Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2008
Notre Dame Offense
2008 Notre Dame
2008 Notre Dame
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2006 CFN Notre
What you need to know: The defense got better last year, and
it was positively amazing considering the offense didn't provide
any help, but it was a bit of a mirage. The good offenses didn't
have to go crazy knowing that they just had to score a little
bit and not screw up knowing the Irish offense wasn't going to
do anything. This year, new assistant Jon Tenuta will bring his
attacking, blitzing style to try to create more pressure after
the Irish struggled to generate sacks and tackles for loss. The
3-4 should be decent at times against the run, but the veteran
linebackers have to do more. The pass defense finished second in
the nation, but that was partly because there weren't many
passing teams on the slate. Even so, S David Bruton is a
blossoming star and the corners should be solid.
David Bruton, 85
John Ryan 2.5
Interceptions: David Bruton, 3
Star of the defense: Senior FS David Bruton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Ian Williams
Best pro prospect: Bruton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bruton, 2) LB Maurice
Crum Jr., 3) CB Terrail Lambert
Strength of the defense: Experience, linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, run defense
Step one is to replace Trevor Laws, one of the nation's most productive
all-around linemen. All Laws did was make 112 tackles with four sacks
from an end position that was really a tackle. 6-2, 244-pound junior
Morrice Richardson will give it a shot after making seven tackles
and a sack in a limited role. While he's smaller and far less talented
than Laws, he's faster, much faster, and should provide a more
consistent pass rush.
Returning at the other end spot is 6-3, 261-pound senior Justin Brown
after making 30 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss in ten games of
action. He didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield, coming up
with just one sack even with Laws taking away most of the attention, but
he showed good potential against the run. He has the size and
athleticism to be a breakout player.
While the hope will be for Pat Kuntz to come back healthy, sophomore
Ian Williams showed tremendous promise last year. The 6-2,
300-pounder stepped in as a true freshman and finished with 45 tackles
and 1.5 tackles for loss. While he's not going to be a pass rusher and
he's not going to collapse the pocket, he's a strong rock on the nose to
Projected Top Reserves: Senior Pat Kuntz
was on his way to a good season as a strong 6-2, 285-pound nose guard,
making 42 tackles with a whopping nine broken up passes, but he got hurt
late and missed the last few games with a back injury. He's active and
has a great motor, and at the very least he should be a good part of the
rotation if he's back and healthy.
Looking to try to help replace Laws at one end is Sean Cwynar, a
6-4, 283-pound freshman who was the Illinois Mr. Football after making
82 tackles and 11 sacks last year. He's big, quick, and has limitless
Playing behind Brown is 6-4, 283-pound sophomore Emeka Nwankwo, a
good prospect who needs playing time. He didn't get on the field last
season, but the former star offensive lineman has the size, toughness,
and athleticism to be a contributor after spending last year figuring
out what he was doing.
The team's most versatile lineman is 6-3, 290-pound junior Paddy
Mullen, who played in just three games last year and made a tackle,
but will be a key backup both at tackle and on the end. He's better
suited for the nose.
Watch Out For ... Washington. Even if Kuntz is
healthy, the coaching staff has to find a spot for the talented
sophomore to be on the field. Washington showed way too much potential
late last season to not help out the run defense.
Strength: Size. The players are there to run a 4-3, but the
Irish will essentially go with three tackles up front. If Cwynar and
Nwankwo are in, the Irish could have three players around 290 pounds up
Weakness: Production. If Richardson isn't a star pass rusher,
it's uh-oh time. The defense will be more aggressive overall and the
back seven will take care of the blitzing, but the line has to pull some
of the weight.
Outlook: The defense was decent last season, but
the line wasn't. Laws did everything for the front three and didn't get
much in the way of help. This group's job will be to stop the run first
and hope to get into the backfield on an occasional basis. The hope is
for experience and age to count for something, but this could be the
team's weakest link if there isn't more production.
