Tag: Tyler Stockton

Tuitt Nix

Offseason cheat sheet: Defensive line


My how things have changed. Once a position group that was the bane of Notre Dame fans’ existence, the defensive line has powered the renaissance Brian Kelly has orchestrated. That being said, this group isn’t without some setbacks. Two players that looked like key reserves on the line, Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, are lost for the season. That’s forced young talent like Isaac Rochelle into the two-deep depth chart earlier than planned.

Still, with two starters that’ll likely end up as first round draft picks, and young talent that’s on the rise, this group should be counted on as one of the strengths of the team. While depth is still somewhat of an issue, let’s run through the defensive line.


Across the front three, the Irish should be as good as anyone in the country. With Tuitt, Nix and Day, the Irish have a stout trio that can hold up and play dominant football against the run but also get after the quarterback.

If you listened carefully to Kelly this camp, expect to see Louis Nix on the field for more passing downs, with the staff thinking that Nix has more to add to the pass rush. Add Tuitt’s pass rush skills and the ability for Ishaq Williams or Prince Shembo to put a hand in the ground and a four-down front on passing downs could be scary for opposing offensive lines.

How well the Irish play will likely be determined by the second wave of talent. Guys like Kona Schwenke and Tyler Stockton are veterans that haven’t seen the field much yet, but will be counted on to take quality reps. First year contributors like Isaac Rochelle and Jarron Jones also have responsibilities heaped on them from the start if this group is going to be as good as advertised.


1. Stephon Tuitt, Jr. #7
2. Louis Nix, Sr. #1
3. Sheldon Day, Soph. #91
4. Isaac Rochelle, Fr. #90
5. Kona Schwenke, Sr. #96
6. Jarron Jones, Soph. #94
7. Justin Utupo, Sr. #53
8. Tyler Stockton, Sr. #92
9. Jacob Matuska, Fr. #89
10. Chase Hounshell, Jr. #50
11. Tony Springmann, Jr. #69
12. Marquis Dickerson, Fr. #95
13. Arturo Martinez, Sr. #86


With Tuitt healthy after a hernia robbed him of some explosiveness down the stretch last season and Nix prepared to leave college football with a bang, don’t expect to see these two come off the field too often. That should leave Day with quite a few one-on-one opportunities, and this coaching staff believes they’ve got a player that should be able to feast on them.

With a ton of inexperienced quarterbacks on the schedule and less spread opponents than in the past, expect Tuitt to take a take down Justin Tuck’s single-season sack record. It’ll make for a tough decision for Tuitt after the season: Leave school early or return for his fourth season.

If you’re looking for a sleeper? Don’t snooze on Justin Utupo. He might not have the size needed to play on the interior, but he could be the type of handful that becomes a high energy change of pace. Utupo could earn time because of Tony Springmann’s season-ending knee injury, a blow to the depth chart that’ll necessitate Ishaq Williams’ cross-training at defensive end.

Practice Report: Day Thirteen update

Stephon Tuitt 1

Apologies on falling behind a day with the practice reports. (If you didn’t notice, simply carry on…) As the Irish defense deals with the voluntary departure of one of the team’s most talented players, in seasons past, this could have been a death sentence.

Yet the loss Aaron Lynch has overshadowed a lot of the impressive depth the Irish have put together along the defensive line, and while it’s foolish to say Lynch won’t be missed, there are capable back-ups ready to take the field.

Almost on cue, the guys at UND.com gave us a look at defensive line coach Mike Elston’s troops. Led by fifth-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, who is all-the-way returned from a knee injury that ended his season early, the Irish should have plenty to offer along the defensive line.

As usual, here’s the practice report, with some thoughts and observations along the way.

