Depth Chart: Irish Defense

A review of tonight's starters, key reserves, and nickel package possibilities for tonight's matchup between No. 1 Notre Dame and USC in Los Angeles.

The number in parenthesis represents each player's remaining eligibility entering the 2012 season.


5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore, 6'4" 306 pounds (1)
Sophomore Tony Springmann, 6'6" 300 pounds (4)

Notes: Springmann regularly rotates throughout the contest, often debuting on the second defensive series. He's also capable of providing relief at nose guard he did last week with Kona Schwenke still hampered by a shoulder injury. After injuring his calf early in Game Two vs. Purdue and missing the contest, Lewis-Moore has played the best football of his four-year starting career over the last two months. Saturday will be his 41st career start, second on the team behind Manti Te'o.


Sophomore Stephon Tuitt, 6'6" 303 pounds (3)
Freshman Sheldon Day, 6'2" 286 pounds (4/5)

Notes: Tuitt ranks tied for second nationally with 12 sacks and second to Prince Shembo for the team lead in QB hurries (9). Day excelled early 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). He's since maintained a regular rotation spot in the team's six-player defensive front and like Springmann, often initially appears on the second defensive series.

Day played approximately 30 snaps last week vs. Wake Forest (unofficially a career-high) and earned Top 10 game designation from for his efforts.


Junior Louis Nix, 6'3" 326 pounds (3)
Junior Kona Schwenke, 6'4" 290 pounds (2)
Sophomore Tony Springmann, 6'6" 300 pounds (4)

Notes: Schwenke has missed the last two contests with a shoulder injury; he's expected available today though that was the case last week as well (he was not needed vs. the Demon Deacons in a 38-0 win). Springmann provides insurance on the nose in addition to his role as a DE and 3-technique tackle. Entering the season-finale, Nix has ascended to #2 among the team's top 10 players this season in's rankings.


Junior Prince Shembo, 6'2" 250 pounds, (2)
Sophomore Ishaq Williams, 6'5" 255 pounds (3)

Notes: Williams has developed a dual-role in the team's nickel package, playing both defensive end in 4-man fronts and dropping to a nickel linebacker (coverage) spot when the nickel shows three-down as well.

Shembo ranks second on the team with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss; his 12 QB hurries leads the team through 11 games and is just two fewer than Aaron Lynch's 14 in 12 games played last fall. (Lynch posted 6 of his 14 in one contest, MSU, last fall.)


Junior Danny Spond, 6'3, 242 pounds (2)
Sophomore Ben Councell, 6'5" 240 pounds (4)

Notes: Spond plays the vast majority of snaps while Councell has moved to primarily a special teams (kick return) role. The latter played several defensive series last week and provided one of the better hits of the season in reserve duty, cleaning up a screen pass late for no gain. 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. He remains on the field in nickel situations as well, often playing cornerback in bracket coverage.


Senior 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 package as well. He leads the team with 10 passes defended, 98 tackles, and 6 interceptions. Grace played nearly 1.5 quarters in relief last week, registering a career-high three tackles. Most of the redshirt-freshman's playing time has come on the Irish run teams (kickoff and punt coverage and return) where he's recorded seven stops.


Senior Dan Fox, 6'3" 240 pounds (2) AND
Senior Carlo Calabrese, 6'1 255 pounds (2)

Notes: Fox has started seven games, playing in all 11 while Calabrese has started five after serving a suspension in the season-opener. Fox ranks fourth on the team with 54 tackles while Calabrese is sixth with 46. The latter played his best game of the season last week, recording seven tackles and registering his first career forced fumble and earning game Top 10 designation by for his efforts.


Junior Bennett Jackson, 6'0" 185 pounds (2)
Sophomore Jalen Brown, 6'1" 199 pounds (4)

Notes: Jackson ranks behind Te'o for the second on the team in interceptions (4) and passes defended (8), and is third in total tackles with 55 stops including 1.5 for loss. Brown earned ample playing time in relief last week, recording a big hit and assisted stop.


Freshman Keivarae Russell, 5'11" 182 pounds (4/5)
Sophomore Josh Atkinson, 5'11" 185 pounds (3)

Notes: Russell ranks fourth on the squad in tackles (47), including two for lost yardage and a trio of passes defensed. Russell is the first true freshman cornerback to start the season opener in program history (since freshman eligibility was instituted in 1972). Atkinson has appeared more of late, due partly to a concussion suffered by Russell two weeks ago, as well as a healthy margin of victory last week against Wake.


Senior Zeke Motta, 6'2" 215 pounds (1)
Freshman Nicky Baratti, 6'1" 206 pounds (4/5)

Notes: Motta was named a Thorpe Award semi-finalist, the honor presented annually to the nation's best defensive back. He was not on the pre-season watch list. 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. He's played multiple series per game over the last three contests in relief of Matthias Farley (below).


Sophomore Matthias Farley, 5'11" 200 pounds (4)
Freshman Nicky Baratti, 6'1" 206 pounds (4/5)
Senior Chris Salvi, 5'10" 190 pounds (1)

Notes: Farley has started eight straight games and nine overall, the first at Dog linebacker vs. Navy's triple option and since in place of injured 5th-year safety Jamoris Slaughter, out for the season since the win at Michigan State with a ruptured Achilles.

A former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship during Winter conditioning, Salvi is a member of the team's kickoff and punt coverage and return teams. Baratti is the first safety off the bench at either spot.

Nickel Defense

Interior 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 role. Shumate played 7 snaps last week in a true nickel package, his highest number of the season.

Said Kelly of the nickel defense last month:

"I've been the first one to gloat on Danny (Spond) and his play. But we'd like to have (Jamoris) Slaughter so that we'd be in a lot more nickel and dime. It's one of those things where (Spond's) done a really good job, but if we had our way, we'd be in nickel and dime situations. We're trying to groom some young guys to get to that level where we can take Danny off the field. No disrespect to Danny, but we think even in this game, if we can get a nickel…we can't even think about dime. So it's kind of a Catch 22."

Slaughter has applied for a rare sixth season of eligibility for 2013. Top Stories