– Irish defensive line coach, Mike Elston, Spring Practice 2011.
Entering his third season as a starter, Kapron Lewis-Moore is on the verge of difference-maker status. A player head coach Brian Kelly described last October as "still growing into his body," Lewis-Moore now carries 295 pounds on what was a 220-230-pound freshman frame. (The luxury of a freshman season spent on the sidelines and in the weight room affording KLM two more seasons to hone his craft at the college level.)
From the struggles of early September through a dominant final four contests, Lewis-Moore's in-season improvement last fall ranks as the most notable change in the team's front seven performance. In short: the edge was available to opposing runners, early. It was decidedly not, late.
His peripheral numbers (tackles-for-loss, sacks) were both down from 2009, but Lewis-Moore was integral in the team's improved rush defense, one that shot from #89 nationally in 2009, to #50 last fall, yielding nearly a full yard less (4.8 to 4.0) per rush.
He led his defensive line cohorts in tackles (62) for the second consecutive season, and more important, recorded 38 stops in which opponents gained three yards or fewer. Like many Irish defenders, Lewis-Moore played his best during the team's 4-0 finish, recording 26 total tackles over the final three regular season outings and Sun Bowl.
The next step for the senior and his veteran defensive teammates: turning a fun, though nationally inconsequential four-contest run into a 12-game BCS Bowl-quality performance.
Working in congressAsked to evaluate the performance of his defensive ends last fall, Irish head coach Brian Kelly balked at the statistics presented:
"The outside backers, the inside backers, they are all on a string, and if we're having any success, it's because the defensive line is allowing those guys to flow to the football. It really is. And I know this sounds like coach speak, but those guys inside that are getting a lot of the tackles are getting it because we're playing pretty good up front."
Lewis-Moore will often work in congress with the team's Drop/Dog Linebacker (aligned to the ‘Field' or wide side of the formation). His potential pairing with promising pass-rusher Prince Shembo, coupled with Ethan Johnson and senior Cat Linebacker Darius Fleming on the opposite side (the "Boundary"), could give Notre Dame its most experienced, athletic, and explosive edge combination of the decade.
The season's opening three contests will serve as an early indicator, with the Irish defensive ends and outside ‘backers forced to contain mobile dual-threat QB B.J. Daniels in the season-opener; superhero runner Denard Robinson in Week Two; and perhaps the most well-rounded – or at least college-ready – collection of skill athletes on the schedule, when Michigan State visits South Bend in Week Three.
Lewis-Moore has the necessary athleticism, frame, and skill set to tussle with speed, quickness, and power that will greet the Irish in early September. But defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme relies on 11 parts functioning as a whole. And the success or failure of each snap begins with those toiling in the trenches
"If he's doing his job, if he's effective at what he's asked to do," said Kelly when asked last fall about the staff's initial approach to post-game film for defensive linemen.
"And that might be just stay inside-out on the (offensive) tackle…not trying to get across the space…not releasing outside and letting the ball come back up underneath…they get graded out for each individual play, and then they get graded out for plays above and beyond (the defensive play call."
The "above and beyond" aspect is what most observers note and remember. But if the Irish front seven picks up where it left off last November, it's likely because Lewis-Moore and his friends up front handled their business, first.
In the film room: KLM in 2010A look at Lewis-Moore's telling moments from last season:
- Lewis-Moore doing work: Destroyed a block and knifed down the line of scrimmage to stop Utah RB Matt Asiata for no gain on 3rd and 3 as the Utes tried to impose their will with an all-rushing drive midway through the 3rd Quarter.
- Best sequence of 2010: Early second half vs. Michigan: Too quick for left tackle Mark Huyge, Lewis-Moore beat the veteran with an inside swim move to drop RB Vincent Smith for no gain…Followed that with a QB hurry of Denard Robinson on the next play, this time with controlled outside penetration to his blocker's left shoulder…Completed his personal 3-and-out with a stop of Robinson after a three-yard scramble, forcing a Michigan punt…
- Unsung effort: Earned IrishEyes Defensive Game Ball as the only defender to show up vs. Navy (eight tackles, with six resulting in gains of 3 yards or fewer).
- Room to improve: Was turned inside and pinned on a Ricky Dobbs' 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Midshipmen a 14-3 advantage. Lewis-Moore was victimized by his instinct to make a play – his knifing movement inside allowed for an easy position block by the undersized Navy OT.
2010 ObservationsLewis-Moore, a "run-to-the-ball" defensive end ranks as the team's most regular downfield tackler, hustling after plays that break scrimmage, but also adept at backfield penetration, knifing through to disrupt short-yardage plays before the blocking scheme develops….Has a tendency to over-pursue/shoot through the wrong gap in an effort to make a play and like many developing DE, can lose containment on mobile quarterbacks, often a costly breakdown in the college game…Excels at splitting double teams to aid the cause vs. interior rushes…Gets good penetration with bull rushes and/or efforts to control one-on-one blocks, allowing his shaded linebacker to roam freely…A vastly improved player who was forced to guess too much in a flawed scheme as a first-year competitor in 2009.
Numbers of NoteTwo-time tackles leader among the team's linemen, notching 46 in 2009 and a whopping 62 last fall…Recorded 38 stops for gains of 3 yards or fewer; 27 of which resulted in 0, 1 or 2 yards (12 for no gain)…2.5 official tackles-for-loss last fall with 9.5 over the last two seasons…Has 108 career tackles – assuming he returns for a 5th-year in 2012, 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, a three-year starter from 1988-1990, is in similar range at No. 7 with 219)…
Has 12 career QB hits…Only Irish defender to force a fumble in both of the last two seasons…108 total tackles ranks third on the squad behind Manti Te'o and Harrison Smith since the start of 2009; second only to Te'o in assisted tackles during that span (62)…Recorded 26 tackles over the final four contests during which the Irish finished 4-0…Posted a combined 17 tackles vs. option teams Navy and Army…
Best Game: USC, in which he tied for the team-lead in tackles (7), tallying one for no gain and two others for just 1 and 2 yards, respectively.
Toughest Outing: Did not record a tackle vs. Michigan State (Spartans totaled 77 snaps and gained 203 rushing yards on 43 carries).
Reminds me of: Former Irish defensive end, Karmeeleyah McGill, a former tight end who bulked up and blossomed as a senior under Lou Holtz and Rick Minter in 1992.