In an attempt to answer my own question about whether or not this quality depth I’m expecting to see in 2009 is really there I’m going to take a look at each position group. Since defense wins championships I figured I would start there. The Notre Dame Defensive Line will be dominated by a youth movement in 2009. Five sophomores have rapidly closed the gap with seven upper classmen to create an interesting mixture of young talent and veteran experience in the two deep. Of those five sophomores Ethan Johnson saw significant minutes in 2008 and the other four retained a year of eligibility on the sidelines.
Listed below is the opening spring depth chart by position for the defensive line. Players with an * next to their class are eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Players in Italics are either limited or out for the spring due to injury. One thing to note is that of these 13 players only John Ryan and Morrice Richardson will exhaust their eligibility in 2009 and neither of them projects to be a starter.
Strong Side DE
89 Kapron Lewis-Moore (Sophomore*) By all accounts KLM has developed into a complete beast. He’s still a bit raw and definitely inexperienced but his progression is such that he has also been shifting over to Defensive Tackle in the nickel package some this spring. KLM could have a breakout year in 2009.
53 Morrice Richardson (Senior) Richardson is a solid player with a pretty significant amount of game experience. His being #2 to KLM is a simple case of competing with an extremely talented younger player.
97 Kallen Wade (Senior*) Wade could see some spot duty but most likely won’t beat out Richardson for the #2 spot here.
Weak Side DE
56 Kerry Neal (Junior) Despite Neal being out for the spring I expect him to claim this spot in fall camp. Neal is a great pass rusher with a nose for the football. Neal is a bit of a tweener and was originally recruited as a 3-4 outside linebacker but he played well with a hand down in the 3-4 under as a starter in 2008. I expect to see a lot of him again in 2009.
90 John Ryan (Senior) Ryan is a decent #2 particularly against the run which complements Neal a bit and gives the staff some situational personnel options.
91 Emeka Nwanko (Junior*) Emeka is still a bit of an unknown at this point. He is in the mix this spring with Neal on the sidelines which will help his development. With three years of eligibility remaining he still has time to develop and potentially work his way into the mix somewhere.
*Of note Charlie has also stated that Steve Filer could see some time here. He is very similar to Neal in many respects.
95 Ian Williams (Junior) A solid nose man with a formidable frame. Ian has yet to be a superstar but he’s a solid anchor for this line and he still has a fair amount of undeveloped potential. He could potentially come into his own as a Junior.
99 Brandon Newman (Sophomore*) Newman has been relatively quiet thus far but is still very young. He’ll compete with Stockton to back up Williams.
92 Tyler Stockton (Freshman) Tyler is an early enrolee, with a ton of upside. A couple of months ago he was roaming the halls of his high school, now he's mixing it up with Chris Stewart. With the log jam in front of him we may not see him for a year or two.
9 Ethan Johnson (Sophomore) Johnson is a dominant force in the making and the best overall defensive lineman on the team. The staff has already stated that he’ll move to the inside in the nickel. In short he’ll be on the field to the max extent possible. This kid will be a truly special player before his career is over at ND. I expect to see big things out of him in 2009.
79 Hafis Williams (Sophomore*) Hafis appears to be developing quickly, and at a minimum will see time when Johnson situationally shifts to DE. He's consistently been running with the 1st team this spring in that scenario. Hafis is more of a traditional DT that could assist in clogging up the middle.
98 Sean Cwynar (Sophomore*) Cwynar is another player that’s been quiet thus far but has great potential. I hope he gets back in the mix this fall.
93 Paddy Mullen (Senior*) Mullen is teetering on the brink of being a career back up. He’s going to have to get back in the mix this summer with a force to have a chance of seeing the field.
Newly hired Defensive Line Coach Randy Hart and Graduate Assistant Bryant Young have an interesting group of players to make the most of here. The infusion of skills and experience they collectively bring to the table as coaches coupled with these players could do just that. This unit will play a very critical role in the success of the 2009 defense and I think there is just enough quality depth here for them to hold up their end of the deal. EJ is a special talent that I expect to have an outstanding 2009. If KLM can follow suit they could provide a devastating one two punch on the front four. Ian Williams will remain steady and dependable in the middle and Kerry Neal will provide a great presence off the edge. I think moving EJ and KLM around in the nickel coupled with the collective strengths of the remaining players in the two deep will provide enough overall depth for this unit to be a nice surprise in 2009.