Big Louis Nix

A closer look at the depth chart: Defense

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Just as we did with the offense, here’s a closer look at the depth chart on the defensive side of the ball, where co-defensive coordinators Bob Diaco and Kerry Cook have their work cut out for them as they try and protect a secondary that’s replacing three starters and welcomed KeiVarae Russell to the starting lineup after only a few weeks at the position.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Defensive End:

Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sr.
Sheldon Day, Fr.

Defensive Tackle:

Louis Nix, Jr.
Kona Schwenke, Jr.
Tony Springmann, Soph.

Defensive End:

Stephon Tuitt, Soph.
Chase Hounshell, Soph.
Jarron Jones, Fr.

Thoughts:

It’s amazing to look at this position grouping and realize that only Lewis-Moore will be gone from this group in 2014, let alone 2013. (On second glance, the group will technically lose Schwenke, too.) That’s a staggering amount of youthful depth up front, but also a reminder that this group is young… and still a little bit raw.

Lewis-Moore’s return from injury should be worth watching, as Notre Dame needs the fifth-year player to get more productive with his snaps. This fifth year could help him go from good to great. After battling through adversity during his freshman season, expect this to be the year that the college football world learns about Stephon Tuitt. At 6-foot-6, 303-pounds, he’s quite a rare mix of size and speed that usually translates to a star in the making.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Louis Nix landed on the top of the defensive tackle depth chart over Schwenke. He’s just too good of a player.

LINEBACKERS

Outside Linebacker (Dog):

Ben Councell, Soph.
Romeo Okwara, Fr.
CJ Prosise, Fr.

Inside Linebacker (Will):

Dan Fox, Sr.
Jarrett Grace, Soph.
Joe Schmidt, Soph.

Inside Linebacker (Mike):

Manti Te’o, Sr.
Jarrett Grace, Soph.
Kendall Moore, Jr.

Outside Linebacker (Cat):

Prince Shembo, Jr.
Ishaq Williams, Soph.
Anthony Rabasa, Soph.

Thoughts: This is another impressive group that is obviously anchored by one transcendent talent. But a closer look gives you a look at the Irish in the future, with everybody but Te’o back for another season, and the rest of the squad still with some time left on their eligibility clock.

It’s starting to look like Romeo Okwara is too good of an athlete to keep off the field. After seeing how the Irish staff handled star freshmen Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch, I don’t expect any freshman to make an overwhelming amount of big plays, if only because it’ll be difficult for them to earn opportunities, with the staff more worried about players being assignment capable and not physically dominant.

While Prince Shembo beat out Ishaq Williams, there’s no doubt we’ll likely see both guys on the field a lot, and often times together. Notre Dame will need to get a pass rush out of the duo. Across the field, sophomore Ben Councell answered the bell when he capable replaced Danny Spond after a scary head injury, but the youthful linebacker is the best schematic fit Bob Diaco’s had at the position since he got started.

SECONDARY

Cornerback:

Bennett Jackson, Jr.
Jalen Brown, Soph.
Elijah Shumate, Fr.

Safety

Zeke Motta, Sr.
Matthias Farley, Soph.
John Turner, Fr.

Cornerback:

KeiVarae Russell, Fr.
Josh Atkinson, Soph.

Safety:

Jamoris Slaughter, Sr.
Chris Salvi, Soph.
Nicky Baratti, Fr.

Thoughts:
The lack of depth in this group is a little difficult, but in college football’s 85-man roster era, more than just the Irish are hoping to get by with a position group that might spend the beginning of the season treading water. It’s really impressive that Russell has worked his way to the top of the cornerback depth chart and you can tell the confidence the freshman shows off the field translates to the comfort he feels out at corner.

Matthias Farley’s ascent up the depth chart into the third safety spot is also mighty impressive. As a recruit, Farley looked like a developmental target and during a redshirt freshman season he trained as a wide receiver. After switching sides of the ball, he’s taken to safety quickly, something the Irish will need with Austin Collinsworth out for what is likely the season.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”