After taking a look at the secondary and running backs I turn my gaze toward the Irish front seven. There is a lot of talent in this group but can they overcome the loss of one of the best defenders in school history?
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2012 Front Seven:
The 2012 front seven was the best at Notre Dame in many years. It was evident while watching them play as they anchored a 12-0 regular season. The stats bear this dominance out: 33 sacks, 105 rushing yards per game given up, and a national leading 4 touchdowns given up on the ground.
Experience was quite high with this group as Danny Spond and Stephon Tuitt were the only true new starters and even they had a solid amount of experience prior to 2012.
Depth definitely could have been better though. The defense couldn't find a strong backup to Louis Nix at nose guard, only Day & Springmann provided quality depth up front, Councell couldn't take many minutes from Spond, and of course Te'o never came off the field. It would have been nice to see a little more from Ishaq Williams behind Spond but of course the tandem of Fox and Calabrese provided excellent depth at the Will linebacker position.
The talent and productivity from this group was outstanding as well. A pair of 5-stars living up to expectations, a nose guard among the best in the country, and an outside linebacker moving himself up a lot of mock NFL draft boards. Three players garnered some form of All-American status as well---it'll be tough for the 2013 front seven to achieve that feat again, especially a non-freshman All-American.
2013 Front Seven:
Nearly improved rankings across the board---just like the secondary---which means the 2013 Irish defense should be better than last year. As we know, the games are not played on paper though. Anyone willing to throw down a bet that this year's defense is even better?
Even with 5 starters returning (6 sort of if you count both Fox & Calabrese) and players like Councell, Schwenke, Springmann, Ishaq, and Okwara having wet their beaks on the field and filling out backup roles, the experience ranking is lowered slightly for 2013. That has to happen when you're losing the leadership of KLM and Te'o who also combined for 617 tackles and 56 tackles for loss over their careers. It's not every year a team loses a pair of 4-year starters in the front seven!
The depth and versatility looks okay coming out of spring but it's really the arrival of 5-stars Jaylon Smith and Eddie Vanderdoes that boost those rankings as they both should see the field early and bring a lot of flexibility that didn't exist on last year's squad.
Two defensive lines of Tuitt-Nix-Day and Springmann-Schwenke-Vanderdoes may be stronger than what the Irish could roll out last season and that doesn't even account for the growth of players like Justin Utupo or Jarron Jones.
Notre Dame is a little thin at middle linebacker but 3 players look set to get most of the minutes there---same as last year. The outside linebacker position is where you'll see outstanding depth and talent: Shembo-Ishaq-Okwara on one side and Spond-Councell-Jaylon on the other. That's pretty outrageous.
Somewhere in the greater South Bend area Bob Diaco is smiling.