With or Without Him

Incoming five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes would lend invaluable depth to Notre Dame's defensive front in 2013. His expected presence as a second-year player and potential starter in 2014, however, is far more important.

There are three sides to every story, rumor, and conflict: one person's, the other person's, and the truth that exists somewhere in between.

Related (and conflicting) stories attempting to explain the purported rift between five-star defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes, an incoming freshman for Brian Kelly's Irish in 2013, and the Notre Dame staff won't be made clear until either Vanderdoes or Kelly addresses the situation.

Even then there'll only be versions of truth. What is certain is Notre Dame needs Vanderdoes, or a player of his caliber, to maintain defensive line depth and dominance in the seasons ahead.

Media silence from both parties in this instance is telling, and Vanderdoes' enrollment in the upcoming summer session with the rest of his freshmen classmates is doubtless in jeopardy.

At best, the five-star prospect's unplanned absence would have a detrimental affect on the 2013 squad's depth. At worst, Notre Dame's defensive line would lose a crucial rotation member along the lines of freshman Sheldon Day circa 2012.

Vanderdoes' absence in 2014 on the other hand? Therein lies the rub:

2013 Front Line

The starting quartet is set, and its not plausible that Vanderdoes will breech it, barring injury: Cat LB/DE Prince Shembo, nose guard Louis Nix, and defensive ends Sheldon Day and Stephon Tuitt.

Three of their four backups are also known, with Ishaq Williams behind Shembo, Kona Schwenke behind Nix, and Tony Springmann rotating behind Day, Tuitt, and Nix as well. And that's where Vanderdoes would fit, alongside Springmann in a rotation that would augment the defensive front, a unit poised to be one of Notre Dame's five best over the last 20 seasons (2012, 2004, 2002, and 1992-93 are others of note).

Currently slotted as a backup defensive end is senior Justin Utupo. Recently beefed up to 281 pounds and more dedicated than in previous seasons, Utupo is now a viable option for snaps during the season. That's not a rotation spot, but up front, every snap helps.

The same appears true for fifth-year senior Tyler Stockton. A former four-star prospect for former head coach Charlie Weis, Stockton also improved greatly over the last 14-plus months, and he's in the conversation for snaps entering summer sessions.

After a no-show effort as a true freshman last fall, 6'5" 299-pound defensive end Jarron Jones is a third prospect capable of seeing competitive field time this fall. The team's eighth defensive lineman, Chase Hounshell, is out for the second straight season with a third shoulder surgery.

Incoming classmates of Vanderdoes, Isaac Rochell and Jacob Matuska, appeared headed for redshirt seasons, though injuries/attrition, and Vanderdoes' potential absence, could change that expectation.

2013 Verdict: With or without Vanderdoes, Notre Dame's defensive line is one of the best in the nation. Without him, depth becomes a touch more precarious (the Irish can count on seven, not eight). Barring calamity, the line would be the team's best position unit regardless of Vanderdoes' enrollment status.

2014 Front Line

Shembo and Scwenke exhaust their eligibility and blessed with good health, the graduate Nix is a lock to turn pro, forgoing a potential fifth season. Utupo could apply for a fifth season, his acceptance by the staff wholly-dependent on A.) his performance this fall, and B.) scholarship availability.

Tuitt will be a true senior next fall -- he's already projected as a first round pick, in some instances top 10, but we're light years from either reality. Consider Tuitt 51/49 to return and let the season begin before adjusting that ratio.

Day will be a junior, Springmann a senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The same is true for Hounshell, though his career is in question due to the aforementioned surgeries. The Cat/DE Williams will be a true senior, with current sophomore Romeo Okwara his likely understudy -- and a potential defensive lineman as the 18-year-old is blessed with a 6'4" 258-pound frame.

Jones will be entering his third season at the program, a time when most begin to reap the gains of strength and conditioning as well as the critical mental aspects of daily dedication as major college athletes, not kids attending college. The 2013 freshmen pair of Rochell and Matuska will be ready to compete for varsity time, with Rochell the more intriguing prospect at the initial stages of their respective careers. Incoming linebacker prospect Doug Randolph could begin to surface as a Cat competitor as well.

Neither Rochell nor Randolph, nor a young Matuska, brings the raw power and potential of Vanderdoes.

Pledged 2014 freshmen D-Line prospects Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti are not expected to be first-season varsity regulars, but that speculation is meaningless 16 months prior to the 2014 kickoff.

2014 Verdict: It's long-been projected here (and we assume by the Irish staff) that Vanderdoes would be in prime position to challenge for a starting role entering his second season in the program, 2014.

In reality, they need him to be.

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