SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame lost a key piece to its defensive line when Aaron Lynch left the university in the spring.
Despite the absence of the sophomore, who led the team in sacks with 5 1/2 and was named a freshman All-American, the unit believes it has plenty of talent to dominate this year.
Im very excited for what we can do at the defensive line, defensive line coach Mike Elston said during media day last week. We have guys who can play multiple positions. We can bounce guys around, and that gives us added depth at different spots.
Sophomore Stephon Tuitt exemplifies the Irishs flexibility.
The 6-foot-6, 303-pounder shifted between defensive end and nose guard last season. He had 30 tackles, three for losses, and two sacks.
Tuitt said he expects to be able to do more this year because he has increased his knowledge of the system and the role he plays in it.
I expect myself to be an impact player, Im not going to lie, Tuitt said. I will stay humble with it, and I will do my assignment the best way I can do it to help my defense and help my team.
Coach Brian Kelly said he has been impressed by Tuitts commitment to the team and the university, and that the defensive end, who was suspended for a game last year because of academic reasons, has matured.
He had a great summer academically. As a football player, that was never going to be our concern, Kelly said. Its great to watch a kid really become fully committed to Notre Dame and what were about as well as wreak havoc on the football field. Yeah, hes a good one.
Another good one is nose guard Louis Nix III.
The 6-3, 326-pound junior also struggled at times with academics. He also caused concern when posts on his Twitter account made it appear he was ready to leave the school.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native said that spring incident is talked about too much, and he is fully committed to the Irish.
The spring was spring. That was yesterday. It is today now, Nix said. I feel like Im putting in more work and more effort. Im not worried about it.
Nix also isnt worried about sharing time at nose guard. He rotated with Sean Cwynar last year, and this year he is sharing playing time with 6-4, 290-pound junior Kona Schwenke.
Schwenke, who played in three games last season, has been working with the first-team defense more than Nix during the fall practices that were open to the media. But Nix said it doesnt matter who starts because there is plenty of playing time for two nose guards.
Kona, thats my man. Hawaii, Florida, even though Florida football is better than Hawaii football, thats still my man, Nix said of his relationship with the Hauula, Hawaii, native. It is a competition, but at the same time, it is a friendship. We know were brothers, and that is what we stick to.
Whether hes in or Im in first, we push each other and tell each other what we are doing wrong. If he is doing something wrong, I will let him know. If Im doing something wrong, he will let me know. It is not we are trying to say, I want to be the starter. We know whoever is in, there is no drop-off.
Notre Dame is also not expecting any drop-off from the other linemen.
Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for a fifth year to start on one side of the line. And behind Tuitt, Nix, Schwenke and Lewis-Moore, the Irish have defensive ends Chase Hounshell, a sophomore; Sheldon Day, a freshman; Justin Utupo, a junior; and nose guards Tony Springmann, a sophomore from Bishop Dwenger, and Tyler Stockton, a senior.