When Brian Kelly took over the Notre Dame program in 2009, the Irish had ample onfield issues to correct. There was no proven quarterback (ahem…), an already shaky offensive line was losing its three best players, and the defensive line, just six deep in returnees, had acted the role of speed bump vs. opposing rushers the previous season, finishing 89th nationally against the rush.
With the exception of quarterback (ahem…), two of the three major problems Kelly inherited have been turned into program strengths, as the offensive line and defensive line join the team's tight ends as its best trio of position groups.
The addition of Scout.com 4-star defensive end Isaac Rochell to the now 14-strong 2013 recruiting class is the first step toward re-stocking a position in need of talented bodies for 2014 and beyond.
Assuming good health to Tuitt, Hounshell, Day, Schwenke, Nix, Springmann, and Jones, Rochell's presence in the 2013 D-Line rotation won't be mandatory (as the true freshman Day's appears to be for 2012). But Rochell's talent, like Aaron Lynch, Tuitt, and Hounshell before him, could force the staff's hand.
Unlike the vast majority of offensive linemen, talented defensive linemen that can make an impact are welcomed additions to the fray as freshmen, especially as the season progresses and as part of a solid rotation rather than in a starting role.
Rochell appears an ideal fit as a versatile 3-4 defensive end for coordinator Bob Diaco's varied fronts. He has the ability to hold the edge in three-man fronts, the strength and size to penetrate when the front turns to a four-man alignment (much like current Irish DLs Stephon Tuitt and Kapron Lewis-Moore) and with his frame and quickness, could help coming off the edge of a 4-3 in pass-rushing situations as did Aaron Lynch and current Irish 'backer Prince Shembo.
Rochell is the first of what should be a three true DL recruiting haul. A trio this year would mitigate the damage of last year's two-man class (Day and Jones) and the unfortunate transfer of Lynch from the four-man class of 2011.
If the Irish can bring in two more true defensive linemen with Rochell (players that will begin their careers in that position, not bounce from TE, to OLB, to DE, etc.), the 2014 roster will have nine non-freshmen DL among its ranks. The 2012 team by comparison has just seven, two of whom have never or barely played.
Assembling ample talent up front remains part of the long-term process as the gang from South Bend looks to rely upon its foundation(s) up front rather than the occasional perimeter flash and dash that brings more oohs and ahhs, than Ws to a program.