  • 0:13 — While Jack Nolan tees up the particulars of this weekend’s Blue-Gold game (watch it live on NBC Sports channel, where you’ll get an appearance from some schmuck blogger…), you see the Notre Dame stadium crew putting in new field turf — just kidding, they are finishing up some drainage repair and laying new sod along the outside of the field.
  • 0:48 — It’s amazing to see the transformation of Kona Schwenke. The guy is just a monster now. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s merely one of those spring all-stars, or if this momentum carries into some significant stats next season, where he’ll likely benefit from the loss of Lynch.
  • 0:56 — We’ve already seen this play, but it’s impressive work by Kapron Lewis-Moore against Zack Martin. KLM looks all the way back from his knee injury.
  • 1:05 — “The Irish defensive line is a position group that remains one of the deepest and most talented units on the Notre Dame football team,” Jack Nolan unequivocally states (while sticking needles into his #19 voodoo doll).
  • 1:15 — Nothing not to like about Mike Elston. Smart guy, good guy, and a coach who took some lumps last year for the Irish special teams, maybe for reasons outside of his control.
  • 2:12 — Gotta love Kappy pushing to get blocker duty in special teams drills. Seniority is still seniority even in major college football.
  • 2:40 — Exchange of the video: “I don’t have swag?” Elston says (to what I’m guessing is linebacker Jarrett Grace). “What are you talking about? I’m dripping with swag. You don’t even know me.”
  • 2:52 — Of course, you’ve got to get defensive coordinator Bob Diaco into it. The guy might as well be the king of swag.
  • 3:06 — A good look at the two dog linebacker candidates, with Ben Councell and Danny Spond working some basic leverage drills. They both certainly look the part.
  • 3:56 — The transition “from speed to power” is a good fundamental to see in action. Especially with a 6-foot-7, 300-pound defensive end.
  • 4:10 — It’s amazing that Tyler Stockton, at six-foot, 285, looks small out there. He’s a product of a different recruiting system, and looks a little bit like strolling out  a Walkman instead of a iPod when you match him up with Tuitt.
  • 4:26 — Great to see Chase Hounshell back out there, after missing practice earlier with an injury. With Lynch gone, Hounshell,who many thought would redshirt last season, will now be a contributor if he can work into the regular rotation.
  • 4:40 — Elston coaching a basic sled drill, but drilling in the practical usage to Tuitt. Nicely done.
  • 5:07 — Seen this already, but Louis Nix does a great job beating Mike Golic, then tackling Cierre Wood.
  • 5:45 — Looks like we’ve got to work on the “club and slip” move again.
  • 6:20 — KLM puts Nick Martin on roller-skates.
  • 6:40 — Freshman Sheldon Day looks like he’s more than holding his own out there, doing some good work against Tate Nichols.
  • 6:52 — Call me crazy, but if I had to lose one defensive end out of Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, I’d rather lose Lynch. For the scheme the Irish run, Tuitt is more than the prototype, he’s next generation. Coming off the edge and snatching up that football is pretty ridiculous athleticism, as even Elston (and the UND.com slo-mo replay) acknowledged.


First look at contact: Jumping to conclusions edition


After four practices getting acclimated to helmets, the Irish were in full pads today, giving freshman their first real feel of college football. Thanks to the always excellent practice reports courtesy of UND.com, we’re able to get a sneak peak at the first day of work, which allows all of us to jump to some very early conclusions.

Here’s a look at today’s practice report, courtesy of our friends over at UND.com. Because it’s my job to have no life and break down the rodeo drill for everyone, here’s a play-by-play of what you’ll see, helping to isolate some of the match-ups and battles that fly by in just under four minutes.



The first one on one we see (around the :40 second mark) is sophomore tight end Alex Welch welcoming freshman linebacker Ben Councell to to college football, and two mammoth youngsters battling with 6-8, 320-pound Tate Nichols taking on 6-6, 295-pound freshman Stephon Tuitt.

