Notre Dame unit preview: Defensive line

Notre Dame unit preview: Defensive line
July 28, 2014, 9:30 pm
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In six words or less: New players, new strategy

Projected starters: Romeo Okwara, Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day, Ishaq Williams
Rising up the depth chart: Romeo Okwara, Ishaq Williams, Chase Hounshell
Arrivals: Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship, Jhonny Williams, Daniel Cage, Pete Mokwuah, Jay Hayes
Departures: Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Tyler Stockton, Kona Schwenke

Looking back

The timing looks idea for Notre Dame to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base, assuming the indications we had during spring practice are correct. More importantly, though, Notre Dame's defensive line no longer is using Bob Diaco's disciplined two-gap strategy -- under Brian VanGorder, the goal is to beat the man across from you and make a play.

[MORE: Notre Dame to open training camp away from South Bend]

In the old system, Jarron Jones went from a midseason demotion to the scout team to starting late in the season and showed some promise. Day was banged up most of the year with an ankle injury and wasn't really able to take off in his sophomore year. Tony Springmann's preseason ACL injury kept a key depth guy on the sidelines, while Chase Hounshell missed his second straight season with a shoulder injury. With Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix not at 100 percent, Notre Dame's defensive line didn't come close to registering the kind of impact it did in 2012 last fall.

2014 outlook

Notre Dame should get Springmann and Hounshell back healthy while adding six freshmen to the mix, fixing a glaring depth problem from a year ago. But there's not a lot of experience along the line -- Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams move to defensive end from the 'cat' outside linebacker spot in Diaco's system, while Jones only has one start under his belt.

[MORE: Irish players enjoying transition to VanGorder's defense]

But this unit bought into VanGorder's aggressive defense during spring practice, and despite that inexperience it is a group stocked with talent. If guys like Jones and Okwara develop into solid contributors and some of the underclassmen prove to be viable backups, this unit might just be good enough to hold its own against the slew of high-powered offenses Notre Dame faces this year. But there are still plenty of "ifs" here.

They said it

"You're the attacker, you're not the one having to read the attacker. I feel like that's more fun on my part because instead of watching out, trying to make sure the running back doesn't go into the gap I'm having to watch out for, I just defeat the person across from me with all I have and win my gap while I do it, as well as looking for the ball." -- Jarron Jones on Brian VanGorder's defense

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