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Irish Depth Analysis 2010- Defensive Line

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Welcome to the 2010 Irish Depth Analysis discussion at One Foot Down. With fall camp upon us and the Sept 4th right around the corner we are going to take a look at the overall health of the Fighting Irish roster heading into the 2010 season.

I am firmly in the group that believes this roster is more talented than most people think. But is that talent distributed in a way that will provide quality depth across the board? In an attempt to answer that question we will take a look at all of the major position groups on the Notre Dame roster over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Coach Brian Kelly offered his assessment of the depth chart in his opening presser last Friday.

Strengths coming in, I see them clearly in the depth of our football team. You’re going to see a lot of players. I would not get too married to a two-deep right now. I think you’re probably premature if you look in the media guide and see a two-deep. That’s a starting point only. This is going to be, as I said, because of the strength of this football team in terms of numbers, one and two is 1A, 1B, and in some instances 1C. I think that’s important to know.

I won't get too deep into expected 1s and 2s or other specifics such as LDE vs RDE as we already know this staff will shuffle bodies around as required to get the best players on the field. Instead we are just going to take a look at the overall depth by position group. To put it simply the more players that could be contributors in the rotation the better.

As LB Coach has already broken down for us the Fighting Irish are transitioning back to a 3-4 defensive front this fall. As he discussed the Defensive Line is going to be critical to the success of that transition. Senior Ian Williams, and juniors Ethan Johnson and Kapron-Lewis Moore will all be returning starters with significant experience. They are backed by one senior, three juniors and one sophomore that will each be eligible to apply for a 5th year of eligibility and have very little game experience. Three freshmen round out the group and I don’t expect any of them to see playing time this fall. The drop off in experience behind the expected starters is significant.

Coach Kelly told us Friday that he sees the defensive line as one of the few position groups that lacks depth heading into the season.

I believe that from a defensive standpoint we have play-makers on the perimeter that can do some great things for us. And I think we have some vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities will be experience at the quarterback position, depth at the defensive line position.

Then we have some question marks: consistency and performance in the back end of our defense and our kicking game.

More specifically I think Coach Kelly is addressing the shortage of players that make profile at DE. With a move back to a three man front the ratio of more compact frames to longer frames is a little out of whack. The staff has three DE verbals on the hook that all make profile in an attempt to rectify that situation.

Now let’s get to the business of taking a closer look at the 2010 Defensive Line. Listed below are the individual players on the defensive line by position. Players with an * next to their class will be eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. One thing to note is that of these 11 players only NT Ian Williams will exhaust his eligibility in 2010.

Nose Tackle
95 Ian Williams 6’2" 305 (Senior) As LB Coach previously noted the Nose Tackle is the linchpin in the success of the 3-4 front. As a result 2010 is Ian’s time to shine. Williams was a freshman All American Nose Tackle backing up Pat Kuntz in Corwin Brown’s version of the 3-4 in 2007 so he isn’t a stranger to his assignment. Williams packed on 11lbs of muscle this off season and increased his squat from 495 to 600lbs. While Ian has never been a superstar he has the potential to be a very solid anchor in the middle that the defense critically needs.

98 Sean Cwynar 6’4" 280 (Junior*) After having a nice spring Cwynar enters fall camp filling in behind Williams at Nose Tackle. I remain slightly surprised that Cwynar is taking reps at NT as he better fits the profile of a 3-4 DE with his longer frame. Despite that Sean is apparently holding his own in the middle and doing all that he can to close the gap between himself and Williams.

99 Brandon Newman 6’0" 300 (Junior*) Newman is entering his third year in the program and at different times he has been mentioned by both coaching staffs as a potential up and comer. Perhaps as a Junior he will make an impact in the two deep. If he can prove ready to play that will allow Cwynar to slide back out to his more natural DE position where there is less depth.

92 Tyler Stockton 6’0" 290 (Sophomore*) Stockton didn’t see the field as a freshman in 2009 but may also push Newman and work himself into the rotation behind Williams. Tyler still has a ton of upside and with four years of eligibility remaining he still has a lot of football in front of him. He was also reported to look quite beastly after another summer in the weight room.