After that, we watch Michael Floyd snatch balls from the jugs machine, Ishaq Williams sprint down in kickoff coverage, and Davaris Daniels work on his hands as well. In snaps from scrimmage, Tate Nichols works at left tackle, where he rides Kona Schwenke outside the pocket. The very next snap, Brad Carrico looks pretty solid battling against veteran Brandon Newman. And for those wondering how Louis Nix would look, that’s him putting Mike Golic on rollerskates. (Golic definitely shouldn’t feel embarrassed, Nix was absolutely dominant in the one-on-one matchups he had, which we’ll get to now.)

For those looking for some rough-and-tumble power football, Let’s go to a frame-by-frame breakdown of the rodeo drill (starting at 1:42), where we’ll reach grand conclusions after watching less than a minute of drills.

1. Braxston Cave vs. Louis Nix. Winner: Nix, who stood up Cave and stuffed freshman Cam McDaniel.
2. Trevor Robinson vs. Carlo Calabrese. Winner: Robinson, who controlled Carlo and pushed him inside while George Atkinson slid by.
3. Ben Koyack vs. Unknown (Zeke Motta?) Winner: Koyack, who planted a defender unknown (I’m guessing Motta after a Zapruder like breakdown), getting a big rise out of his coaches.
4. Brad Carrico vs. Anthony McDonald. Winner: Slight edge to Carrico, who looks pretty fluid at offensive line.
5. Jordan Prestwood vs. Tyler Stockton. Winner: Stockton, who does a nice job getting physical with the freshman.
6. Prestwood vs. Aaron Lynch. Winner: Lynch, who looks every bit the part of a freshman All-American.
7. Prestwood vs. Stephon Tuitt. Winner: Slight edge to Tuitt, as it’s tough to say Prestwood lost that collision.
8. Alex Welch vs. Unknown (Anthony Rabasa?) Winner: Draw. Nice work by both guys, whoever our secret defender is.
9. Welch vs. Steve Filer. Winner: Filer, who taunts Irish fans by reminding people just how physically gifted he is.
10. Nick Martin vs. Joe Schmidt. Winner: Schmidt, who does his best Mike Anello impression, ignoring his physical limitations by blowing up a block making a nice play on Martin.
11. Christian Lombard vs. Lynch. Winner: Lynch, who once again blows up an offensive tackle at the point of contact.
12. Lombard vs. Chase Hounshell. Winner: Lombard, but credit to Hounshell for holding his ground and battling.
13. Taylor Dever vs. Kapron Lewis-Moore. Winner: Dever, who did a nice job engaging KLM, in a rare battle of ones-versus-ones.
14. Mike Golic vs. Louis Nix. Winner: Nix. He’s going to be very tough to move.
15. N. Martin vs. Jarrett Grace. Winner: Draw. A nice collision between two talented freshmen.

While I’d appreciate everybody else sharing their gut reactions below, the two guys that really stood out were Louis Nix and Aaron Lynch. They looked dominating, regardless of who they were facing.


A to Z: Your comprehensive spring breakdown

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While the Irish were thrown a major curve ball with Michael Floyd’s arrest and indefinite suspension the weekend before spring practice was set to start, there’s plenty to be excited about as Brian Kelly kicked off the spring season for the Irish Tuesday with some opening comments.

For those of you that’ve been away from the computer since the Irish drubbed Miami in the Sun Bowl, here’s a quick A to Z breakdown of what to expect during these 15 practices that culminate with the Irish playing the 82nd Annual Blue-Gold Game live on Versus on April 16th.


A is for Aaron Lynch. One of the crown jewels of the 2011 recruiting class has been on campus adding weight and muscle to his frame since January. We’ll finally see him in an Irish uniform on Wednesday, where we’ll find out how close he is to making an impact.

“Physically, he’s as developed as some of our juniors and seniors,” Kelly said.

B is for Bob Diaco. While some fans were wondering if he’d last his inaugural season in South Bend, Diaco put together one of the best defensive improvements in college football last season, thanks to a constant message and stressed fundamentals. He’ll have virtually all the same tools to play with this season, with a year of experience under their belts, only now he’ll coach both inside and outside linebackers.