The leader of the defense is 6-0, 230-pound senior Maurice
Crum Jr., a solid veteran who followed up a 100-tackle
sophomore season with 84 stops, a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss and
two interceptions. A hard hitter who packs a wallop, he's more
than tough enough to stuff things up on the inside and athletic
enough to be a solid, consistent pass defender. At the fourth
linebacker position, called the Jack, he could go ballistic in
the more aggressive defense coming up with more sacks and
wreaking more havoc.
Back on the weakside is 6-2, 245-pound sophomore Kerry Neal
after making 20 tackles with two sacks as a true freshman. Neal
got five starts and showed good potential, and now he has to use
his combination of size and quickness to be a pass rusher from
the outside. He could stand to do more against the pass and
needs to be more active against the run.
Taking over in the middle for Joe Brockington will be 6-1,
245-pound junior Toryan Smith, a tough tackler who was
one of the stars of spring ball last year but finished with just
14 tackles. He has seen a little bit of starting time, and has
been a decent reserve, but now he has to prove he can be
consistently tough against the run.
Working on the strongside will be 6-3, 233-pound sophomore
Brian Smith after making 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks and four
tackles for loss. He didn't see too much action, but he was a
playmaker who made things happen including a pick-six against
Boston College. He's a pure tackler who could be the team's new
defensive star now that he has a bigger role.
Projected Top Reserves: Working somewhere on the
front seven will be junior John Ryan, a near-perfect fit
for the team's 3-4 scheme. At 6-5 and 253 pounds, he's more like
a defensive end, and he plays like it, but he gets used mostly
as an outside linebacker. He got two starts on the end last
season but made his most noise as a weakside defender finishing
with 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Out this
spring recovering from surgery, he should be a pass rushing
terror when he gets back.
6-4, 235-pound senior Scott Smith has been a decent
career backup making 18 tackles last season as he moved around
where needed. He'll start out backing up Brian Smith on the
strongside, but he could quickly be moved to the middle or the
Jack to provide more depth.
On the way is new recruit
Steve Filer, a 6-4, 220-pound hitter from Chicago who is
lanky, but could be an immediate playmaker in the middle. He
made 107 stops last season for Mount Carmel, Donovan McNabb's
high school, and could find an early role as a pass rushing
Watch Out For ... at least one of the linebackers
to become a pass rushing god. Defensive assistant wants to turn
the dogs loose into the backfield and it's not going to come
from the line. Who's going to be the linebacker who gets to
attack the quarterback? Ryan might be the perfect option, but
Neal and Brian Smith could be the breakthrough star.
Strength: Crum. The linebackers made a lot of tackles, but they
weren't great against the run and they got killed by Navy and
Air Force. Having a good veteran in Crum is a good one to work
around, while the rest of the linebackers are athletic enough to
bring more production.
Weakness: Big plays. This has been a big problem over the last
few seasons with not enough done to disrupt things. However, the
linebackers were better than 2006 and now need to force more
turnovers to take another step up.
Outlook: The linebackers should be the stars in
the more aggressive defense and they have to prove they can be
up to the task. Crum is a nice veteran who has a little bit
better reputation than deserved, but he's good. Now he needs a
few strong running mates to do more against the run.
Senior David Bruton has been good, finishing third on the
team with 85 tackles, three interceptions and two broken up
passes, and now he has the potential to be special. The 6-2,
207-pound free safety is in even better shape and has the range,
hitting ability, and the talent to become a top 50 draft pick
next year. He should be the star of the secondary.
Taking over for Tom Zbikowski at strong safety is 6-1, 207-pound
senior Kyle McCarthy, who made 20 tackles with an
interception. He's a veteran reserve who makes the step up into
the starting role, and now the spotlight is one. Zbikowski was a
tone-setting playmaker who did a lot of things well, and while
McCarthy should be solid, he's not Zbikowski.
The top cover-corner is senior Terrail Lambert, who
overcame an inconsistent season to make 34 tackles with a pick.
