Defensive Line RotationSheldon Day (DE - boundary side), Stephon Tuitt (DE - field side or "Stud"), Louis Nix (NG), Kona Schwenke (NG/DE), Ishaq Williams (LB/DE), Tyler Stockton (NG/DE), Jarron Jones (DE), and Isaac Rochell (DE).
Notre Dame's official depth chart doesn't list Stockton, but head coach Brian Kelly noted Stockton as a likely third player off the bench with Schwenke and Williams the givens. Jones and Rochell worked most of August camp as second team defensive ends with Stockton the No. 2 nose guard -- consider Schwenke a starter alongside the official starting trio as the senior appeared to emerge over the last four weeks at a position in need of aid.
"I think defensively Kona Schwenke (was) a different player in the spring than he is right now," said Kelly of the 227-pound recruit-turned-300-plus interior lineman. "He's going to play a lot of football. He could play for a lot of teams and make an impact."
Kelly also noted that Day had the best work volume (most consecutive snaps without needing a rest).
Look for Stockton, Jones, and Rochell to earn first-half snaps and for the threesome to carry the load in what should be a cakewalk second half along with third unit upperclassmen Anthony Rabasa and Justin Utupo -- two former edge rushing linebackers now part of the defensive line unit.
When Notre Dame shifts to a four-man front pre-snap, Shembo becomes a defensive end on the boundary side; Day shifts in.
Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Nix will lay waste to the Owls interior. It's is perhaps the biggest mismatch of the 2013 Irish season.
LinebackersPrince Shembo (OLB - boundary), Jaylon Smith (OLB - field), Carlo Calabrese (ILB - Will), Dan Fox (ILB - Mike and Will), Ishaq Williams (OLB - boundary), Ben Councell (OLB - field), Jarrett Grace (ILB - Mike).
No position group will see more players during competitive action than Bob Diaco's linebackers, where seven will play regularly with an eight, OLB Romeo Okwara, also likely earning important reps. The ninth and tenth options -- inside linebackers Kendall Moore and Joe Schmidt -- will probably not see time until the outcome has been decided as the Irish work out their new three-man rotation inside.
Grace didn't beat out incumbent 5th-year starters Dan Fox or Carlo Calabese, but the Coleran High School star will play plenty. Look for Fox to receive reps at both inside linebacker positions while Calabrese and Grace serve as the Will and Mike, respectively.
There are a trio of "3 to make 2" job shares on defense (ILB, FS, CB), and the Fox/Calabrese/Grace triumvirate promises to be the heaviest rotation of the three.
On the edge, Smith should see more time than the bigger, more physical Councell at drop (field side) duet to Temple's expected three-wide passing attack. Both will play as both need seasoning. Shembo and Williams will be involved in a heavy rotation and Okwara should earn meaningful snaps as a pass rushing boundary 'backer as well.
Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Prince Shembo -- get used to the name, he might be Notre Dame's best player in the season's opening month.
Defensive BackfieldBennett Jackson (boundary CB), Keivarae Russell (field CB), Lo Wood (field CB), Cole Luke (boundary CB), Matthias Farley (boundary S), Austin Collinsworth (field S), Elijah Shumate (field S), Eilar Hardy (boundary S).
Shumate should see ample time in relief of Collinsworth, and the latter can shift over to give Farley an occasional rest on the boundary. It will be interesting to see if Hardy earns meaningful snaps (a series in the first half with less than three touchdown spread) or if he's a distant No. 4 in the safety pecking order.
It seems unlikely Wood will play as much as Grace or Shumate in their respective "3-for-2" rotations, but the senior corner came on late in camp and of note, can play both the boundary and field cornerback positions. Look for Wood to be the first replacement at both spots and for Luke -- listed as Jackson's backup -- to be used in the nickel role as described below.
Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Jackson, who'll be busy on the boundary in run support and in more man coverage than last fall.
Nickel and Dime PackagesKey first-string players to monitor are Cole Luke (nickel corner), Austin Collinsworth (dime linebacker/safety), Ishaq Williams (nickel linebacker and dime defensive end).
Luke purportedly won the nickel job -- he'll enter in passing situations in relief of Will linebacker Carlo Calabrese. Collinsworth is confirmed as the dime linebacker, he'll join Luke as part of the six defensive back package, either replacing a linebacker (Jaylon Smith until he gets his feet wet) or a defensive lineman.
Look for the following alignment in the nickel set:
Nickel Notes: The defensive line can also use three players, in which case Ishaq Williams drops back into zone coverage as an inside 'backer (or at least he did so often last season. Williams played more nickel coverage in 2012 than did technical nickel cornerback Elijah Shumate).
When the Irish employ six defensive backs or their dime package, it will resemble the following:
Middle LB: Fox
Dime LB: Collinsworth
Boundary CB: Jackson
Field CB: Russell
Slot CB/Nickel: Luke
Dime Notes: Diaco will use both three and four-man pass rushing fronts in the dime pending down-and-distance. Williams can play a dime linebacker role, too. Its safe to assume Jaylon Smith will work on all coverage packages as the season progresses -- he's too good in space not to emerge, but Week One is probably not the time.