For a look at Part I of our senior class review, click here.
Program Prototype: Kapron Lewis-MooreUnlike his line bookend and classmate Ethan Johnson, Lewis-Moore enjoyed the luxury of a developmental freshman season spent in the Irish strength program after entering the University a mere 230 pounds. (Head coach Brian Kelly noted KLM is "still growing into his body" as last as last October).
Lewis-Moore enters his fourth year in the program at 285-plus, and as a dark horse candidate for national post-season honors and as the team's two-time reigning tackles leader on the defensive line while compiling 9.5 tackles-for-loss over his only two seasons as a competitor.
In congress with Johnson, Lewis-Moore's in-season improvement last fall ranks as the most notable change in the team's front seven performance, from the struggles of early September through a dominant final four contests.
With 108 career tackles, Lewis-Moore is on pace to pass the great Willie Fry (1973, 75-77) for No. 8 on his position's all-time tackles list (Chris Zorich, 1988-1990, is No. 7 with 219), thanks to his redshirt-season as a freshman and presumed four-year starting gig thereafter.
The only member of this list without a question mark attached, Lewis-Moore ended last season as one of our Top 10 Irish players. I'd be stunned if he doesn't finish 2011 in a similar manner.
Do Over: Jamoris Slaughter and Dayne CristThe former was my 2010 pre-season choice as the defense's breakout performer. The latter, the accepted key to the season for a team that had no veteran backup at his position.
Slaughter earned a starting safety spot last spring, re-won the role in August, and appeared poised to make good on Irish Eyes' promise in September before suffering a season-altering ankle sprain (and subsequent heel problem) in the season-opener. He returned intermittently, appearing in five of the next seven games, though not close to full strength, before the Week 10 Bye finally afforded him much-needed time off.
The Stone Mountain, GA product then regained a major role in the defensive backfield rotation and, not coincidentally, the Irish defense reached its potential, dominating the final four contests, engendering feel-good vibes for the off-season.
Crist was a major player/unfortunate victim of an uneven first two months of the Brian Kelly era. A September swoon; a three-game resurgence; a colossal face plant at the hands of an Academy – and eight games in which square pegs were rougly squeezed into round holes.
Few Irish fans felt confident in the new quarterback by the time he absorbed a sideline push and subsequent spinning tumble that caused a ruptured patellar tendon in his healthy knee.
One calendar year, two knee surgeries, and a 4-0 finish without him turned Crist – viewed as the most important player on the squad months prior – into damaged goods, at least according to those who know nothing about his competitiveness or character.
"All the outside negativity I've been able to block out and almost laugh at. You have to be mature and as a player you would drive yourself absolutely crazy if you paid attention to that stuff," Crist noted, at the time less than two months into the recovery process.
Entering spring practice, the increasingly important summer training months, and of course, August camp, both Slaughter (pitted largely vs. starting safety Zeke Motta) and Crist (vs. Tommy Rees) will receive a second chance to make a lasting impression.
Anchors: Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams, Braxston CaveCwynar started four games last season: Tulsa, Utah, Army, and USC. He played a key role in each of the 13 as Ian Williams' backup at nose guard, but it was his starts in Williams' stead that eased the concerns of Irish fans entering 2011. With Cwynar as the chief anchor, Notre Dame yielded one rushing touchdown in 16 quarters. Following the team's aforementioned Week 10 Bye, Cwynar and his fellow defenders yielded a paltry 2.9 yards-per-carry on the ground (vs. 4.07 in nine prior contests).
Cwynar's play on the nose, in congress with Hafis Williams, whose versatility as a defensive end and nose guard proved invaluable in a 4-0 finish, was undervalued nationally because fans and media had written off a 4-5 team. Assuming Cwynar returns to August camp at full strength (he had surgery on his back and foot, with the latter reportedly the chief concern), and that Williams is able to improve in what should again be a dual backup role, the Irish defense should hit the ground running again in September…even if the opponents' offenses, won't.
(Williams produced two QB hits and six tackles, including one for loss in the final five contests.)
Relative rookie: The adjustment to Brian Kelly's shotgun spread formation wasn't singular to his quarterback. Center Braxston Cave had logged all of nine game minutes from scrimmage prior to the 2011 season, and his first starting role was accompanied by the added tasks of mastering snap cadence and line calls for his teammates...not to mention the pesky shotgun snap that plagued every center competitor through spring 2010.
Cave experienced intermittent struggles following a strong debut (and the Irish Eyes' top line performance vs. Purdue), but at season's end, Cave finished third in our 13-game ranking of the offensive line's five main contributors.
Cave should conclude his Irish playing career as a three-year starter after the 2012 season.
Cementing a role: John GoodmanWide receivers coach Tony Alford enters spring 2011 with seven veterans in the fold: Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, John Goodman, Robby Toma, Deion Walker, and Daniel Smith. Two freshmen, George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels are expected to join the ranks this summer.
Of the seven vets, Goodman and Smith have the least defined roles. Smith because he's entering his sophomore season and barely appeared from scrimmage last fall, and Goodman because…well, therein lies the rub.
Goodman's play appeared to plateau last season while those around him (Floyd, Riddick, Jones and Toma) all showed promise or great improvement from 2009.
Floyd, Goodman and Walker are seniors, the latter pair with eligibility remaining (I'll have more on Walker in Part III). At present, Goodman is on the cusp of significant 2011 playing time, but that situation that becomes murky considering added competition and the value of a second tight end in Brian Kelly's Irish offense.
That puts Goodman (again, at present, as hundreds of practice hours and 13 games will greatly change the situation when its relevant next January) on the cusp of an offer for a 5th-season of eligibility, because the six players listed above are locks to receive an invitation should they choose to return and are in good academic standing.
And that leads us to Part III of our 2011 senior feature: beginning with more on John Goodman and proceeding through the seven remaining members of the class with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Note: Part III will be published Friday