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How we got here: Defensive line

Oct 9, 2013, 1:08 AM EDT

Jeff Whittingham, Kyle Friend, Louis Nix III AP

Heading into the season, Notre Dame’s defensive line was looked at among the finest units in the country. Led by preseason All-Americans Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, the Irish’s three man front, with sophomore Sheldon Day stepping in for graduated Kapron Lewis-Moore, had the makings of one of the deepest and most dangerous in the country.

Which made the sight of outside linebacker Romeo Okwara and true freshman Isaac Rochelle playing significant crunch time snaps up front against Arizona State all the more telling. That the Irish haven’t played as dominant along the defensive line isn’t as easily explained as injuries to guys like Day, Chase Hounshell or Tony Springmann, and the disappearance of Eddie Vanderdoes. But let’s take a look at the production the Irish have gotten from Mike Elston’s guys and check out some of the contributing factors that have gone into Notre Dame’s 4-2 start.


Louis Nix III — 20 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 BU, 1 PD
Stephon Tuitt — 18 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD, 7 QBH, 1 FF
Sheldon Day — 7 tackles, 1 TFL
Kona Schwenke — 6 tackles
Isaac Rochelle — 3 tackles
Jarron Jones — 2 tackles


Injuries. There’s really no getting around this one. Losing glue guys like Hounshell and Springmann were killer injuries, especially with Day struggling to come back from an ankle sprain the past few weeks. Combine the fact that Tuitt has been slowed by a hernia surgery, and you see a position that at one time looked like the deepest in the past 20 years on the defensive side of the ball, now need to depend on untested players like Jarron Jones and Tyler Stockton in key situations.

Supporting Cast. Playing a three-down alignment doesn’t just rely on great work by your nose tackle and two stout defensive ends. It depends on precise run fits by linebackers and seamless work by defenders in elementary things like alignment, communication and scheme. Losing Hounshell and Springmann loses two guys that understand what it is this defense wants to do. Subbing in a first time starter at linebacker like Jarrett Grace (and now with his injury, walk-on Joe Schmidt or Kendall Moore) in place of Manti Te’o, and you see how the little things likely led to some bigger issues.

Bullseye. Let’s be honest. It’s easy for guys like Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix to make an impact when not everybody knows how good they are. But after a 12-0 season that saw both players garner some All-American mentions, constant double teams and offensive coordinators scheming against you certainly makes things a little bit more difficult.


  1. mtflsmitty - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    Thrilled Nix, Tuitt and Sheldon (bets kids didn’t pick on him for the name too much) are getting some rest this week. Glad the backups will be getting more high-intensity reps over the next two weeks. We seemed to have improved in recent weeks up front. We’ll need more improvement to be 9-2 going into Stanford.

    Love that Jaron Jones will be getting experience quickly. I think he could be huge for us next year. We’ll need him and his experience.

    Who will replace Nix next year? Kona have another year of eligibility?

    • onward2victory - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:40 AM

      I’m trying to just enjoy this season and not think too much about next, but I am terrified at what the D line will look like next year. Our offense better be good!!

      • domerboyirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:17 AM

        If I remember correctly, we have five D-linemen committed in next years class with 2 four stars and 3 three stars. None of them are big enough to be the beast in the middle like Nix, which is essential to the 3-4 scheme. Hopefully we can still get one in this recruiting cycle. We desperately need one.

      • Tim's Neighbor - Oct 9, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        One of the good things about this coaching staff is that they don’t seem stubbornly married to just one philosophy. We’ve already seen them play a lot with 4 men on the line and I’d anticipate that that would increase/continue if they don’t have the personnel to run the version of the 3-4 that they want to.

        That said, boy would it be nice to have successfully recruited the preferred personnel. EV jumping ship after signing day was pretty brutal.

    • mcirish27 - Oct 11, 2013 at 4:03 PM

      JJ is a redshirt freshman but i seem to see Rochelle, the true freshman, on the field before Jones. Not exactly confidence inspiring but they’re both huge bodies and think that their size is hugely important in this 3-4. Much better than when the 6-2 Darius Fleming was rushing the passer under Tenuta. Sadly Kona does not have another year – we could really use his flexibility at end and inside.

