Spring Musings: Defensive Line

Irisheyes.com continues its spring 2012 wrap-up of the team's position groups with O'Malley's thoughts, questions, answers, observations and full-scale review of the team's defensive line.

For complete reviews of the rest of the Notre Dame offense exiting Spring 2012, click the links below:


Wide Receivers

Offensive Linemen

Tight Ends

Running Backs




Four down from Five

One flew south but four remain, and each of Notre Dame's "starting quartet" should contribute to make the 2011 Irish defensive line (whether featuring a 3-4 or 4-3 front) as strong, if not as imposing, as last year's crew. The ends are set with sophomore Stephon Tuitt ranking as the team's most underrated player among the team's casual fan base, and 5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore holding down the left side in Aaron Lynch's stead.

2011 nose guard Louis Nix lost his job this spring to surging junior Kona Schwenke. Though the development tested the formers resolve it's good news no matter how you slice it because the Irish front four desperately needs two players that can hold the point, and it appears Schwenke has ascended to that level after gaining 60 pounds over the last 24 months and just now growing used to the added bulk.

Said head coach Brian Kelly of Schwenke in comparison to the yeoman efforts of former backup nose guard Sean Cwynar: "He (Schwenke) came here at 220 pounds. Now he's 294 pounds. He's a big young man and it took time to grow into his body. Now he's leaned down a little bit and he's handling himself. Physically, he's a strong kid. You're just seeing the maturity.

"The shame of it is he played as a true freshman. We had to play him as a true freshman. He really should be a guy with three years of eligibility left. He's really come on from that physical standpoint and I think he'll be similar to a Sean Cwynar, if not better."

The real shame was that he played as a sophomore last season: a needless cameo in Week Five, Week Nine and Week 10…without a tackle. But that's a story for another day this summer.

Bench Mob

Reasonable minds can disagree regarding the team's defensive line depth. Camp #1 (Me) sees the following: a sophomore defensive end with six games of backup experience; an early enrollee defensive end ascending to a necessary role in the rotation thanks partly to the transfer of a starter; a redshirt-freshman coming off back surgery; an incoming freshman; and a senior interior player who hasn't seen the field since the Irish were hammered by Navy in 2010.

In Camp #2…wait, is there a Camp #2? Defensive line coach Mike Elston has no proven players, but ample young talent nonetheless among the backup ranks. At least two of the following must emerge as stout reserves during the course of 2012: Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, Jarron Jones, or Tyler Stockton.

The unit will receive aid from the pass rush prowess of Cat linebackers Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams, but after Lynch's defection, its paramount the four starters highlighted in the section above play to or exceed expectations.

Roster Rundown

Top Dog: Stephon Tuitt

Indispensable: Louis Nix

Proven BCS-Bowl Level Performer: Kapron Lewis-Moore; Tuitt should be next and Nix/Schwenke have a chance.

Most Important that he Improve from 2011: Kona Schwenke, but that's obvious as he barely played and didn't register a tackle. I'll go with the potential for super-stardom: Stephon Tuitt.

Spring Star: Kona Schwenke

August/September Sleeper: Tony Springmann

Quote to Note: "Kids love him. Louis never has his head down. He always has something to say, he's always upbeat. He has that personality. He's not a guy when I go in the locker room that I'm worried about. Its like anyone else, you want all of your players to be consistent. I don't worry about Lou."
– Irish head coach Brian Kelly responding to transfer inquiries regarding affable nose guard Louis Nix.

5th-Year Senior: Kapron Lewis-Moore
Senior (Eligible through 2012): Tyler Stockton
Junior (Eligible through 2013): Kona Schwenke
Junior (Eligible through 2014: Louis Nix
Sophomores (Eligible through 2014): Stephon Tuitt and Chase Hounshell
Sophomore (Eligible through 2015): Tony Springmann
Early Enrollee Freshman (Eligible through 2015-16): Sheldon Day
Incoming Freshmen: Jarron Jones
2013 Pledges: None

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