Four down from FiveOne 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 MobReasonable 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.