(The number in parenthesis represents each player's remaining eligibility entering the 2012 season.)
DEFENSIVE END5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, 6'4" 306 pounds (1)
Sophomore Tony Springmann, 6'6" 300 pounds (4)
Notes: Lewis-Moore's recent surge has added another weapon to the defensive front, his early-season ankle injury took him out of action vs. Purdue and had him hobbled in the win over Michigan State. His four QB hurries rank third on the squad and his nine tackles over the last two games tops his position. Springmann has been excellent in spot relief, both as a defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle when the Irish shift to a four-man front.
DEFENSIVE ENDSophomore Stephon Tuitt, 6'6" 303 pounds (3)
Freshman Sheldon Day, 6'2" 286 pounds (4/5)
Notes: Tuitt ranks among the nation's sack leaders (6) and is second on the squad with five QB hurries. Day has been a revelation in a backup role, recording key defensive plays vs. Purdue (QB pressure that led to a Bennett Jackson interception), Michigan State (a sack and PD on back-to-back plays to push the Spartans out of scoring territory), and Michigan (a late sack to force a field goal). Sophomore Chase Hounshell did not play as anticipated this season and will receive a medical redshirt after shoulder surgery.
NOSE GUARDJunior Louis Nix, 6'3" 326 pounds (3)
Junior Kona Schwenke, 6'4" 290 pounds (2)
Sophomore Tony Springmann, 6'6" 300 pounds (4)
Notes: Two years after not proving capable of a successful football stance, Nix now ranks among the team's five most important players, and easily among its 7-8 best overall. Schwenke was slowed by a late-August cracked bone in his hand but should be at full strength. His continued improvement in a relief role would greatly benefit Nix over the next eight weeks. Springmann provides insurance on the nose in addition to his role as a DE and 3-technique tackle.
CAT LINEBACKERJunior Prince Shembo, 6'2" 250 pounds, (2)
Sophomore Ishaq Williams, 6'5" 255 pounds (3)
Notes: Shembo logs more time than Williams, though the latter has a dual-role in the team's nickel package, playing both defensive end in 4-man fronts and occasionally dropping to a nickel linebacker (coverage) spot as well. Shembo leads the team in QB hurries (6), is tied for second in sacks (3) and first among defensive linemen in total tackles (18). Technical third-string Cat linebacker Anthony Rabasa made his collegiate debut last week vs. Miami.
DOG LINEBACKERJunior Danny Spond, 6'3, 242 pounds (2)
Sophomore Ben Councell, 6'5" 240 pounds (4)
Notes: Spond plays the vast majority of snaps, though Councell regularly receives a first-half series in competitive contests to date. Spond has also forged a role as the team's strong side linebacker (field side) in 4-3 fronts, with Dan Fox on the opposite flank. Freshman Romeo Okwara continues to see special teams action on both the kickoff return and coverage units.
MIKE LINEBACKERSenior Manti Te'o, 6'2" 255 pounds (1)
Sophomore Jarrett Grace, 6'3" 240 pounds (4)
Notes: Te'o rarely leaves the field, starting in the nickel and seldom-used dime package as well. Grace is his technical backup though most of the redshirt-freshman's playing time has come on the Irish run teams (kickoff and punt coverage and return). Junior Kendall Moore also fights for backup duty while starting on special teams. Moore is listed as the third-string middle linebacker on Notre Dame's official depth chart, though neither he nor Grace have played a down with the game in question, appearing instead against Navy and Miami, late.
WILL LINEBACKERSenior Dan Fox, 6'3" 240 pounds (2)
Senior Carlo Calabrese, 6'1 255 pounds (2)
Notes: Both Fox and Calabrese see ample time as a 3-4 Will 'backer, though Fox remains on the field in more 4-3 sets as the boundary side 'backer next to middle man Te'o. Fox is third on the team with 25 tackles while Calabrese is fifth (19) despite serving a one-game suspension to start the season. Fox has a pass defended (two by my scoring system) and a QB hurry to his credit while Calabrese is the only one of the pair to register a tackle-for-loss after five games.
BOUNDARY CORNERBACKJunior Bennett Jackson, 6'0" 185 pounds (2)
Sophomore Jalen Brown, 6'1" 199 pounds (4)
Notes: Brown saw early action last week but a missed tackle in space vs. the 'Canes won't help his cause as the No. 3 cornerback. Jackson receives only brief rests as the team's most complete cornerback in this, his first season as a starter. He ranks fourth on the team in tackles (23), tied for first with three interceptions, and second in passes defended (4).
FIELD CORNERBACKFreshman Keivarae Russell, 5'11" 182 pounds (4/5)
Sophomore Josh Atkinson, 5'11" 185 pounds (3)
Notes: Atkinson has yet to register a tackle or PD in relief but he does have an uncredited QB hurry (Michigan State) to his name. Russell and Jackson have flip-flopped field to boundary assignments pending the scheme, offense faced, and perimeter talent on the other side of scrimmage. Russell received kudos from his head coach following last week's win with Brian Kelly noting of the true freshman: "I thought KeiVarae Russell tackled soundly today. We worked hard on his skill level increasing as it relates to tackling, one of the lost arts that seems to be out there is tackling."
FIELD SAFETYSenior Zeke Motta, 6'2" 215 pounds (1)
Freshman Nicky Baratti, 6'1" 206 pounds (4/5)
Notes: Motta has morphed from Notre Dame starter to nationally relevant safety, playing far and away the best ball of his college career as a senior. He ranks second on the team in tackles (28) and importance to the back seven (behind Te'o). Baratti secured an end zone interception in the first competitive appearance from scrimmage of his career, taking away a potential score from Michigan in Week Four.
BOUNDARY SAFETYSophomore Matthias Farley, 5'11" 200 pounds (4)
Senior Chris Salvi, 5'10" 190 pounds (1)
Notes: Farley has started three of five games this season, the first at Dog linebacker vs. Navy's triple option, the last two at safety in place of injured 5th-year safety Jamoris Slaughter, out for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Farley has manned a safety spot during just one opponent's touchdown this season, a game-tying score by Purdue in Week Two. Salvi is Farley's technical backup whose true role is that of special teams starter on punt and kickoff coverage and return.
Nickel DefenseInterior defensive linemen rotate among Nix, Lewis-Moore, Springmann, and Tuitt while the edge rushers include Tuitt, Shembo, Williams, and Day.
The team's linebackers are generally Spond, Fox, and Williams with Te'o never leaving the field. The team's official nickel defender (fifth defensive back) is freshman cornerback Elijah Shumate, who has broken up three passes in his limited role. Due to a lack of healthy bodies, Notre Dame's secondary in the nickel package is largely the same as its starting four listed above, though Atkinson and Brown have made intermittent appearances.
The Irish have not shown a Dime package (six defensive backs) since Slaughter was lost to injury in Week Three at Michigan State.