The first player in our countdown (highlighted above) has never started a game. Our next, reviewed below, wasn't considered for the 2012 Indispensable list just one month ago today but now has re-emerged as a focal point of Bob Diaco's 2012 first unit up front.
#9 Defensive End Kapron Lewis-MooreThere's likely more of a drop-off than the Irish coaching staff, media, or fans care to admit, but the late-spring loss of one of the team's best players occurred at the only position on the roster in which a quality, proven, veteran No. 2 was waiting in the wings.
A 5th-year senior, Kapron Lewis-Moore has started 24 consecutive games and each of the last 29 in which he's played dating back to September 2009, his redshirt-freshman season. He's come close to this annual list of indispensable players twice previously, but for 2012, and since the transfer of the previously referenced Aaron Lynch, Lewis-Moore's health is essential to the season's equation.
Behind Lewis-Moore is either early enrollee Sheldon Day, a promising player, or true sophomore Chase Hounshell, who was good enough to crack the mid-season rotation last year, but at 19 years old and less than a calendar year into a major college program, would still be a major drop-off from the 22-year-old Lewis-Moore who's toiled for Irish coaches since August 2008.
Hounshell recorded four tackles in six games last fall. Lewis-Moore has compiled 140 including 13 for loss with six sacks and a trio of forced fumbles while logging 32 games in the trenches. (He's second behind senior linebacker Manti Te'o in career tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks, and leads the team in forced fumbles over the course of his career.)
Lynch was a huge loss, and figured to land among the Top 6-7 on this list had he stayed; Lewis-Moore is his more than capable replacement, and he must be in uniform, fully recovered from November ACL surgery with few ill effects over the three-month season.
The Irish have shaky, unproven, potentially solid depth at defensive end, with Day, Hounshell, and even nose guard Kona Schwenke capable of filling in a pinch. That's a far cry from the description used above of Lewis-Moore during his brief backup stint.
After one key defection from the position, the team's purported best unit simply won't compete with the upper tier of its 2012 schedule if the starting front line, Lewis-Moore included, doesn't stay healthy.
Defensive line coach Mike Elston on Lewis-Moore prior to Lynch's transfer: "Kappy's really not a two. We really don't have twos. He runs with the ones (when we weren't in practice) a lot too. The depth chart isn't set; it's just a matter of getting guys the most reps (through rotation) in an equal amount to work their game. He gets in there with the ones also."