2013 review: A unit expected to be the strength of Notre Dame's defense was banged up the entire year. Season-ending injuries to Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell aside, the three starters -- Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day and Louis Nix -- never were healthy at the same time. Tuitt entered the year below 100 percent after offseason hernia surgery. Day sprained his ankle in Week 3 and reaggravated it later in the year. Nix dealt with knee tendinitis all season, but an MCL injury initially kept him out of two games then ultimately ended his Notre Dame career.
Kona Schwenke, who replaced Nix at nose guard, was also banged up in the second half of the season.
As such, Notre Dame's depth was seriously tested. Jarron Jones (who was dumped to the scout team for a stretch midway through the season) and Isaac Rochell (a true freshman) were counted on far more than expected. It even got to the point where linebacker Carlo Calabrese had to play defensive tackle in an emergency situation.
Tuitt led the Irish with 7 1/2 sacks, but his fellow defensive line mates only combined for two more sacks (in 2012, Tuitt had 11 sacks alone and Irish D-linemen had 22 total). As a whole, Notre Dame's defensive line only had 20 tackles for a loss, too, down from 33 in 2012.
Injuries certainly played a factor, as did the absence of Kapron Lewis-Moore. But regardless of the reason why, it was a disappointing year up front.
Departures: Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Tyler Stockton
2014 outlook: A few of those verbal commits could wind up at cat outside linebacker, though given the existing depth at that position (Ishaq Williams, Romeo Okwara) and the need for bodies on the defensive line they may have to play with their respective hands in the ground.
As for the returning guys, expect Day and Jones to start alongside Rochell, Springmann or Hounshell when the season begins. Both Day and Jones have fairly high ceilings -- not as high as Tuitt and Nix, though -- but haven't had success on a week-to-week basis at the college level yet. Rochell was adequate as a reserve though was a four-star recruit, for what it's worth.
There's plenty of uncertainty here. If the ceiling of this unit is merely to be solid, that's fine -- this doesn't look like it'll be the elite unit it was in 2012, but if things break right for Day, Jones and everyone else this can be a decent enough group.
X-Factor: There are plenty of under-to-upperclassmen jumps to be made here. Day and Jones were both sophomores in 2013; Springmann will be a senior but missed his junior year. Hounshell will also be a senior but missed his entire sophomore and junior seasons. Rochell could improve off his freshman year, too.
Plus, getting Day, Springmann and Hounshell healthy should help too. But this is a unit that may not be able to absorb another significant injury, so staying relatively healthy is incredibly important, too.