State of the Irish will be a nine-piece miniseries analyzing Notre Dame football from top to bottom, also predicting what's ahead for the team.
Starter: No. 89, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Freshman-RS (6'4", 270)
Moore did the first part of his job by adding the necessary weight to play at the college level. He now needs to fulfill the second task by producing from the end spot. Penciled in as a starter without seeing the field once as a freshman, the staff must believe that he is something special. He is an impressive physical specimen, so, if he can perform, he could be dangerous in the eyes of opponent quarterbacks.
Starter: No. 56, Kerry Neal, Junior (6'2", 250)
The player with the most career starts among the current defensive linemen (16), Neal still has some things to prove as an upperclassman. He has shown why the coaches like him, but he seems to disappear on the field at times. Projected as the right end, Neal finished last year with only two sacks and four tackles for a loss. He needs to produce more consistently this year in the starting rotation; otherwise, he could find himself getting fewer minutes at the expense of underclassmen.
Backup: No. 53, Morrice Richardson, Senior (6'2", 255)
Opening the season as the backup to Neal, Richardson has been a journeyman player for the Irish. He possesses good speed coming off the edge but seems lost on the field at times. Over his career, he has seen time in 29 games but has only totaled 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss. Richardson needs to make a late push for time if he wants to make an impact this season.
Backup: No. 90, John Ryan, Senior (6'5", 255)
After bouncing around from outside linebacker to end the past few years, Ryan finds himself behind Neal and Richardson at end for his last season. He saw plenty of playing time in '07 but had a quiet '08 season with only 2.5 sacks and six tackles. Even after '08, Ryan ranks second among returning defensive linemen with 50 career tackles. Look for him to have a similar season this year.
Backup: No. 91, Emeka Nwankwo, Junior (6'4", 275)
The coaches have asked a lot of Nwankwo so far in his career. He shuffled between offensive and defensive line his first two years, then found himself playing both interior and exterior on the defensive side last year. He is still somewhat of an unknown commodity, however, seeing limited time in only seven games last season. His strength is utilized mostly in goal-line situations, where he is an above-average run-stuffer. Expect him to play a similar role in '09.
Starter: No. 9, Ethan Johnson, Sophomore (6'4", 280)
The most likely future All-American candidate on the line, Johnson brings a mixture of speed and bulk to the tackle position. Although he will see time at end during the season, the coaches have him lining up at tackle in camp. Tied with Harrison Smith with most sacks on the team last year, Johnson has the opportunity to make a name for himself after being slotted as a starter in the interior. No matter where he is lined up, the No. 9 jersey will be seen stuffing the run and sacking opponents all over the field.
Starter: No. 95, Ian Williams, Junior (6'2", 295)
The projected starter inside, Williams has recorded 85 tackles over his first two seasons at school. He is a valuable piece to the '09 team and will supply the experience combined with skill that has been vacant at the tackle position since Trevor Laws graduated. Williams is only one of four players from his class that have played in every game of their career. Now an upperclassman, he takes on the leadership and responsibility of being the No. 1 guy in the middle.
Backup: No. 79, Hafis Williams, Sophomore-RS (6'2", 295)
Possibly the biggest question mark on the team, Williams spent the 2008 season in the weight room. Now that he is physically ready, the staff believes he can serve as a valuable backup at the tackle position. If true, he could find himself as the predecessor to Ian Williams (they even have the same frame). Look for him to find the field this year and put his name on the radar of Irish fans.
Backup: No. 99, Brandon Newman, Sophomore-RS (6'1", 295)
Another similar player to both Williamses, Newman also fits the mold of a middle-clogging tackle. After impressing at the 2007 All-American Bowl and red-shirting his freshman year on campus, it's time for him to impress on the field. He was a valuable piece to the scout team last year and received nice praise from the coaches. Now on the real roster, Newman will find himself supplying backup minutes as the season progresses.
Backup: No. 92, Tyler Stockton, Freshman (6'1", 290)
After enrolling early, Stockton has already gotten some reps in the trenches along with the upperclassmen. Although he may not see the field this year, Stockton has a bright future ahead of him. He has a nice frame, a quick burst off the line, and a mean streak to his game. With a few years under the supervision of new additions Randy Hart and graduate assistant Bryant Young, Stockton is destined for success.
Backup: No. 98, Sean Cwnyar, Sophomore-RS (6'4", 283)
Recent reports out of camp have Cwnyar finding his way to the No. 2 spot at defensive tackle behind Ian Williams. If proved to be true, I see him as the second coming of Pat Kuntz. He didn't see any time as a freshman, and has been somewhat quiet compared to the other backups. A serviceable backup is needed for Ian Williams, so hopefully one has been found in Cwynar.
Next State of the Irish: Linebackers