Notre Dame Football: What You Need to Know About Irish's Stars on Defense

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IAugust 19, 2012

Notre Dame Football: What You Need to Know About Irish's Stars on Defense

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    If Notre Dame wishes to be a legitimate player in the race to the BCS, its defense will need to be the true backbone of the team.

    Luckily for the Irish, the defensive depth chart is filled with elite players, particularly along what should shape up to be one of the nation's premier defensive lines.

    For a closer look at the individual stars of the Irish defense, peruse the slideshow.

    Enjoy.

Louis Nix, NG

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    Louis Nix, a 326-pound force in the heart of the defensive line, will also serve as the figurative heart of the Irish defense.

    His bubbly personality is consistently on display during his weekly "Chocolate News" segments on YouTube. Nix isn't so bubbly on the field, though. He's responsible for providing the muscle up the middle for the Irish defensive line, a task the Jacksonville, FL native revels in.

    Now in his third season in South Bend, Nix has finally reached a fitness and endurance level that allows him to remain on the field for longer stretches. As a redshirt freshman last season, Nix was only on the field in spurts, splitting time with Sean Cwynar, a recent Notre Dame graduate.

    Expect to see Nix reach his long awaited potential this season.

Bennett Jackson, CB

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    Despite having never started a game at cornerback during his career at Notre Dame, Bennett Jackson has seemingly locked up a starting job opposite Lo Wood.

    Jackson's agility and speed are the greatest strengths of his game, and were developed during his days as a standout sprinter and hurdler at Raritan High School in Hazlet, NJ. And in a thin cornerback depth chart, Jackson will be counted on to quickly overcome the impending learning curve.

    One aspect about Jackson that is often overlooked is his size, as the first-year starter checks in at 6'0" and 185 pounds, which matches up well against the receivers he'll be covering this season.

Jamoris Slaughter, S

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    In what is considered a terrifyingly young secondary, Jamoris Slaughter will provide veteran leadership that will be invaluable during the upcoming season.

    The proud father of a newborn son, Santana, Slaughter is hoping to go out with a bang during his final season under the golden dome.

    In the weeks leading up to fall camp, there was buzz about Slaughter seeing time at cornerback, but with the season-ending injury to Austin Collinsworth, Slaughter will permanently remain at safety. And if the front seven can provide pressure, expect to see Slaughter terrorize opposing quarterbacks on a variety of blitzes.

Stephon Tuitt, DE

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    Perhaps the most highly celebrated defensive recruit of the Brian Kelly era, Stephon Tuitt is entering his second season as a starter at defensive end for the Irish.

    The original plan was to pair Tuitt and Aaron Lynch as a lethal duo at each defensive end spot, but Lynch left the program prior to the Blue-Gold Game in April. However, Kapron Lewis-Moore will fill Lynch's shoes effectively, as many forget that Lewis-Moore was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school in Weatherford, TX.

    Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has the luxury of using Tuitt as a defensive end in the base 3-4 alignment, as well as a defensive tackle when the Irish switch to a four-man front.

Manti Te'o, LB

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    Manti Te'o is the unquestioned leader of the Irish defense in 2012.

    The senior from Laie, HI has led the Irish in tackles during the past two seasons and is well on his way to making that three consecutive seasons.

    Te'o's decision to return to school for his senior season immediately gave the Irish defense a significant boost, particularly against the run. The Irish are looking to build off of last season's rush defense, which yielded an average of 138.92 yards per game.

    With Te'o returning, as well as a solidified front seven, the Irish defense may just become a force to be reckoned with in 2012.