Defensive Line ObservationsI spent limited time watching the unit, but Kona Schwenke continued to run with the first group, though I thought Nix was the better player during scrimmage viewing. Remember, I'm at field level and generally aligned with the QB so I can see more downfield.
Aside from being the recipient of a pancake block in the Irish Eyes drill (courtesy of Zack Martin,) Kapron Lewis-Moore impressed, chasing Everett Golson from the pocket and picking off a Golson screen pass.
If you consider Nix 1B at nose guard, the second unit defense appears to be Sheldon Day at right defensive end (behind Stephon Tuitt) and Chase Hounshell at left defensive end (behind Lewis-Moore). Tony Springmann works the nose in relief of the starting pair. Day's quickness has been impressive since Day One of his early enrollment last spring.
True freshman Jarron Jones is understandably third string after five college practices. Jones needs 2012 to grow into his impressive frame and any action this fall would be unfortunate as he's an ideal candidate to be a late-bloomer -- a 5th-year would be invaluable.
Justin Utupo has moved to defensive end, but his scrimmage role will likely be that of a backup dime package pass rusher. Utupo can turn a corner on the pass rush, but he lacks the frame to play much from scrimmage at either DE or his former ILB position. He'll remain a regular as a physical roving blocker on the kick return team, and likely one of the bigger players in kick coverage this fall (6'1" 258 pounds).
Linebackers: Redshirt-freshmen Show WellFirst unit 'backers in addition to Manti Te'o (Mike) were Carlo Calabrese (Will), Prince Shembo (Cat) and Danny Spond (Dog). Spond was concussed during practice and his competitor, Ben Councell, was impressive in two live scrimmage pass rushing situations (vs. Golson) as well as one drop into the flat.
Shembo's 1B competitor is the imposing Ishaq Williams. The two will play ample snaps in the fall in an attempt to keep pass-rushers fresh. Shembo noted post-practice that he is far, far more comfortable at the Cat rather than in his mis-cast (maybe necessary, considering the roster?) Dog/Drop position last fall. He was a defensive end in high school and there was far too much open-field coverage for his taste last fall.
Dan Fox was the best linebacker in coverage at today's practice, breaking up consecutive passes in the live scrimmage. He returned to the first unit in place of Calabrese when the offense and defense went live, late.
In addition to the aforementioned Councell, redshirt-freshman Jarrett Grace remained the most impressive among the team's backup linebackers, not only in technical and in (7-on-7) coverage drills, but in the limited time the defense had vs. the Irish running game (scrimmage and of course, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 controlled featured a heavy dose of the pass.)
Junior Kendall Moore received this bit of advice from the always energetic Bob Diaco during a hand-speed drill on the blocking sleds: "If you want to take a step forward, you better raise your WHOLE level!" Diaco later praised Moore for improvement in the same drill.
I'd pegged true freshman Romeo Okwara for future defensive end duty (and by future, I'm referring to 2014), but the 6'4" 239-pounder is quick on his feet and has good football sense. He ran with Cierre Wood on a wheel route and broke up the pass 15-18 yards downfield. Most impressive, he actually located the ball turning and running with the faster Wood. Said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin following the play: "I don't think we want our outside linebacker beating our running backs on the ball in the air…"
Redshirt-freshmen Cat linebacker Anthony Rabasa chased quarterback Andrew Hendrix from the pocket. Rabasa seemed to have a beat on Hendrix but couldn't catch him in a chase to the sidelines (no gain or a short loss). Said Hendrix to Rabasa, "You're fast, but you 'aint that fast..."
Walk-on Dog linebacker Connor Little, who received extensive reps due to the position's injuries during the spring, absolutely leveled freshman Gunner Kiel on the latter's first live scrimmage snap near the end of practice. Said Kiel later of the hit: "I think I should have checked to a different blitz pickup." Kiel also added that the hit, "Felt good."