Part three of the preseason depth chart continues today with the defensive front seven. So far we've taken a look at the following positions:
Today's depth chart features an All-American and several promising young talents. It's also one of the deeper units on the team and we'll explore just how deep and skilled this group up front actually is heading into 2012.
The full positional breakdown after the jump.
*Denotes 5th-year eligibility
Kapron Lewis-Moore, Senior, 6'4" 306
Chase Hounshell, Sophomore, 6'4" 275
Jarron Jones, Freshman, 6'5" 299
I'm not so sure the depth on the defensive line is that great, and it's certainly not to the point where the Irish can play 8 linemen like Alabama usually does. Hopefully Lewis-Moore has an outstanding final season and stays healthy because he's the lone grizzled veteran up front.
Hounshell was a pleasant surprise last year after everyone thought he'd redshirt and he did receive some praise in 2011 from the coaches. While it's not exactly alarming, I doubt USC would be bragging about their depth with an under-sized 3-star sophomore with minimal experience as a backup. So should we?
Jones is going to be someone to watch. He's impressed physically early in fall camp after many were commenting how much he looks like a future offensive tackle. But lately, he's been showing more power, explosiveness, and determination off the edge as a defender. I bet he breaks into the rotation at some point this season---with his size and lack of bodies at defensive end, I wouldn't hold this possible star back.
Kona Schwenke, Junior, 6'4" 286
Louis Nix, Junior*, 6'3" 326
Tony Springmann, Sophomore*, 6'6" 300
Tyler Stockton, Senior*, 6'0" 285
After a spring funk, Louis Nix is still running with the second team during fall practice but is basically a co-starter with Kona Schwenke. I don't really buy that Nix isn't still the top dog in the middle, but this seems like a great situation: Schwenke has obviously stepped up his game and Nix is a proven top-notch nose guard. This one-two punch might be able to give the defensive front some outstanding flexibility and production.
It still doesn't seem like Stockton is a threat to see the field. Springmann is coming off a spring injury and there hasn't been much information about him this fall, but he's a mountain of a man and could provide some decent secondary depth on the interior.
Stephon Tuitt, Sophomore, 6'6" 303
Sheldon Day, Freshman, 6'2" 286
There's a lot to love about the talent here but not the depth. Tuitt had his moments last year as a true freshman and he's going to be relied upon in 2012 to be a force. Indications this fall are that he is living up to that potential.
Day might not play much if at all against Navy, but he should be in the rotation on the edge and as a flex-lineman early in the season. The coaches like his technique and explosion off the line, and he's simply too good to hold back.
Cat Outside Linebacker
Prince Shembo, Junior, 6'2" 250
Ishaq Williams, Sophomore, 6'5" 255
Anthony Rabasa, Sophomore*, 6'3" 240
Justin Utupo, Junior*, 6'1" 258
Due to injuries discussed below, there has been talk of Shembo moving back to Dog linebacker where he played last year, but the coaches really believe he must stay at the rush position. Right now, Ishaq Williams should see the field plenty with Shembo, even at the same time in obvious passing situations.
Rabasa and Utupo were both originally slated to play in the middle but have moved to pass-rushing specialists. It appears Utupo is still struggling to find a role on the team, while Rabasa is coming off a freshman season injury and might develop into a fine Cat linebacker someday, but probably not this year.
Mike Inside Linebacker
Manti Te'o, Senior, 6'2" 255
Jarrett Grace, Sophomore*, 6'3" 240
Kendall Moore, Junior*, 6'1" 242
Te'o is playing and playing a lot. Hopefully he gives us a truly special season.
Werewolf appears to have jumped Moore for backup minutes, but as we've been debating for the past year, how many minutes does that include with Te'o rarely coming off the field?
I'm not ready to write off Moore just yet, I still think he can be a really good player. But Grace has the tools to be a special middle linebacker. Don't forget that Alex Anzalone is coming in next year and could be an even more talented version of Grace.
Will Inside Linebacker
Dan Fox, Senior*, 6'3" 240
Joe Schmidt, Sophomore*, 6'0" 230
Carlo Calabrese, Senior*, 6'1" 245
With the suspension of Calabrese for the opener, he's been dropped down to the bottom of the depth chart but he's still working as a quasi-starter and is in line to play a lot from the Purdue game onward.
All things considered, Dan Fox had a very strong season last year and things could be a lot worse than a 1-2 punch of him and Carlo. Even though preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt is technically a backup right now, the fronts we'll see against Navy mean he's unlikely to get many minutes with Carlo's suspension. Once Calabrese comes back, Schmidt will be buried even more, but he at least provides good depth.
Dog Outside Linebacker
Ben Councell, Sophomore*, 6'5" 240
Romeo Okwara, Freshman, 6'4" 239
C.J. Prosise, Freshman, 6'2" 208
Danny Spond, Junior*, 6'2" 248
With Spond's migraine issues keeping him off the field this past week and for the foreseeable future, suddenly this position is young with healthy side of inexperience.
Councell has the tools to be a great defender for the Irish but is he ready to be a starter right now? He may have to be if Spond doesn't return any time soon.
No freshman on defense has been as impressive as Romeo Okwara. He's been getting rave reviews for his size and ability to play in space despite little experience of doing so in high school. He definitely appears like a freshman that is going to see the field with regularity in 2012.
C.J. Prosise is awfully under-sized to play linebacker but he's likely been moved to provide some practice depth before transitioning back full-time into a safety or a Slaughter-like hybrid role on the edge of the defense. I'd be surprised if Prosise plays on defense this year but you never know.
My guess is that the staff takes their time bringing back Spond and he'll possibly miss the Navy game while Shembo and Ishaq stand up and control the edges against the triple option, while KLM, Schwenke, Nix, and Tuitt control things up front as the 4 down linemen. If the coaching staff doesn't plan on using the Cat linebackers in such a fashion, then Councell may be seeing a lot of time right from game one.