  2. mediocrebob - Oct 9, 2013 at 5:02 AM

    What’s the word on Jarron Jones? Haven’t heard much about him. The guy is a monster. Is he adjusting the the speed of college football? I know he came from low level HS football. He could be key next year with Spingman

  3. ndcanuck - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Any chance at all that Tuitt comes back as a senior next season? Likey bad career move for him, but sure would be nice for the Irish!

    • domerboyirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      I’m not sure why this would be a bad move. He has unimpressed this year, most likely due to his back. I guess if he has a monster second half of the season he would be a surefire first rounder but if he continues to be inconsistent, and his draft stock drops, he would benefit from another year at ND. Only what he does in the next seven games will determine whether he comes back or not.

    • mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      Highly doubtful. I think he’ll continue to get better every game. I thought the game against ASU was his best. By the end of the year he’ll the dominate force he’s capable of being.

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Anyone know what the deal is with Kendall Moore. I thought he was a highly recruited prospect and he comes in after the walk-on player, Schmidt? What’s the deal?

  5. dmacirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    a little off topic but looking to see if the wise and intelligent ones here might be able to help with this question.

    does anyone know what the delay in scheduling the time for the pittsburgh game is? i was given tickets for my birthday and am excited to go, just dont know what time they are playing.

    • mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      Schedule shows that it will be on either ABC or ESPN. I’ll bet their waiting to see which games will get the best ratings on which channel. I imagine they’ll see how the top 25 play out over the next week or two before firming the schedule up.

      Have a great time at the game, what an awesome birthday present.

      • dmacirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        thanks for the feedback – i figured it had to do with baseball at first because everyone just found out this year that pittsburgh does still have a team. but the world series is ending by october 31. i know the steelers have a game the following day at 1:00 but they were able to switch the cowboys stadium around with no problems.

        i am kind of betting on it being a night game – rarely does espn or abc air notre dame during the day.

  6. tsombanj - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    I feel for the kid as he keeps getting hurt….but Chase Hounshell as a glue guy??? Has he ever played a down?

    • mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      2011 as a freshman he played in 7 games with a total of 4 tackles,1 solo, 3 assisted, all against Air Force. Missed all of 2012 with an injury.

    • mediocrebob - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:20 PM

      Played his freshman year.

  7. mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    I think the defensive line would have a better stat line if the secondary were able to lock down the passing game. The line is getting pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis, but unfortunately it seems that on a regular basis a receiver is breaking free at the last second and the opposing quarterback is hitting them for a completion. I don’t know how many times in the last game Tuitt was in the picture a second before the quarterback got the ball away. The secondary just needs to lock down the receivers for a few seconds more, which will tighten everything up on the defense.

    • mediocrebob - Oct 9, 2013 at 1:04 PM

      Part of the reason the Irish secondary had a solid year last year is because of the pressure created up front. I guess it goes both ways. If the DL plays as fast and physical as they did against ASU, the secondary should follow.

      • mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 6:51 PM

        mediocrebob, you could be right. The only way to tell would be to grab a stopwatch to time how long it’s taking them to get to the quarterback. To me though, it looks like the line is getting into the backfield as quickly as last year, or very close. What seems to stand out as a stark difference however is what appears to be more wide open receivers than we saw last year. I wonder if their missing Manti Teo directing traffic.

      • papadec - Oct 9, 2013 at 7:39 PM

        bob – easier said than done – but, they both seem to be getting better, complimenting each other.

      • mediocrebob - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:38 PM

        I think they’re probably missing Teo in a number of ways. One, like you said, with alignment possibly. Missing the heart. Not to say these guys don’t have heart, but I think Te’o was pretty special in that regard. And also his instincts. Seems that the LB crew lacks here. Grace had a nose for the ball, but between he, Foxand C44, it’s almost as if they’re guessing sometimes.

