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.