67 Louis Nix 6’3" 350 (Freshman) Nix is already a cult hero among the ND faithful for his commitment to the Irish during the transition period between Coach Weis and Coach Kelly. Nix was a highly sought after recruit with a big frame. His weight also became an urban legend over the summer and proved to be true as he reported for camp at a staggering 350lbs. Coach Diaco has already stated he needs to get down closer to the 300lb range to be effective. I expect that Nix will save a year of eligibility this fall while learning the system and getting leaner.

Defensive End
90 Ethan Johnson 6’4" 284 (Junior) Johnson flashed a lot of potential at defensive end as a freshman in 2008 before moving inside to defensive tackle in 2009 where he had some difficulty matching up against interior linemen. EJ was recruited as a 3-4 DE and I expect that his production will jump substantially this fall as he moves back to his natural position. The practice reports indicated that EJ was wreaking his fair share of havoc during the spring and Coach Kelly also made mention of him making significant improvements in his lower body strength over the summer. Ethan has increased his squat from 395 to 550lbs which will help him considerably at the point of attack. We may be in for a breakout season from the junior this fall.

89 Kapron Lewis-Moore 6’4" 283 (Junior*) I’m a big KLM fan and after sitting out 2008 as a freshman he had a few bright spots as a starter in 2009. KLM also has a solid DE frame and like EJ he should benefit from the change in scheme. The Texas product could really come into his own this fall as a junior. With three years of eligibility remaining KLM should be a staple of this defensive front three through the 2012 season.

91 Emeka Nwanko 6’4" 290 (Senior*) Emeka has been relatively quiet in his first three years on campus but he came out of nowhere and made some noise during the spring. He is another guy with a prototypical 3-4 DE frame and from a depth perspective the Irish need him to contribute in the two deep. While I don’t expect that Emeka will supplant either Johnson or KLM he appears to be ready to make the most of his opportunity to contribute and will be a key factor in the quality depth equation at DE.

94 Hafis Williams 6’1" 285 (Junior*) Ditto what I said about Brandon Newman IRT comments from both staffs thus far in his career. He and Newman have been on very similar tracks since arriving on campus and have very similar frames. Hafis is a little more compact than the rest of the DEs currently listed on the two deep and he remains listed as a NG on the roster. With a log jam in the middle Hafis probably has the best chance to contribute from the end position and has the athleticism to make the most of it. If Newman and or Stockton step up at NT so that Cwynar can slide back out to DE Hafis will have to come on strong to stay in the rotation.

93 Bruce Heggie 6’5 250 (Freshman) Heggie started "RKG = the sky is falling" mania amongst the fan base when he committed to the Irish just prior to signing day. Heggie was previously unnoticed by the recruiting services prior to his commitment but he has already grown an inch and packed on 15lbs since signing day. Heggie will save a year of eligibility this fall and try to finish filling out.

96 Kona Schwenke 6’4 245 (Freshman) Schwenke wasn’t nearly as off the radar as Heggie but he is actually a bit lighter and will also spend his freshman year learning the playbook and bulking up.

Mike Elston and Bob Diaco have some challenges ahead of them with this group. The upside is that the starting three have significant experience and are well suited for a 3-4 scheme. There are enough players here for a solid two deep but if there are any significant injuries we could see some position shuffling within this group to compensate. Sean Cwynar and Hafis Williams appear to be the potential swing men between the NT and DE positions.

No matter how it plays out the Irish will need a solid effort from some players that have little to no game experience. For the rotation to be effective some combination of Emeka Nwanko, Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams, Brandon Newman and Tyler Stockton will have to rise to the occasion. They have all been waiting for their opportunity and it is here. If they can step into the rotation without being a significant drop off from the starters it will be a major step forward for the defense as a whole. It will take good coaching and a solid effort from those players to make that happen this fall but I expect that it will. I think this unit will be a pleasant surprise.