(Notre Dame Football News | The Rock Report) – Notre Dame’s defense enters 2012 with enviable talent, but also glaring potential weaknesses. Linebacker Manti Teo is a pre-season All-American and on early lists for every possible defensive award. Jamoris Slaughter, in my opinion, became one of the best safeties in the country last year. The line is made up of 5th year senior Kapron Louis Moore, Louis Nix(or Kona Schwenke) and 5-star sophomore Stephen Tuitt. That’s 900 lbs of front line stopping power that should make the Irish tough against the run again this year. Kelly has said the strength of this defense is up the middle and from front to back the Irish appear to be as solid as any unit in the country up the middle.
It’s the corners, not the middle of the defense that rightly worries Irish fans. Notre Dame will face, possibly, the three best quarterbacks in the country this year in Barkley, Jones and Robinson. Last year Notre Dame put very little pressure on the quarterback and our linebackers, including Teo, struggled in coverage. This year, Notre Dame will be starting two new corners, one of whom may be a converted freshman running back while the other is a converted wide receiver. Their two backups have no notable experience. Many fans, as shown by the probability poll (vote here), are already writing two of those games off as losses (USC/Oklahoma).
There are a couple of developments that could tilt the odds at least a bit more in favor of the Irish. The first was the overdue move of Prince Shembo to the Cat linebacker position from Dog position. Shembo admitted that he’s not a natural in pass coverage. That move helps solve two problems, it removes most of the coverage responsibility for Shembo and puts him in his best spot, rushing the passer. Shembo will be backed up by Ishaq Williams who may be the team’s best pure pass rusher. Ishaq was actually voted the best pass rusher in the Army-American game over the greatly missed Aaron Lynch. The other development is the development of Ben Councell at Dog. Councell is a very long, very fast linebacker who’s perfectly made for the Dog position. Additionally, Manti Teo has reportedly shed 15 pounds in an effort to become faster and better in coverage and Dan Fox, who’s a bit more mobile than Carlo Calabrese, should be playing along side of him. The Irish could see improvement in three critical linebacker positions in facing the pass.
The last element is the hire of Bobby Elliot to coach the secondary with Cooks, Elliot brings a world of experience to the position and has been received well by the staff and the players.
Defensive Line – Projected Starters: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Nix and Schwenke are 1a and 1b at nose tackle. Nix is looking as fit as a 330 pound door stop can look and when he starts penetrating he can be very disruptive from the nose position. Schwenke brings a relentless attitude and some new found strength and weight. ND is thin after those two with the previously injured Tony Springmann and seldom used Tyler Stockton backing them up, but the entire starting rotation should be strong. KLM has been a stalwart on the defensive line, which is both good and bad. He had to take a lot of the pressure when Ethan Johnson went down last year, but he hasn’t been overly productive. Tuitt is the burgeoning superstar, the mammoth end needs to reach his potential sooner rather than later. Freshman Sheldon Day has been a great surprise so far, though is probably a bit weak for the position. Tough Chase Hounshell adds depth (and he added a few pounds) with converted line backer Justin Utupo and freshman giant Jarron Jones (whom they hope not to play.)
- 67 Carr, Kevin 6-7/325 JR Nashville, TN
- 91 Day, Sheldon 6-2/286 FR Indian, IN
- 50 Hounshell, Chase 6-4/275 SO Kirtland, OH
- 94 Jones, Jarron 6-5/299 FR Rochester, NY
- 89 Lewis-Moore, Kapron 6-4/306 GS Weather, TX
- 7 Tuitt, Stephon 6-6/303 SO Monroe, GA
- 53 Utupo, Justin 6-1/258 JR Lakewood,CA
- 9 Nix III, Louis 6-3/326 JR Jackson, FL
- 96 Schwenke, Kona 6-4/290 JR Hauula, HI
- 69 Springmann, Tony 6-6/300 SO Fort W, IN
- 92 Stockton, Tyler 6-0/285 SR Linwood, NJ
Outside Linebacker – Projected Starters: Prince Shembo, Ben Councell
With Shembo finally back where he belongs (running down quarterbacks and holding the edge) and finally a true Dog linebacker in Councell, Notre Dame’s first unit should be better at each position. Ishaq Williams is reportedly playing at a much higher level this year and could steal some time from Shembo in obvious rush situations. Danny Spond’s unclear situation clouds the depth at the Dog position, but the staff has moved (SEE Favorite) CJ Prosise and Romeo Okwara there for depth.
Not perfect, but a very good situation.