        I think we mostly all agree that the defense did look different last week from the previous 5, but the question is will/can they be consistent ? Will they continue to improve? Getting off the field on 3rd down was, in my mind, the biggest/most important difference last week. Hope to see more of it.

        And I realize its easier said than done, but I expect this team to be reenergized for $C and can’t wait to be up there for the atmosphere and hopefully a ‘W’.

        Go Irish. Fuck $C

    • irish4006 - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:10 PM

      Nice to finally have some football discussion for a change…

      I was surprised how quickly OU and UM were able to get the ball out. Our DL spent considerable time in our opponents’ backfield, just was not able to finish the play, until ASU who did not play the dink and dunk so well. If you want your secondary to play close, you risk the big play. If they are giving too much space, QB is able to complete the dink and dunk. In OU/UM game what hurt even more is that those little plays turned into big one due to 1. poor tackling and 2. our linebackers/safety getting caught out of position.

      Making it all come together for a complete game, let’s cross our fingers and hope that it happens sooner rather than later. ASU game was good but far from perfect.

      • ndirish10 - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:28 PM

        Just don’t mention TR or you’ll get what’s his name posting 20+comments within 5 minutes…

      • mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 6:59 PM

        Yes, good point. The problem of open receivers was compounded by some poor tackling and being out of position in both the OU and UM games. Those are two things that I don’t remember happening much last year, particularly the poor tackling.

  8. kansasirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    I see on Twitter that Greg Bryant’s dad is addressing transfer rumors…shocker….never saw this coming. F!!

    • mediocrebob - Oct 9, 2013 at 1:07 PM

      That’s not good. IMO , if the Irish were to lose someone, the RB position is one they could afford to lose. Of course you never want to lose someone with the potential GB is said to have. Hope nothing happens here.

      Go Irish. Fuck $C

    • irish4006 - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      This truly is turning out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Someone started a rumor somewhere, people started asking questions, now maybe the kid is having second thought. Nothing ND can do there. They will play when they are ready and they can help the team. He is a true freshman who isn’t even 100% fit (possibly getting a medical red-shirt), if he is already unhappy, not sure what anyone can do to make him happy.

    • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      Unfortunately, these are the sign of times and transfers will happen every year. I equate this with the times when I was younger, you had hard time slipping past just one finger but then as you grow older you realize that you can get 2, 3, 4 fingers past there. You were happy cuz u were getting laid but then realize its sad for mankind because they should try to stop you at 2 or 3.

    • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:43 PM

      I really wish Facebook n twitter n whores would just go away sometimes but they just seem to keep multiplying. It truly has ruined our human souls and spirits as a whole and the way I look at the football players these days even the ones at ND. Hard to respek someone who still speaks Ebonics at top notch university.

    • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      I hope he transfers to Oklahoma State and finds happiness

  9. dmacirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:58 PM


  10. dmacirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:58 PM


    • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 3:11 PM

      If there ever was a guy that I wish would cheat(in classroom or on the field PED). I wonder if he could run faster if he were on roids?

    • ndirish10 - Oct 9, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      Dammit dmac! See what you did?! Look below…now you got him all started…

      • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 6:35 PM


  11. getsome99 - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    I heard that.

    And you’re right. Don’t do what you just said to not do or that other thing you said would happen will most definitely happen.

    • dickasman - Oct 9, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      Yeah the part I miss the most about quitting cocaine is the 4 finger blasting since towards the end, I had hard time keeping firm. Cocaine is a hell of a drug!

  12. getsome99 - Oct 9, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    If Greg Bryant transfers, he transfers. We’re talking about a player who couldn’t even get on the field in ND’s 5 man backfield and our RB’s so far haven’t been that good.

  13. bigjdeezy - Oct 9, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    Any chance Ben Councell gets moved inside? It seems the best way to get the best talent and speed on the field at the same time

    • ibleedirish - Oct 10, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      Oh my heavens no, that would never work. Every position on this offense and defense is highly specialized and takes years of film study, research, and meditating to learn the “little things” involved in mastering the art of being consistent, day in, day out. We are looking at another several years until anyone has proved they are operating on a higher plain and have mastered the art/science needed to play football.

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