Defensive Linemen: Part II

Our spring review of the team's second and third string defensive linemen with projections for the upcoming season.

(Click here for Part I and a review of the first unit.)

Second Unit

The 2010 Irish relied on a six-man rotation up front, though departed senior Emeka Nwankwo and freshman Kona Schwenke saw limited action (with Schwenke basically replacing Nwankwo by late-October). The Irish will once again rotate along the D-Line in an effort to remain fresh each Saturday, and through January's bowl games.

"Oh we're going to need to," admitted Elston. "We're going to need some guys to step up this spring and be accountable that weren't in the fall of last year; also some of the freshmen coming in. We're going to need some added depth."

  • (Defensive End) Sophomore Kona Schwenke (3 yrs remaining) – Debuted in Game Nine last fall but broke out with two tackles and a key QB pressure early in the Game 10 upset win vs. Utah. Schwenke, the talk of the town at a suddenly imposing 285 pounds this spring, has added more than bulk to his 2011 game.

    "His work volume and his ability to put on weight," Elston noted of the sophomore's greatest off-season improvements. "He's put on about 60 pounds from when he got here. His work volume made a big jump; his strength, his attention to detail, his attention to the package, his desire to become a better player, a dominant player. And he's just completely changed his body. He looks great."

  • (Nose Guard) Sophomore Louis Nix (4 yrs remaining) – Did not play last season and could barely compete in practice due to obvious conditioning issues at the outset of August camp. Nix has reportedly made great strides in that regard, though excessive weight loss isn't in the cards for the 340-plus pound competitor.

    "Not quite that low," said Elston when asked if Nix could drop as low as 315 pounds. "He has a plan with Coach Longo to get him down to a more comfortable weight. But what that is, we don't know. He's never really been down far enough and sustained a weight to make it beneficial. But if he can get down to 330 or 335 and carry it well…he carried 340 well today, but he's going to be limited in the fall when the heat gets out there with how many plays he can play in a row."

    Nix's teammate and the unit's leader, Johnson, has seen improvement from the youngster as well.

    "When he gets moving, it's really hard to move him," said the senior end. "So yeah, I feel like he has a motor to him when he has energy. When he doesn't have energy, his motor's gone…but we're looking at developing that."

  • (Defensive End) Freshman Aaron Lynch (enrolled in January 2011) – I can report but two certainties as the media has not witnessed a spring scrimmage:

    1. Lynch looks the part – despite a lean frame, he is every bit of his listed 6'6" (at least) 265 pounds. He'll be 285-90 at this point next season and if he's as aggressive and talented as reported by scouts and the Irish staff, a holy terror on the edge for three seasons.

    2. He has a necessary nasty streak as evidenced by obvious post-rep chippiness between Lynch and sophomore Bruce Heggie following an innocuous early practice contact drill – Heggie didn't back down, either, and actually won the (singular) rep.

    Lynch's line coach was pleased with his green freshman's debut.

    "He probably learned more football in one practice (the team's first) than he learned his whole career," Elston said. "But he played hard, and very quick and played with good energy so I'm excited about him."

    Elston knows Lynch needs extensively schooling to compete at a level befitting the new Irish front line…the veteran coach also realizes the rookie has special talent.

    "He's swimming a little bit with the information we gave him; everything's new to him. From stances to alignments to his assignment, but the one thing he didn't lose in the course of the practice, was just the ability when the ball was snapped, he just played.

    "When the ball was snapped, he just (motion) went. Now he may not have done what we wanted him to do, but when the ball was snapped, he was around it and all over the field.

    "I think that's in his DNA," Elston continued. "He's made up to just go. When he puts his hand down on the ground, and there's a football next to it, and when that ball moves, he just wants to go tackle the guy that has the ball…he's a very aggressive guy and everybody that's been working with him knows he's very aggressive. That helps.

    "It is rare that you've coached a guy and (are) installing so much that he (doesn't get) paralysis by analysis. But he did not have that at all."

Third Unit: Stockton appeared to possess the most promise for upward mobility but that's been curtailed by a nagging knee injury (he also dealt with rehab from off-season shoulder surgery).

  • (Defensive End) Sophomore Bruce Heggie (4 yrs remaining) – Did not play last fall as a true freshman. Has four years to progress but its unlikely Heggie will crack the rotation in 2011.
  • (Nose Guard) Senior Brandon Newman (2 yrs remaining) – Did not play as a true freshman in 2008 or again last season.
  • (Nose Guard) Sophomore Tyler Stockton (3 yrs remaining) – Did not play as a true freshman in 2009 but appeared in six games last fall, including each of the first five while earning quality minutes in the season opener vs. Purdue. Stockton has missed the bulk of spring practice with a PCL injury (and braced left knee). If his omnipresent and pronounced limp is any indication, Stockton won't compete this spring.

Incoming freshmen Chase Hounshell, Tony Springmann, and Stephon Tuitt will join the group over the summer and compete for time in August camp. Elston mentioned the freshmen in addition to Schwenke when asked about potential depth:

"He's going to help us as are some of those younger players that have not arrived on campus – Stephon Tuitt, Tony Springmann. We're going to have some very good depth."

Quick Hits

A few predictions for spring, August camp, and beyond:

  1. Unlike Schwenke last fall, Lynch's greatest contributions will come early while his sophomore competitor will again improve as the season progresses. Lynch the freshman backup (and No. 4 DE) won't scratch the surface of his future contributions to the Irish defense though he'll make an impact the first time he takes the field. Already stout, should Lynch be anywhere near as advertised as a freshman, the Irish defensive front seven will rank among the nation's most explosive units.

  2. A healthy Sean Cwynar gives the Irish a three-man rotation on the nose…and a Top 10 defense. If the senior is unable to return to form, the tandem of Hafis Williams and Louis Nix will struggle mightily in the heat of early September without him.

  3. As was the case in 2010, there'll be negligible separation between Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore at season's end (Irish Eyes rated them #8 and #9 among the team's 10 best last fall). Johnson will earn the higher post-season grade from the staff; Lewis-Moore from a fan base that sees his consistent backfield penetration.

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