C is for Crist, Dayne. This time last year, Irish fans (and coaches) held their breath as Crist returned to the field ahead of schedule after a major knee injury ended his season. Fast forward 12 months and the song sounds the same, with Kelly pointing to last year’s practice model as essentially the same thing going forward. One thing Irish fans have to feel good about is Crist’s development mentally, even if he’s struggled to stay healthy these last two years.

“I can sense that when I talk to him, it’s a lot more of a comfortable situation,” Kelly said. “He knows the offense, he knows what’s expected of him, he knows what to expect from me. There’s a very good communication base between him and I.”

D is for Dog linebacker. While Carlo Calabrese hasn’t solidified his job opposite Manti Te’o yet, the position opposite Darius Fleming is wide open, with Kerry Neal and Brian Smith graduating. It’s the only spot on the defense where a player with starting experience doesn’t return, and four players seem like they’re in line to battle for the job: Danny Spond, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, and Steve Filer.

E is for Early Entries. With the rest of the 2011 recruiting class set to join their teammates this summer for informal workouts, five freshman will take the field for the first time. Joining Aaron Lynch will be kicker Kyle Brindza, defensive end turned offensive lineman Brad Carrico, Everett Golson (more on him in a second), and Ishaq Williams. Brindza will battle David Ruffer at placekicker, but probably holds the inside position for kickoffs, while he’ll also battle Ben Turk for the punting job.

F is for Filer, Steve. As we mentioned earlier in the week, the future is now for Filer. I expect the coaching staff to give him every chance to win the job at ‘Dog’ linebacker, and the Chicago native certainly has the athleticism needed to succeed. Whether Kelly meant to do it or not, Filer’s name wasn’t one of the first he mentioned for the open linebacking job, so consider the message sent.

G is for Golson, Everett. Enter Golson, the first true spread quarterback of the Brian Kelly era. The head coach has already hinted that Golson will likely see the field early, and during spring practice he and freshman Andrew Hendrix will wear both red jerseys and blue — live — jerseys.

H is for Hamstrings. Kelly also formally announced the move of former team trainer Jim Russ into a leadership role and Notre Dame’s hiring of Rob Hunt as head athletic trainer for Irish football. With that hiring, the Irish medical staff completely turned over, and used the offseason to take a comprehensive look at what seemed to cause all those balky hamstrings.

“We were able to evaluate everything,” Kelly said. “All of those areas have been addressed. It wasn’t one particular area and we feel pretty good that we’ve made very good strides in that area.”

I is for Ishaq Williams. While Darius Fleming might be entrenched at the ‘Cat’ linebacker position, expect to see Ishaq Williams running around chasing quarterbacks a lot this spring.

“Physically, he’s a gifted young man and the transition is a whole lot easier for him,” Kelly said, before hinting at some evolutionary changes the Irish might make.

Last season the Irish lined up with a three-man front 53 percent of the time, a nearly 50-50 proposition, hinting that the influx of big-time edge players like Lynch and Williams, joining guys like Prince Shembo, might be enough to push the Irish into more multiple fronts.

J is for Jackson, Bennett. As Jackson announced earlier this offseason on his Twitter page (something the staff wasn’t exactly happy about), Jackson is switching to cornerback where he’ll take his special teams prowess and apply them to the defensive side of the ball.

“We like Bennett’s speed and playing with athleticism on the defensive side of the ball gives us an opportunity to have length and speed at cornerback,” Kelly said about the new No. 2, taking over Darrin Walls’ old number.

K is for Kerry Cooks. The news has been in the works for some time, but Kerry Cooks is shifting back to coaching cornerbacks after his one-season run at outside linebackers coach. Cooks came onto the staff having never coached linebackers, and was shifted likely because Chuck Martin was already in control of the secondary. Martin’s basically like having a second defensive coordinator, and keeping Cooks working hand-and-hand with a group of corners without much margin for error is a smart decision.

L is for Louis Nix. With Kelly announcing that Sean Cwynar is out for the spring as he recovers from multiple offseason surgeries, the focus shifts to one of ND’s most highly touted redshirts. It sounds like Kelly expects some big things from an equally large  Louis Nix.

