It's been a frustrating year watching Buddy Green's unit. Not since 2007 has the Navy defense looked so helpless against opposing offenses, and after allowing East Carolina quarterback Dominique Davis to set the NCAA record in consecutive completions last week, Navy's defense has fallen to the bottom of almost every statistical category. This week's depth chart features a variable "who's who" of underclassmen, so expect to see lots of different faces on the field Saturday. In any case, they'll need help from Irish turnovers and miscues to give stand any chance of pulling the upset.
DE #98 Jabaree Tuani: The one steady on a changing defense lineup this year, Tunai is undersized but relentless, and will likely go down as one of the best Navy defensive linemen in history. Frustratingly difficult to block, the Senior Captain leads the Mids in both sacks (2.5) and tackles for a loss (5).
NG #91 Jared Marks: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green will be the first to tell you how important it is to has an effective nose guard in his 3-4 defense, and the lack of production from Marks has shown this year. He has yet to record a sack or a tackle for a loss, and has had trouble plugging gaps against the run despite his imposing 300-pound frame.
DE #50 Josh Dowling Fitzpatrick: A former outside linebacker whose 220-pounds beg clichés about service academy linemen, Fitzpatrick became the third different defensive end to start opposite Tuani this year when he started against ECU last week. He recorded half a sack in the game, but otherwise was a nonfactor.
OLB #9 Tra'ves Bush: More of a safety, Bush was listed atop this week's depth chart at the 'Striker' position that Navy uses in packages against spread oriented offenses. Perhaps Navy's most versatile defender, he's currently second on the team in tackles, and has also taken a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown this season.
ILB #57 Caleb King: King has been in and out of the starting lineup for the better part of the last two years, but has come on in recent weeks. He snatched a key interception against Rutgers two weeks ago, but will have to show better gap discipline against the run to prevent Notre Dame's backs from reaching the second level.
ILB #51 Matt Warrick: A former slotback with what amounts to 'freakish' athleticism for a middle linebacker, Warrick is best when playing in space. The team's leading tackler with 62 stops, he has nevertheless struggled with gap integrity against the run this year. Still, he gives Navy a fighting chance in matchup up with Tyler Eifert in the middle of the field.
OLB #50 Byre French: French is a two sport athlete who also plays lacrosse at the Academy, and watching him on the field is a lesson in hustle. He was forced to make his first start of the season against South Carolina because of injuries, but his tenacity and ability to come off blocks have earned him several recent starts.
LCB #24 Parrish Gaines: Seeing the freshman at the top of this week's depth chart was a shocker for Navy fans, but given the maddening inconsistency we've seen in the backend of Navy's defense, it's an understandable move. Gaines saw his first significant action of the year in spot duty against ECU (recording five assisted tackles) last week, but it's unclear how the 6-foot-2, 185-pound true freshman might match up against Michael Floyd.
Rover #9 Kwesi Mitchell: The most veteran player in Navy's secondary, Mitchell has been crossed trained to play every position in the backend for the Mids, but has settled at Rover this season because of his knowledge of the defense and fearlessness as a tackler. He's the only Navy player to have recorded multiple interceptions this year (2) and is currently fourth on the team in tackles.
Safety #25 Chris Ferguson: Hard to believe that Navy's freshman sensation almost died of a childhood illness, but don't let his path to college football -- or his youth -- fool you. Ferguson has started the last two games for Navy and has been one of the bright spots on the defense, forcing a critical fumble and returning an interception for a touchdown against Rutgers in his collegiate debut. He came back down to Earth somewhat last weekend, but still managed six solo tackles and a pass breakup. Physical against the run, he could end up being an important last line of defense against Notre Dame's offensive playmakers.
RCB #28 David Sperry: Soft spoken an often overlooked, Sperry is the kind of player who shows up for work week in and week out. He's coming off his most active game of the season (10 tackles, two tackles for a loss) but has so far proven to be better in run support than in coverage. With uncertainly at the opposite corner spot, Buddy Green will need to get as many quality snaps out of Sperry as possible.
DE #90 Jamel Dobbs: When Tuani graduates, Dobbs will be called upon to fill the void. While he's not likely to get the "official" start against the Irish, Dobbs has actually been one of Navy's most productive down linemen this fall, and will likely see action as Buddy Green attempts to keep his defense fresh.
DE #99 Wes Henderson: One of three players to start opposite Tuani at defensive end this season, Henderson has good strength despite his 250-pound frame, and is also cross-trained at nose guard. He leads the defense in fumble recoveries, and is often called on to provide bulk on the interior of the line against heavier offensive packages.
LB #10 Jarred Shannon: Navy fans can only wonder what Shannon's career would have been like had the oft-injured player stayed healthy enough to gain much-needed game experience by his senior year. As it stands, Shannon comes into the Notre Dame game "banged up" again, but, when healthy, he has the athleticism to match up equally as well against the run as the pass.
ILB #38 Matt Brewer: An off and on again starter through the first half of the year, expect to see Brewer quite frequently on Saturday. He's not quite as athletic as Warrick, but he has a reputation as a big hitter who plays larger than his 6-foot frame.
OLB #42 Mason Graham: Slowed by injury through the opening stages of the season, Graham has nevertheless recovered enough to earn his way back into the second line at the 'Raider' position.
Safety #6 Shawn Lynch: A former wide receiver who made the move to the secondary in the off-season, Lynch is still adjusting to the game in the backend, and has recently been supplanted by Chris Ferguson on the depth chart. Still, he could be called upon to provide extra speed in the secondary when Notre Dame goes to five wide sets.