2008 Notre Dame Preview - Defense
Notre Dame S David Bruton
Notre Dame S David Bruton
Posted May 9, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Notre Dame Fighting Irish Defense

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2008 Notre Dame Offense
- 2008 Notre Dame Defense
2008 Notre Dame Depth Chart
2007 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2006 CFN Notre Dame Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: David Bruton, 85
Sacks: 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 Morrice Richardson
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: 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 work around.

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 upside.

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.
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 front.
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.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: 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 specialist.

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.
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.
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.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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.
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 were.
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.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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.
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.
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 clutch?
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.
Rating: 7