Notre Dame defensive linemen Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt were named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which was taken home by ex-Irish linebacker Manti Te'o in 2012.
Te'o also won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football, last year, becoming the first player to win both the Maxwell and Bednarik in the same year. The Irish have four players named to the Bednarik Award watch list: Nix, Tuitt, cornerback Bennett Jackson and linebacker Prince Shembo.
These award watch lists don't mean a lot -- it's fairly obvious that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel are likely to be considered for a truckload of awards -- but they can be viewed as a pleasant reminder to Irish fans as to how good Bob Diaco's defense can be in 2013.
Despite losing Te'o, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and safety Zeke Motta from its 2012 unit, the Irish return a defense that, on paper, shouldn't miss a beat. Unlike last year, Notre Dame has depth at cornerback with Jackson, Lo Wood and KeiVarae Russell, as well as a few others (like Jalen Brown).
Among those not on any watch lists, Jarrett Grace and Carlo Calabrese will be tasked with filling the void left by Te'o at inside linebacker next to Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond. The Irish are confident Grace will shine in his first extended look on the field along with a fifth-year senior in Calabrese.
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Sophomore Sheldon Day will get a longer look in 2013, too, filling in for Lewis-Moore alongside Nix and Tuitt up front.
Expect to see more Notre Dame defensive players make these watch lists in the coming weeks leading up to fall camp, because despite all the offseason turmoil and drama in South Bend, the Irish still do have an excellent defensive unit.