Final Impressions: Defensive Line

Our penultimate camp impressions column turns its focus to the 2011 team's strength: the defensive line.

Final Impressions: Offensive Backfield

Final Impressions: Wide Receivers

Final Impressions: Tight Ends

Final Impressions: Offensive Line

Final Impressions: Defensive Backs

Defensive Linemen

Two years ago today I ranked them 12th of 12; last year; 6 out of 12 Irish positional groups, today, they rank first: the defensive line's transformation under the new regime mirrors the standing of Notre Dame's defense and team prospects for 2011…A trio of seniors leads the charge, and left end Ethan Johnson is likely the best overall player though his right side bookend Kapron Lewis-Moore will challenge that mantle this fall…Johnson likely holds the edge better and finishes his pass rush more consistently but KLM's knifing style through the offensive front can wreak havoc with a running game…Lewis-Moore's chief advantage is a year of eligibility preserved for 2011…

Sophomore Tommy Rees won the team's inaugural Next Man In award last season, but senior Sean Cwynar was likely the runner-up…Cwynar's effort as an undersized nose guard saved Notre Dame's season and its ancillary effect was a positional recruiting haul that rivals the senior group that arrived together in 2008…Cwynar's perfectly suited for his role: a starter competing in 60 percent of the snaps with redshirt-freshmen Louis Nix entering to anchor the middle of the 3-4…Nix's ability to hold the fort for 12 games is a key storyline to the Irish season: their run defense will go from good to great if he is as advertised…Johnson noted of Cwynar that every Irish defender should come to work as does the senior: practice as if you're the starter and take the bull by the horns when your number is called…

Hafis Williams is the fourth senior of the group – currently slated for third-team duty at nose guard, I promise each of you Williams will play a key role in a 2-3 game, or possibly intermittent stint this fall…Sophomore defensive end Kona Schwenke (6'4" 295 pounds) is growing into the body of a 4-3 defensive tackle…Speaking of which, look for Bob Diaco's front seven to reverse its 52/48 percentage split between a 3-4 and 4-3 look this season…Lewis-Moore and Johnson can both reduce down to 4-3 tackle positions as can Cwynar when coupled with either or the aforementioned Williams…

Freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch looked at home with a defenders shading his outside shoulder as well and classmate Stephon Tuitt already has the frame for the role (6'6.5" 295-plus pounds)…Tuitt is going to be a dominant force in 2013, challenging for All-America honors as a true junior…Lynch will win a game for the Irish this fall, though consistency will be a natural sticking point for the developing true freshman…Is there a better or more game-ready pair of 18-year-old defensive ends in the nation?

Look for redshirt seasons from nose guard Tony Springmann and defensive end Chase Hounshell, both of whom will push Williams to perform well enough for 5th-year consideration next semester…The pair appears to have functional football strength (much more important than weight room prowess) at an this early stage, not unlike Cwynar or former Irish and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis, before them…

Senior Brandon Newman and junior Tyler Stockton, both nose guards in this scheme, appear headed for Scout Team duties…Stockton appeared in six games last season before suffering a shoulder injury; his re-acclimation was stunted by a spring knee injury, one head coach Brian Kelly openly noted the junior should have been able to fight through to compete in important April practices…Speaking of the off-season, Nix put himself in position to be a defensive regular; his continued development is crucial for 2011 but also the next three season's as the line's focal point in the middle...

Schwenke vs. Tuitt will be a season-long battle for playing time at right defensive end…If Cwynar remains upright, the Irish will finish no worse than No. 20 nationally vs. the run – their ceiling is much higher…Barring injury, he won't start a game, but Lynch will be a more productive freshman than current Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Victor Abiamiri (five starts/four tackles-for-loss) was in his debut season with the 2003 Irish…1998 frosh Anthony Weaver is the recent gold standard among freshmen DL, starting 11 games and posting six tackles-for-loss for the nine-win Irish…No freshmen defender will approach program legend Ross Browner's numbers as a rookie in 1973 (68 tackles including 15 for lost yardage) on a national title team…

Studying behind Johnson and Lewis-Moore, two developed defensive ends, is an absolutely ideal situation for the freshmen pair…If the Irish win a BCS bowl game this season, this unit – notably Johnson and KLM – will be chief among reasons for that unprecedented (recent) success.


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