceinthehole12 - Aug 14, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Ah 17 days ! Can’t wait to see the Irish back on the field.

  12. irishfbfan1 - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Does not matter if WW II was 2 years or 200 years ago a deal was made with the Naval Academy. One of the things we as Notre Dame fans take pride in Is tradition, we talk about National Championships, we talk about Heisman Trophey winners, we talk about all Americans , and what is the response of the haters, that was 25 years ago or whatever. No, I am not in favorite of playing Navy every year but 2 things look positive on us, we held our end of the bargain by playing them, and secondly, and in which many haters have commented on, it was very admirable what the University of Notre Dame has done for the Naval Academy, I m just sayin

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