- 30 Councell, Ben 6-5/240 SO Asheville, NC
- 45 Okwara, Romeo 6-4/239 FR Charlotte, NC
- 56 Rabasa, Anthony 6-3/240 SO Miami, FL
- 55 Shembo, Prince 6-2/250 JR Charlotte, NC
- 13 Spond, Danny 6-2/248 JR Littleton, CO
- 11 Williams, Ishaq 6-5/255 SO Brooklyn, NY
- 34 Prosise, C.J. 6-2/208 FR Petersburg,VA
Inside Linebacker – Projected Starters: Manti Teo, Dan Fox
Teo, as noted, dropped significant weight to gain more speed. Dan Fox many may forget was a safety in high school. Between those two and Carlo Calabrese the Irish look very strong up the middle. Teo fawned over the ability of his backup, Jarrett Grace and called him the next big thing. Kendall Moore and Joe Schmidt bring ability, but have been a little lost in the shuffle.
- 44 Calabrese, Carlo 6-1/245 SR Verona, NJ
- 48 Fox, Dan 6-3/240 SR RockyRivOH
- 59 Grace, Jarrett 6-3/240 SO Cincinnati,OH
- 8 Moore, Kendall 6-1/242 JR Raleigh, NC
- 38 Schmidt, Joe r 6-0/230 SO Orange, CA
- 5 Te’o, Manti 6-2/255 SR Laie,HI
Safety – Projected Starters: Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta
In Slaughter the Irish have another potential All-American, he plays every part of the game well and when he’s been moved down to linebacker, as he was against Navy, he took over the game. Motta is a very experienced hard hitting safety who struggles in coverage at times and can be exploited. There seem to be two players emerging behind Slaughter and Motta, Dan McCarthy and Mathias Farley. Farley spent some time on offense and was very effective in scout team play in 2011. Since his move to safety, his athleticism is beginning to stand out and the coaches are excited about his play. That would help make up for the loss of Collinsworth. Behind them Nicky Baratti has supposedly turned some heads after dropping weight (he ran a 4.45 at 215) and John Turner has shown the athleticism to be a very good safety.
- 16 Badger, Chris 6-0/193 FR Timpview, UT
- 29 Baratti, Nicky 6-1/206 FR Tomball, TX
- 28 Collinsworth, Austin 6-1/202 JR Fort Thomas, KY
- 41 Farley, Matthias 5-11/200 SO Charlotte, NC
- 4 Hardy, Eilar 5-11/185 SO Reynoldsburg, OH
- 15 McCarthy, Dan 6-2/205 GS Youngstown, OH
- 17 Motta, Zeke Safety 6-2/215 SR Vero Beach, FL
- 24 Salvi, Chris 5-10/190 SR Lake Forest, IL
- 26 Slaughter, Jamoris 6-0/200 GS Stone Mount, GA
- 42 Soto, Ernie Safety 5-9/188 SO Davie, FL
- 31 Turner, John Safety 6-2/207 FR Indianapolis, IN
Cornerback – Projected Starters: Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell
Loosing Lo Wood was devastating to this unit, but every team loses players. Russell seems like the player in waiting, but you wonder: Are the coaches just trying to motivate Brown and Atkinson by praising Russell or is Russell that much of a natural? Or is everyone else just bad? We’re not going to know much about this unit until the live fire starts which won’t be until after the Navy game. Jackson has all the ability in the world and none of the experience. Brown and Atkinson seem to have the ability, but lack experience and the coaching staff hasn’t seem thrilled with their work ethic. That leaves Russell on the other island, a fantastic athlete with smooth change of direction, but who only ran a 4.6 last year. Brown and Atkinson have the speed to do well in the future, but this year is a very big question mark that we won’t know the answer to until they face top quarterbacks and wide receivers. The staff seems pleased with Elijah Shumate prompting his move from safety to corner. He’s a big hitting safety. There’s some clay to work with here, but it’s very young and very unproven. Expect teams to attack this unit until they prove their worth.
- 22 Shumate, Elijah 6-0/198 FR East Orange, NJ
- 43 Atkinson, Josh 5-11/185 SO Stockton, CA
- 21 Brown, Jalen 6-1/199 SO Irving, TX/MacArthur
- 2 Jackson, Bennett 6-0/185 JR Hazlet, NJ/Raritan
- 35 Romano, Joe 5-9/175 JR River Forest, IL
- 6 Russell, KeiVarae 5-11/182 FR Everett, WA/Mariner
- 36 Salvi, Will 5-10/176 SR Lake Forest, IL
- 23 Wood, Lo 5-10/195 JR Apopka, FL/Apopka