Notre Dame Football 2011: Predicting the Defensive Depth Chart

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IJuly 24, 2011

Notre Dame Football 2011: Predicting the Defensive Depth Chart

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    While the post-spring defensive depth chart certainly isn't official, it will not change much before kickoff against South Florida September 3.

    There may be a few changes here and there, but it remains largely unchanged from last season.

    Speaking of last season, Bob Diaco's unit resembled that of a BCS-caliber defense down the stretch, giving up only 40 points in the final four games of 2010.

    Because of those tremendous performances, Bob Diaco was able to head out on the recruiting trail and reel in three of the most sought after defensive recruits in the nation.

    The combination of nine veteran returning starters and the influx of raw freshman talent figure to result in a beastly defense this fall.

    Follow along as we break down the defensive depth chart position by position.

Defensive End

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    Starter: Ethan Johnson

    Backup: Kona Schwenke

     

    Ethan Johnson enters his senior season at Notre Dame not having lived up to the lofty expectations the fans and the media placed on him upon signing with the Irish in 2008.

    The former 4-Star prospect failed to develop as a player under the former coaching regime but saw improvement in his play last season from the tutelage of defensive line coach Mike Elston.

    Sophomore Kona Schwenke is a player to keep an eye on this season after earning snaps last season.

    He'll push Ethan Johnson and may end up getting a majority of the snaps.

Defensive End

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    Starter: Kapron Lewis-Moore

    Backup: Aaron Lynch

     

    The player all Irish fans want to see on the field right away is freshman sensation Aaron Lynch.

    During the Blue-Gold Game, Aaron Lynch wowed fans with his quickness off the line and the ability to hunt down the quarterback.

    His highlights from that game can be found on this YouTube video.

    It is expected by many that Aaron Lynch will take over as the starter at some point this season, but he must first learn the finer points of the system from veteran Kapron Lewis-Moore who will begin the season as the starter.

Nose Tackle

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    Starter: Hafis Williams

    Backup: Louis Nix

     

    The situation at nose tackle is a precarious one as there are three players capable of being the starter in Hafis Williams, Louis Nix and Sean Cwynar.

    Louis Nix is projected as the nose tackle of the future, but for now, playing time at the position will be split evenly among the three.

    Sean Cwynar is questionable as he is rehabbing from an injured foot.

Outside Linebacker

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    Starter: Prince Shembo

    Backup: Danny Spond

     

    A fan favorite, Prince Shembo earned more and more playing time as last season progressed.

    His efforts have earned him a starting spot in the linebacker rotation heading into this season.

    A 6'2", 250-pound beast, Prince Shembo showed flashes of brilliance coming off the edge and tracking down the ball-carrier.

    Fellow sophomore Danny Spond has also impressed the coaching staff and will make a serious run at playing time this fall.

Inside Linebacker

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    Starter: Carlo Calabrese

    Backup: Dan Fox, Justin Utupo

     

    Carlo Calabrese seemingly came out of nowhere to earn a starting spot during the 2010 spring practices.

    The installment of the 3-4 defense opened up another linebacker spot after the 4-3 system was scrapped.

    Making the most of that opportunity was the New Jersey product.

    Backing up Carlo Calabrese will be Dan Fox and redshirt sophomore Justin Utupo.

Outside Linebacker

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    Starter: Darius Fleming

    Backup: Steve Filer

     

    Darius Fleming has had an up and down career at Notre Dame despite having limitless potential.

    2011 may prove to be the season that Darius Fleming finally reaches that potential.

    The former 4-Star prospect from Chicago only has 24 total tackles in his career and will hope to prove that he has what it takes to be a stalwart linebacker heading into the second year of the Brian Kelly era.

    Fellow Chicago native Steve Filer will back up Darius Fleming.

Inside Linebacker

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    Starter: Manti Te'o

    Backup: David Posluszny

     

    Perhaps the top linebacker in the nation, Manti Te'o will push for All-American honors this season.

    2010 saw Manti Te'o lead the Irish in total tackles with 133.

    Look for the Hawaiian to improve on that total this season.

    Serving as Manti Te'o's backup will be David Posluszny, the brother of current NFL linebacker Paul Posluszny.

Cornerback

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    Starter: Gary Gray

    Backup: Bennett Jackson

     

    Redshirt senior Gary Gray enters the 2011 season as the most experienced defensive back on the roster.

    The coaching staff can only hope that he doesn't go down with an injury as the depth chart at cornerback is paper thin.

    Sophomore Bennett Jackson must prove himself as a reliable backup after converting to defensive back from wide receiver because of the aforementioned depth issues.

Cornerback

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    Starter: Robert Blanton

    Backup: Lo Wood

     

    Robert Blanton has been a steady player for the Irish defense for the past three seasons.

    Notre Dame absolutely needs one more solid season out of him.

    With six career interceptions, Robert Blanton has proven himself as a capable defensive back.

    Lo Wood enters his sophomore season as Robert Blanton's backup and will see playing time in nickel and dime formations.

Safety

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    Starter: Zeke Motta

    Backup: Jamoris Slaughter

     

    The story at this position is interesting because of the fact that Jamoris Slaughter was intended as the strong safety of the future.

    However, Jamoris Slaughter went down with an injury in 2009 and Zeke Motta held the spot, but never relinquished it.

    Jamoris Slaughter, despite being the backup, will see the field this season.

Safety

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    Starter: Harrison Smith

    Backup: Dan McCarthy

     

    Harrison Smith enters 2011 as one of the nation's top players. Rivals.com rated him as the 94th best player in the nation in the countdown of the 100 best players. 

    That recognition was due in large part to Harrison Smith's outstanding performance in the Sun Bowl.