2012 Outside LinebackersWhat We Know: That job shares and multiple bodies will occupy both the Cat and Dog position, with the latter's role in the defense varying on a game-by-game basis.
What We Hope to be True: That Shembo and Williams can handle coverage duties on the boundary…That the Dog linebacker position will perform better over 13 games than did their 2010 and 2011 predecessors…That safety Jamoris Slaughter's occasional presence at the Dog won't limit the team's playmaking ability at safety…That Slaughter's continued presence in the role isn't an indication that no quality Dog 'backer has been developed.
Unit's Current Standing: Question Mark
2012 Inside LinebackersWhat We Know: That Manti Te'o, without a hint of improvement, would be a quality, sometimes dominant middle linebacker…That the Will position will again be shared by a senior duo: Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese
What We Think We Know: That Te'o will become, inarguably, one of the five best defensive players in the nation as a senior…That Jarrett Grace appears to be his successor at the Mike spot in 2013.
What We Hope to be True: That the Fox/Calabrese tandem will improve from 2012…That the staff is markedly higher on the play of their Will 'backers than are most program observers…That Te'o can play 12 games in 13 weeks without significant injury such as the ankle problem that limited him last October.
Unit's Current Standing: Relative strength
2012 SafetiesWhat We Know: That Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are a quality, reliable veteran duo and that the drop-off behind either is significant
What We Think We Know: That former walk-on Chris Salvi can be as solid from scrimmage as a backup safety as he is on the coverage units.
What We Hope to be True: That Slaughter could be a national breakout player…That one of five incoming safeties can force his way onto the team's two-deep after the season-ending injury to junior Austin Collinsworth…That Motta will emerge from serviceable to solid, or even standout in his third season as a starter…That Elijah Shumate is as advertised as an incoming football player capable of filling a niche role in the rotation.
Unit's Current Standing: Question Mark with the (health-dependent) potential to be a strength
2012 CornerbacksWhat We Know: That the program will debut two new starters on the corner for the first time since 1998
What We Think We Know: That junior Bennett Jackson is ready for a prime time role and can fare well vs. a handful of explosive passing attacks on the 2012 slate…That 2013 will see better CB play than 2012…That Jackson and likely field side starter Lo Wood will provide solid run support, at minimum…
What We Hope to be True: That Wood and Josh Atkinson, while inexperienced, could be a potential upgrade over 5th-year senior Gary Gray, who inexplicably struggled last season after a very good 2010 campaign…That Jackson is as good as the defensive staff and his head coach have indicated…That we won't have the same questions regarding the position in June 2013…That Jalen Brown's man coverage skills could help him find the field in certain roles (The staff has indicated he struggles with his technique in zone coverages)…That converted running back/football player Cam McDaniel continues his impressive progression from DB neophyte to potential role player in 2012.
Unit's Current Standing: Weakness
2012 Defensive LineWhat We Know: That the three-man trio of Kapron Lewis-Moore, Louis Nix, and Stephon Tuitt can hold up vs. any offensive front.
What We Think We Know: That Kona Schwenke is as ready for prime time as the coaching staff indicates…That the apparent versatility of Schwenke, Lewis-Moore, and Tuitt will translate vs. the top offenses the Irish will face to conclude each month (Michigan/Oklahoma/USC).
What We Hope to be True: That depth actually exists, as none of the backups have proven anything on a college football field…That Sheldon Day can provide pass-rushing punch as a true freshman, one necessary after the transfer of Aaron Lynch…That red-shirt freshman Tony Springmann and sophomore Chase Hounshell will be fully recovered (especially Springmann, who had back surgery) in time to compete at the outset of August camp.
Unit's Current Standing: Program Strength
2012 Defensive StaffWhat We Know: That the defense is far better in 2012 than it was in 2009 when the bulk of the staff migrated to South Bend…That the front seven is well-coached and will limit opposing running games.
What We Think We Know: That true depth has been achieved, because at present, its notable only in its increased numbers…
What We Hope to be True: That the addition of Bob Elliott, a long-time mentor to both Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks, will be of great benefit to the staff and a secondary that struggled last fall…That Mike Elston's defensive line will continue its three-year ascent without the rare, developing talent of Aaron Lynch as its top dog.
Unit's Current Standing: Cohesive group and program strength