He has to do more, far more, to make big plays and come up with
picks and broken up passes, but he's a good veteran who's a
sure-tackler with phenomenal speed. He'll play at the next
level, but he's not going to be a first day guy unless he can be
more of a ball-hawker. He didn't come up with a broken up pass.
6-0, 180-pound junior Darrin Walls returns to his spot on
the other side of Lambert, where he started 11 games last
season. An excellent athlete who improved the overall makeup of
the secondary last season. Picked on, with most teams trying to
stay away from Lambert, he came up with an interception and nine
broken up passes to go along with 32 tackles.
Projected Top Reserves: The big piece to this
year's puzzle is 5-11, 180-pound sophomore corner Gary Gray,
a great recruit two years ago who was out all of last year
letting his broken arm heal. A big-time get from South Carolina,
he'll push for one of the corner jobs and will most likely end
up taking over the nickel job occupied by Ambrose Wooden. Don't
be shocked if he knocks a starting corner out of a spot.
6-0, 187-pound junior Raeshon McNeil has been a decent
reserve with plenty of experience over the last two seasons, and
while he made just nine tackles, he made a sacks with three
broken up passes. A top recruit a few years ago, he has the
speed and skill to do even more behind Lambert.
The combination of junior Sergio Brown and sophomore
Harrison Smith will push for time at free safety. The 6-1,
196-pound Brown has been a decent special teamer who hasn't done
much for the defense yet, while Smith, a star recruit and a
Tennessee Mr. Football, could be on the verge of big things
after a great off-season capped by a defensive MVP honor in the
spring game. Smith is a phenomenal all-around athlete with 6-2,
205-pound size, and now he has to show it.
Watch Out For ... Bruton. He has multi-million
dollar talent that hasn't been unleashed yet. While he has been
good, very good, he has the skills and potential to be truly
special if he's able to put it all together.
Strength: Experience. With three returning starters, a good new
option in Gray, and several interesting players to take over at
strong safety, the secondary could be as good as the numbers
Weakness: Interceptions. Lambert did a whole bunch of nothing
when the ball was in the air, while the secondary, as a whole,
came up with nine interceptions. More big plays are a must and
there has to be more fear instilled in opposing passing games.
Outlook: Yeah, the pass defense finished second in
the nation, but the teams that could throw, like Boston College,
USC and Purdue, did, and Michigan didn't have to throw with 289
rushing yards. While the secondary is far, far better than it
has been a few years ago, there will be a game or two against a
good team that the stats won't be pretty. Bruton is special,
Lambert is fine, but needs to do far more, and there are good
prospects all across the board.
Sophomore Brandon Walker is back after a shaky freshman
year hitting just six of 12 field goal attempts and going one of
seven from behind 30 yards. He needed to be better this spring,
and he was showing a bit more range and consistency, but the
left-footer will be on a short leash.
Taking over for solid punter Geoff Price will be junior Eric
Maust, who averaged 41.1 yards per kick and put nine inside
the 20. Price struggled at times, but overall the punting game
finished 13th in the nation helped by Maust filling in.
Taking over for Tom Zbikowski as the punt returner will be WR
David Grimes, a quick player who should be great in the open
field, but he might have a problem breaking through a tackle.
Darrin Walls and Armando Allen will combine to
handle the kickoff returns. Allen averaged 21.3 yards per
return, but Walls should be even more dangerous.
Watch Out For ... Walker to be better. He was
great from short-range but did nothing from any appreciable
distance. Now that he's a sophomore, he should be able to use
his experience to do more.
Strength: Punting and the coverage teams. Maust should turn out
to be an upgrade over Price. The Irish allowed just 7.4 yards
per punt return and 19.7 yards per kickoff return.
Weakness: Walker's consistent range. He hit a 48-yarder against
UCLA, but that was it. He missed four kicks from 40 to 44 yards
and missed the 50-yarder against Penn State. Will the coaching
staff be able to count on him from a good distance in the
Outlook: Considering the offense won't likely be
blowing up any time soon, the special teams have to be rock
solid. Everything should be fine except the placekicking. The
spotlight will be on Walker, who'll be the difference in at
least two games.