Camp Question: Whither the D-Line?

In the first of a series of camp questions, IrishEyes asks: Will the D-Line Wither?

The best play of his college career showcased textbook effort, impressive quickness off the snap, and the type of team-first attitude that coaches crave along the interior defensive line.

The Washington Huskies faced 3rd and Goal from the Irish one-yard line last October, looking to extend a 24-19 lead. Hafis Williams, then a red-shirt sophomore with less than five minutes of playing time to his credit, did the age-old football adage of "Low Man Wins" proud, submarining between the Huskies guard and center, thus forcing QB Jake Locker to step left on quarterback sneak.

Williams' teammates Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith made the stop for no gain; repeated the task on 4th down with Williams back on the bench, and turned away the Huskies in the first of three goal line stands in a 37-30 overtime victory.

The only problem? Nobody saw it. At least not the official stat keepers. Hafis Williams is not listed as a participant in the contest (he actually played on 2nd down of said goal line stand as well).

Joined by freshmen Kona Schwenke and Louis Nix, it is Williams, Emeka Nwankwo, Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman, and Tyler Stockton that currently comprise the veteran relief tier of the 2010 defensive line. They boast one career start (Cwynar), five career tackles and somehow managed to avoid the purview of the press box, receiving no credit for a film-room-worthy goal line effort.

He's been there

Kapron Lewis-Moore can relate to the backup quintet listed above. He was in a similar situation last season: a spring notable with 0 games played, learning his second defense in as many seasons.

One year later, Lewis-Moore joins classmate Ethan Johnson and senior Ian Williams as perceived strengths: front line starters with an aggregate 74 games played, 41 career starts and 27 tackles for loss to their credit.

The trio has three seasons of eligibility remaining after 2010 (Williams exits) and some observers believe the threesome will put forth the best effort by an Irish D-Line since at least 2006 (the last time the defense yielded fewer than four yards per rush attempt).

But what about those other guys?

"I wouldn't say we have to carry the bulk (of plays)," Lewis-Moore answered of the notion that the aforementioned starting trio will be forced into extended duty over the 12-game slate. "Because our whole team mentality is 'Next Man In.' With our staff, they feel like we can play the next man and do the job."

Cwynar, listed as Williams backup at nose guard, earned the praise of this website, albeit in a small sample size last fall. As a 4-3 defensive tackle, Cwynar appeared quick off the ball in spot relief of Williams, earning a start in the home finale vs. Connecticut.

Newman kept a clean jersey through seven home games last fall before finding the field in the 40-14 blowout of Washington State in San Antonio late last October. He nonetheless looked active in the Blue Gold Game, breaking up two passes off the edge while registering a QB pressure.

Stockton was Charlie Weis' luxury item early in 2009 – a player that could have contributed had the Irish needed him. He was wisely withheld from action to preserve a year of eligibility. Then again, 10 snaps per game might have helped as the exhausted D-Line yielded obscene yardage totals in November.

Each of the four are listed as backup nose guards. Look for Cwynar to remain and find ample time in the rotation with Stockton serving as a third option inside.

Senior surge

While Williams and Newman seem set to battle it out behind Lewis-Moore as the backup two-gap defensive end, senior spring sensation Emeka Nwankwo appears slated for backup duty behind Johnson – defensive ends lined up over the outside shoulder of the opposing tackle.

Each would do well to adopt Lewis-Moore's approach to August.

"Improving every day: conditioning, technique, all of the above," Lewis-Moore said of his goals. "That's all I'm focusing on – improving every day."

"(The inexperienced competitors) are doing pretty well," he added. "Just like everybody else they have to learn the system. We're learning and improving and they're doing well right now."

The new blood's collective performance in the dog days of August, and then when the bullets go live in September will help determine the D-Line's fortunes during college football's proving ground and Notre Dame's recent foil – November.


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