Two-Deep: DefenseConsidered a veteran, experienced unit, the defense nonetheless loses just six members to graduation at season's end.
Left Defensive End: Ethan Johnson – The team's active leader in sacks while ranking second overall in career tackles for loss. Johnson enters his fourth year as a major contributor with 38 games and 28 starting nods under his belt.
Left Defensive End: Aaron Lynch – Highly touted freshman excelled in the spring and is expected to bolster the team's pass rush in his first season.
Nose Guard: Sean Cwynar or Louis Nix – A senior, Cwynar has two seasons of eligibility remaining; Nix is a redshirt freshman and at a newly trimmed 325 pounds, the future anchor of the team's defensive front.
Right Defensive End: Kapron Lewis-Moore – Posted 38 tackles on gains of three yards or fewer last fall. The senior from Weatherford, Texas has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Right Defensive End: Stephon Tuitt – BCS-ready frame as a true freshman and a first step to boot make Tuitt the ideal backup to the veteran Lewis-Moore.
Right Defensive End: Kona Schwenke – The sophomore has beefed up to 6'4" 295 after his signing day weight showed a 225-pound frame. Schwenke made his field debut in Week Nine vs. Tulsa last year.
Cat Linebacker: Darius Fleming – Like his classmate Ethan Johnson, Fleming enters 2011 as a three-year contributor. He ranks second to Johnson among active players in career sacks and leads all players in tackles-for-loss with 25.5 in 23 career starts (37 games played).
Cat Linebacker: Steve Filer or Ishaq Williams – The senior/freshman combo will look to provide pass-rush punch behind all-star candidate Fleming. Notre Dame's Cat linebacker aligns on the boundary side of the formation.
Dog Linebacker: Prince Shembo – Made the switch from pass-rusher to Drop (Dog) linebacker in the spring and reportedly won the role handily over classmate Danny Spond who fared well in the spring and summer sessions.
Dog Linebacker: Danny Spond or Troy Niklas – Dubbed "Hercules" by Manti Te'o, the freshman Niklas made a late push vs. Spond to draw even at the backup drop LB spot. From divergent field backgrounds, Spond (6'3" 242) was a high school safety while Niklas (6'6 ½" 250) was a defensive lineman.
Mike Linebacker: Manti Te'o – Junior ranks among the nation's best and posted a 26-season program high 133 total tackles last fall.
Mike Linebacker: Anthony McDonald – Senior won the backup job over promising redshirt-freshman Kendall Moore. McDonald has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Will Linebacker: Dan Fox or Carlo Calabrese – Junior classmates (both with three seasons of eligibility) are expected to split snaps vs. South Florida. Fox technically won the job, likely due to his superior coverage skills. Calabrese, an 8-game starter last year, possesses a penchant for the physical.
Free Safety: Jamoris Slaughter or Zeke Motta – Slaughter (two seasons of eligibility remaining) won a tight race over Motta. Both will play extensively in the base, nickel, and dime defenses. A junior, Motta started eight games last fall after Slaughter was injured in the season-opener vs. Purdue.
Strong Safety: Harrison Smith – 5th-year senior serves as the lone team captain and its most improved player of the last calendar year.
Strong Safety: Dan McCarthy – Snakebitten senior has been oft-injured since his final month of high school. Younger brother of Irish standout Kyle, McCarthy possesses two seasons of eligibility and will likely serve as a key member of the team's specialty units in 2011.
Boundary Cornerback: Gary Gray – 5th-year senior ranked as Irisheyes.com's No. 3 overall player last fall. One of the better run-stuffing cornerbacks at the program over the last 15 seasons.
Boundary Cornerback: Bennett Jackson – Made switch from wide receiver in the off-season and won the team's inaugural Special Teams Player of the Year award as a true freshman last fall.
Field Cornerback: Robert Blanton – Senior and three-year contributor/part-time starter is a top playmaker, starring in the team's nickel defense last fall.
Field Cornerback: Lo Wood – Sophomore cornerback should be the first corner off the bench, at least in the opening weeks.
Key Reserve: NG Hafis Williams, LB Kendall Moore.