Big Dog and the Pups

Grizzled veteran Ian Williams returns to man the nose and tutor a pair of rookie hopefuls this spring.

IrishEyes continues its preview of each player and the team's key position groups. Today's edition: Nose Tackle.

Wide Receivers Spring Preview: Wide Open

Tight Ends Spring Preview: In Good Hands

Running Backs Spring Preview: Crowded House

Cornerbacks Spring Preview: Under Siege

Safeties Spring Preview: Taking Applications

Outside Linebackers Spring Preview: Three-headed Monster

Inside Linebackers Spring Preview: Will Youth Be Served?

Defensive Ends Spring Preview: Securing the Edge

With Sean Cwynar's expected move to DE, just one returning Irish nose tackle received a monogram last season: senior-to-be Ian Williams, who enters his final season of eligibility in 2010.

Junior Brandon Newman (three seasons of eligibility remaining) has yet to appear in a game for the Irish. He was withheld from action as a freshman to preserve a redshirt season and then did not play last year (coach's decision). Sophomore-to-be Tyler Stockton did not see action as a true freshman last fall (four seasons of eligibility remaining).

Freshman Louis Nix will join the position group next fall. Cwynar offers obvious competition/depth, if he is not moved to a full-time DE spot, as would junior Hafis Williams (both are profiled with the defensive ends – link above).

Playing Time, 2009 – Nose Tackles

  • Ian Williams – 204:27 with 38 Special Teams appearances
  • Brandon Newman – DNP
  • Tyler Stockton – A true freshman last year, Stockton was withheld from action to preserve possible redshirt season

Don't Make it By Default – Ian Williams

Head coach Brian Kelly recently stated that there are no first, second, or third team players entering spring ball. That's the best early news of Kelly's tenure, both for Irish fans, and for the 2010 prospects of Ian Williams and the Irish run defense, who – as much as any player on the squad – appears to have the inside track to a starting spot due to the lack of experience of his understudies.

Williams had an uneven 2009: playing poorly in the first five halves of football vs. Nevada, Michigan, and Michigan State; then dominating vs. the Spartans in the decisive second half.

He made the hustle play of the game, chasing down speedy Trojans tailback Joe McKnight for a third down stop downfield – thus allowing the Irish offense one last chance at a comeback.

He made a key 3rd and 1 stop in the backfield in the second half at Pittsburgh to force a field goal and keep the Irish in the contest.

Unsung plays that would be celebrated had the Irish prevailed, but when push came to shove, Williams was more often shoved – out of his gap – or at least controlled by opposing interior linemen, especially during the late-season swoon that ended the tenure of former head coach Charlie Weis.

We Have Questions: Williams appeared to be the team's hope for a stronger run defense as a 2007 freshman nose tackle: will the move back to a 3-4 base help him finally deliver on that promise? Can Williams maintain his strength throughout the season if his three backups are first year contributors? Did Williams realize he was throwing the coaching staff under the bus with his now infamous, "We got out-schemed" comments following the loss to Navy?

Hope Springs Eternal: Williams isn't a prototype space-eater inside but his is an active, productive interior tackle, posting 45 tackles including 1.5 for loss (in just two starts) as a freshman; adding 40 more stops (two for loss) in six starts as a sophomore; and finishing last season with 39 total tackles, six for lost yardage – good for fifth on the squad.

More important, Williams was the only Irish defensive linemen to have a hand in a tackle-for-loss in each of the team's final four contests: a good sign for a player who fell into the coaching staff's collective doghouse following the November 7 loss to Navy.

Spring Prediction: The starting nose tackle spot with no close competitor. Williams doesn't appear to be the type of player that takes plays off – even when he's effectively blocked, he keeps fighting to make plays downfield and the new staff will take notice.

Delayed Gratification – Brandon Newman

Two years in the program; four semesters in school; two spring practices; three fall camps; no games played…that's Brandon Newman's experience base entering next season's opener vs. Purdue. The Irish need either Newman or Tyler Stockton (below) to earn the confidence of the coaching staff if the Irish 3-4 is to succeed next season.

We Have Questions: Was conditioning Newman's major roadblock to playing time last season, and if so, has the Paul Longo era had an immediate impact? Can Newman show enough to allow the defensive staff leeway with both Sean Cwynar and Hafis Williams at defensive end? Or will one of the two promising players remain/move back to the interior?

Hope Springs Eternal: Former Irish nose tackle Cedric Hilliard wasn't exactly a household name entering his junior season, either. Newman has three seasons of eligibility remaining in which to make an impact, and he's unlikely to be thrust into an extended role in 2010 – basically is rookie season as a 20-year old athlete.

Spring Prediction: Third-string nose tackle behind sophomore-to-be Tyler Stockton..but he'll make enough of an impact that Cywnar and H. Williams can remain or at least heavily cross-train at DE.

Pushing the Vet? – Tyler Stockton

Stockton was praised last August by Weis, who called the freshman a "luxury item." In other words, Stockton was likely ready to compete, but Notre Dame was thought to have enough depth at the position to keep him on the bench, thus preserving a redshirt season.

We Have Questions: How close was Stockton to joining the fold during the team's Bye week last year? Could Stockton's presence have helped Ian Williams' focus over the course of the season? Would Stockton's presence have allowed Ethan Johnson a chance to rotate as a 4-3 DE in Notre Dame's base defense? Shouldn't we all stop wondering and just thank Weis for preserving Stockton's redshirt season, as no singular freshman could have helped the Irish become a relevant player in the college landscape last season, anyway?

Hope Springs Eternal: Stockton will partake in his second spring session without appearing in a contest, but with four seasons of eligibility remaining – he was an early enrollee in January 2009. If Notre Dame can one day forge enough depth to make that practice the rule, rather than the exception, for defensive and offensive linemen, the program will be in good hands. Stockton will have four full practice sessions and a season of work under his belt prior to his debut game next season as a 20-year-old sophomore.

Spring Prediction: Second string NT role ahead of Newman, but clearly behind Williams.

The Future – Louis Nix

In a perfect world, Nix would emerge as a strong backup option, but one that is ultimately not needed as senior Ian Williams, redshirt freshman Tyler Stockton, and redshirt junior Brandon Newman each earn a degree of trust from the coaching staff and new DL coach Mike Elston.

We Have Questions: Can Scout.com's 9th-rated DT prospect make his mark in three weeks of summer camp? More important, will he have to? If Nix crashes the 2010 DL party, what will become of a player such as Brandon Newman in the coming seasons? Will Nix's body be needed in goal line situations and would his presence in such sets be worth a season of eligibility?

Hope Springs Eternal: 6'3" 315 pounds…sounds like a 3-4 anchor to me. We won't know what the Irish have in Nix until he faces A.) his new OL teammates, and B.) 22-year old men that will be assigned to block him over the next four seasons.

August Prediction: Knocking on the door at No. 2…Irish fans should hope Stockton responds to his presence and maintains a stranglehold on the position, as four full seasons of Nix going forward is the most likely benefit to the program.


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