There’s been a ton of buzz around Notre Dame’s revitalized defensive line going into 2011.
Incoming freshmen Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt have brought plenty of hype to South Bend, but those three are unlikely to see the field much, at least in the early part of the season. Still, the forward wall of the Irish defense has the potential to be excellent.
If Notre Dame’s line does deliver on its potential, sophomore defensive tackle Louis Nix will be right in the middle of it. Nix has slimmed down to 326 pounds and will rotate snaps at nose tackle with senior Sean Cwynar. Cwynar is a steady player, but he’s slightly undersized for the position and doesn’t offer quite the same upside as Nix.
In Bob Diaco’s defense, the primary job of the nose tackle is to clog up the middle. When he’s on, Nix’s sheer mass gives him the ability to occupy blockers, and his immense strength allows him to push those blockers into their own backfield. He shuts down the middle on running plays and collapses the pocket on passes. Even more, Nix’s presence allows Notre Dame’s best defensive player to do his job.
Like Tony Siragusa and Ray Lewis on the great Baltimore Ravens defenses of the early 2000’s, Louis Nix and Manti Te'o have a symbiotic relationship. Nix is an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Irish line, and Teo is a ball-seeking missile. When he’s free to roam the field, Te'o covers an incredible amount of territory from his linebacker spot. By the time he reaches the ball-carrier, he delivers a blow like no other player in college football. If Nix can keep opposing linemen off of him, Te'o will be a contender for the Butkus award.
Notre Dame’s defense will be good no matter what, but if Louis Nix elevates his game, the Irish 'D' will be outstanding.