“He’s going to be a guy that when you turn on the tape, you can recognize Louis Nix,” Kelly said. “Louis just needs to continue to work on his volume and what he can handle. He’s a big fella, he’s close to 345 pounds and to carry that weight, it’s a matter of how many quality reps can he give us. We know what we can get in very short spurts, but this spring is about what he can handle in volume.”

M is for Michael Floyd. This wouldn’t be a comprehensive breakdown without including the plight of the Irish’s returning MVP and co-captain, but after being prodded two or three times, Kelly finally gave a logical explanation of what he was going through when he heard the news of his star receiver’s arrest.

“There’s a range of emotions that you have,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a lot like a parent would have — from anger to disappointment to making sure that something like that in his life never happens again. I think you go through the gamut of all those things. We want to be able to support Mike, but also understand that this was a serious, serious offense, and so I think all of those emotions play in it when you first hear about something like that.”

Kelly wouldn’t put a timetable on the suspension, nor the university decision, but at the very least, the head coach both understands that Floyd did something incredibly serious and stupid, but he also needs support as he tries to get through this tough time.

N is for Nose Guard. Cwynar’s limitations this spring almost clarify an interesting situation on the interior of the defensive line as Cwynar is the only defensive tackle on the roster not listed as a nose guard.

With Cwynar out, the Irish will see what they have in a talented group of reserves, highly touted guys like Brandon Newman, Nix, Tyler Stockton, and Hafis Williams. That foursome had plenty of recruiting stars, but so far have done next to nothing on the football field.

O is for offensive evolution. If you’re looking for Brian Kelly’s offensive contemporaries, look no farther than his guests for his coaching clinic — Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly. Neither of those coaches inherited a personnel package as polar opposite as the grouping they needed to run their preferred offense. As players become comfortable with the system and Kelly begins to bring in players to fit his scheme, look for the offensive attack to evolve.

The installation of Ed Warinner to running game coordinator is a likely first step in that process, as it was far from coincidental that the Irish’s running game helped kickstart a team badly in need of some wins. The promotion might be the product of Warinner staying put and not chasing an open offensive coordinator position at Nebraska, but it’s well deserved for a coach that’s already been one of the best coordinators at the collegiate level.

P is for Prince Shembo. Watching Shembo develop this spring will be very interesting, as the freshman spent last season almost exclusively chasing the quarterback and not worrying about much else. If he’s going to be one of the top 11 guys on the field, he’ll need to do it with some semblance of a skill-set at drop linebacker. If Shembo can make strides covering the pass instead of chasing the passer, he might make his move to the top of the OLB depth chart.

Q is for QB competition. Who would’ve thought this time last year that Dayne Crist was more of a question mark at quarterback entering the spring of 2011 than he was replacing Jimmy Clausen?

“My expectations are it’s going to be a very competitive situation at quarterback,” Kelly said, “and Dayne can include his name in that competitive battle.”

Another knee injury certainly contributed to the competition, but the impressive play of freshman Tommy Rees and the development of Andrew Hendrix helped turn a position that was a huge question mark heading into last season into a spot where the Irish already know they can win with two different guys.

“It’s going to be fun to watch,” Kelly said.

R is for Running Backs. Gone from the backfield are Armando Allen and Robert Hughes, leaving Cierre Wood as the No. 1 starter and Jonas Gray as the primary backup. While Cameron Roberson impressed last season on the scout team, it’s clear that Kelly believes it’s now or never for Gray.

“It’s pretty clear that Jonas Gray is a very integral part to our success,” Kelly said. “He is no longer that guy that tells jokes and goofs around, and you guys get the message there. But the fact of the matter is, football has got to be, outside of academics, a priority for him because he is in an absolute crucial position for us. We have to play with two tailbacks. You can’t get by with one guy. We all know that. So this is extremely important for him to show that we can count on him this spring.”

