Notre Dame Football: Ranking Nastiest Defenders on Irish's 2012 Roster
Since becoming head coach at Notre Dame in December of 2009, Brian Kelly has spearheaded the effort to construct a championship-caliber defense in South Bend.
He and his coaching staff have neared completion of that task by bringing in a slew of the nation's top prep defenders.
For a look at the nastiest of those defenders on the Irish roster, scroll through the following slides.
5. Ishaq Williams, OLB
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Ishaq Williams' time has finally arrived.
After having played defensive end in high school, Williams spent his freshman season making the transition to linebacker. It wasn't a smooth process, as the New York native was instructed by Brian Kelly to spend a week at home to decide if attending Notre Dame was in his best interest.
Once Williams locked into being a member of the Irish football squad for the long term, his journey to becoming a starter gained some much-needed clarity.
The 6'5", 255-pound Williams currently sits second on the depth chart at right outside linebacker, behind incumbent starter Prince Shembo, but figures to split playing time with Shembo.
4. Jamoris Slaughter, S
In a young, thin and scarily inexperienced secondary, safety Jamoris Slaughter will provide a sense of leadership that the back end of the Irish defense desperately needs.
Slaughter, a proud new father to his infant son Santana, is known for delivering punishing hits that make for must-watch television.
The fifth-year senior is also a versatile player, who has the ability to play both safety and cornerback for the Irish. That versatility will be crucial this season, considering the lack of playmakers in the secondary.
Look for Slaughter to make some serious noise during Notre Dame's season-opening game against Navy, an option-oriented team that Slaughter has had tremendous success defending.
3. Louis Nix, NG
The most important thing to know about Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix is that he is an intimidating, large individual.
The 6'3", 326-pound Jacksonville, Fla. native is a pure run-stuffer for the Irish, and he is seeking to transform into the every-down player that the coaching staff envisions him being.
It all begins with conditioning for Nix, who has struggled with endurance since arriving at Notre Dame two years ago. Should Nix show up for fall camp in shape, his minutes on the field will see an increase from last season.
Nix is also the key figure along the Notre Dame defensive line, a unit that will be counted on to relieve pressure on an inexperienced secondary.
2. Stephon Tuitt, DE
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Stephon Tuitt gave his pledge to the Irish in January of 2011 with the knowledge that he would receive immediate playing time as a freshman. That promise came to fruition for the Monroe, Ga. product.
Tuitt began the season at defensive end, opposite former teammate Aaron Lynch. But with a need for depth at nose guard, Tuitt was able to slide over and man the position effectively. That type of versatility is rare in young players such as Tuitt, which is what makes him such a special player.
And now that he has a full season of experience under his belt, Tuitt will be counted upon to increase his production during 2012.
The sophomore will play both defensive end and nose guard, commanding double-teams all the while.
1. Manti Te'o, ILB
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When one thinks of leadership on the football field, Manti Te'o should come to mind.
Te'o enters his fourth and final season under the golden dome as the unquestioned leader of the 2012 Notre Dame football squad, and he will be vying for first-team All-America honors.
The native Hawaiian's decision to spurn the 2012 NFL draft to return for his senior season allowed Fighting Irish fans to breathe a collective sigh of relief, as his absence would have been painfully felt had he signed an agent and become a professional.
Te'o's decision to return to school also gives him a chance to write the final chapter of his legacy as the best linebacker to ever play for Notre Dame.