Down the Stretch: Interior Strength looks at recent recruiting developments and our top four remaining targets to fill out the 2013 Notre Dame recruiting class.

Notre Dame's recent rise to No. 1 has to date subtracted one and added another from its likely 2013 recruiting haul.

Long-time "Big Skill" pledge Danny Mattingly (OLB/DE/TE) rescinded his commitment in an apparent mutual parting of ways to kick off December, but four-star RB prospect Greg Bryant quickly took his place, bringing the number of current recruits for head coach Brian Kelly back to 22.

Bryant (discussed in a forthcoming column), is the second running back to offer a verbal pledge. He joins fellow bruiser Jamel James (), though the latter's final destination -- South Bend or otherwise -- remains heavily in doubt.

For most of last summer and throughout the early stages of the fall, assumed the 2013 class would include 23 final members (despite just 21 projected openings). Due to attrition -- both transfer and medical hardship, with more of the same likely over the ensuing months -- its safe to assume the class could fill at the technical maximum of 25.

(it's not impossible it could reach 26 with any forthcoming January enrollees technically counting as part of last year's 2012 group, one that included just 16 committed players.)

Though intriguing names continue to surface weekly, it appears four primary targets remain: DT Eddie Vanderdoes and S Max Redfield (both wavering USC pledges), RB Tarean Folston, and OLB/DE AlQuadin Muhammad. The latter trio will announce their choices in early January during the Under Armour and U.S. Army All-America games, while Vanderdoes is expected to visit Notre Dame on the final weekend of January after the University's second semester has commenced -- and after the 2013 class's early enrollees have hit campus.

Each member of the quartet could challenge for a major role by 2014 though Redfield would have the most competition with safeties Matthias Farley, Austin Collinsworth, Nicky Baratti, C.J. Prosise, and (likely) Elijah Shumate eligible through 2014-15-16.

Below, and in three articles to follow, is a look at the class to date as well as where each target noted above would fit in 2013, 2014, and beyond.

DL: Stockpiling Quality…and Quantity

Notre Dame is 12-0 for myriad reasons, but chief among them is the performance of the program's best and deepest defensive front since the glory days of the Lou Holtz regime.

Key to that unit's impact is the power and presence of junior nose guard Louis Nix.

College or pro, a stout defense is built from in the inside-out, a reality which makes the suddenly tantalizing possibility of adding the 5-star, 302-pound Vanderdoes intriguing.

2013 Projected Defensive Linemen (eligibility remaining): Senior Louis Nix (2), senior Kona Schwenke (1), junior Stephon Tuitt (2), junior Tony Springmann (3), junior Chase Hounshell (3), sophomore Sheldon Day (3), sophomore Jarron Jones (4), incoming DE pledge Isaac Rochell (4).

Notes: With as many as 13 defensive linemen projected among 32 first-round selections in the upcoming NFL Draft, it seems unlikely Nix would receive feedback necessitating an early move to the next level. Of the group above, Hounshell sat out 2012 with a shoulder injury and Jones enjoyed a redshirt season.

2014 Projected Defensive Linemen: Springmann, Hounshell, Day, Jones, Rochell (each is eligible through 2015; all but Day through at least 2016).

Notes: The difference between '13 and '14 is stark, especially if Vanderdoes doesn't join the unit. Nix would be eligible for a 5th-year in 2014, but his return post-graduation is highly unlikely as he'd be a potential first-round selection that spring.

Tuitt enters his true senior season in '14 but as a projected top 10 pick four months prior. For our purposes -- and staff contingency in recruiting -- there's better than a 50 percent chance Tuitt moves onto the NFL following 2013. Schwenke will have graduated and exhausted his eligibility as well.

Observations: In addition to the luxury of Vanderdoes as a backup in 2013, the '14 recruiting cycle will offer a renewed, mandatory focus on true defensive line talent, with as many as four prospects plausible after just two in 2012 and either one (Rochell) or two (plus Vanderdoes) in 2013.

(Our forthcoming feature on Al-Quandin Muhammad will touch on the CAT LB position -- one that also serves as a defensive end in the team's 4-Down alignments.

Final Thoughts

Adding Vanderdoes would allow for a nine-player unit for the 2013 practice field. There'd be ample competition by Vanderdoes (with no pressure to play) among untested reserves Jones, Hounshell and the incoming Rochell for a rotation spot behind projected starters Nix, Tuitt, and Day, along with projected top backups Schwenke and Springmann. (Vanderdoes could also be a full-time #3 at nose guard, allowing Springmann to work more at DE where he shined at times this season.)

More important would be Vanderdoes' presence (and Rochell's as well) when Schwenke, likely Nix, and potentially Tuitt exit campus following the 2013 season. Both could thus earn a starting spot in their second seasons at the program.

Notre Dame will have a great defensive line with or without Vanderdoes in 2013 -- but he'd offer a huge benefit in 2014 whether or not Tuitt returns for his senior season.

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