S is for Slaughter, Jamoris. This will be a huge spring for Slaughter to prove that he’s healthy after having a season essentially ruined by an ankle injury suffered in the season opening win against Purdue. When healthy, Slaughter’s a perfect defender for Bob Diaco’s defense, a strong tackling safety that has the coverage skills to play as a corner in the Cover 2.

T is for Tyler Eifert. If you’re looking for a guy that proved his worth last year, consider that heading into the season many weren’t sure if Tyler Eifert was even going to be playing on the football team, after a major back injury made it seem like his career was in doubt. But Eifert filled in for Kyle Rudolph more than valiantly, and his receiving ability brought a dimension that even Rudolph didn’t bring last season before he got hurt.

U is for Justin Utupo. While most Irish fans probably forgot about him, Utupo was listed in the conversation as a potential starter opposite Manti Te’o, who will spend the spring severely limited after having his knee cleaned up. Utupo enters the battle along side fellow redshirt Kendall Moore, who won rave reviews for his play at middle linebacker on the scout team.

Utupo’s move to the inside is a semi-surprise, as he was recruited by Charlie Weis to be a defensive end. The fact that this coaching staff thinks Utupo can play in both space and at middle linebacker means that the California native has the athleticism needed to be a run-stuffing playmaker.

V is for Victories. The only currency worth anything after an eight win season came when a four game winning streak helped people forget the frustration that came with starting 1-3. Injuries and the transition period are a long way from being understandable excuses to a fanbase not known for its patience.When asked what he wants to do differently this year, Kelly was clear:

“Win more games,” Kelly said. “I think definitely win more games.”

W is W Receiver. Gone indefinitely is one of the best W receivers in the country. Filling in for him? That’s what we’ll find out this spring, as Kelly broke down the indefinite Floyd-less plan.

“I think you’ll see Goody (John Goodman) playing a lot of the W-receiver position for us, and Danny Smith, both of those guys, will get a lot of work,” Kelly said. “Luke (Massa) will also get some work at the W position. I feel pretty good. Obviously from Goody’s standpoint, a guy that’s got a lot of football in him, can make plays and we know what he can do. Danny is kind of that unknown, big, physical, strong kid and he needs a lot of work this spring and Luke we are breaking in.”

X is for X receiver. Flipping over to the other side of the offense, the pressure ratchets up on TJ Jones as well, who got off to a blistering start before getting slowed down by some bumps and bruises. But one name Kelly put front and center was another promising recruit who has yet to made a different in his four seasons at Notre Dame: wideout Deion Walker.

“He’s had a great offseason,” Kelly said. “I’ve love the way he’s competed. He’s a changed young man in the way he goes to work every day. I questioned last year his love for the game and his commitment. He’s shown a totally different side of himself in our workouts up to this point. Quite frankly, Deion’s a guy I want to see and he’s going to get some reps and some work. We’re going to have a clear evaluation as to where he is in this program after the spring.”

That sounds an awful lot like a challenge.

Y is for Youth development. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last four or five seasons it’s that signing talented recruits is only step one of the process. Step two — and a step that’s far more important — is developing the youth your roster has.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in the entire Floyd Fiasco, or injuries to Sean Cwynar and Manti Te’o, it’s the opportunity to give young players important reps throughout the spring and get the development process jump-started.

How Kelly decides to use players like Lynch and Williams, Utupo and Moore, even Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth — first time defenders looking to crack the two-deep, will determine whether or not Notre Dame can build a consistent winner under Kelly.

Z is for Zeke Motta. Thrown into the fire last year and playing much of the season without a safety net, Motta held up incredibly well, and might have played his way into a starting job. Nobody would’ve confused Motta for a pass-first center fielder, but his cover skills improved as his knowledge of the defense and scheme continued to grow. If the Irish can keep Motta on the field for all three downs, they’ll be able to use the trio of Motta, Harrison Smith and Jamoris Slaughter to really tighten up the passing defense.