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.