Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Can The Irish Defense Be Even Better in 2013?
With just 51 days before the Temple Owls travel to South Bend and possibly experience the worst defeat in school history, Notre Dame fans and players just can't wait to start the season. After the team had such a magical year in 2012, all dreams of a BCS National Championship were quickly shattered when the Irish were no match for Alabama.
That loss started a string of events that turned a great season into a terrible off season. That is off the field at least. It started with Coach Kelly flirting with an NFL offer from the Philadelphia Eagles. Then came the much publicized Manti Te'o fake girlfriend scandal. Then it all concluded with Everett Golson being suspended for the season for academic issues.
With all this, nobody has talked about the unit that made it all possible to begin with (the defense). This is a unit that allowed only 9 touchdowns all season. They actually went an entire month without surrendering one and there were no rushing touchdowns until the 8th game against Oklahoma. Only two rushing touchdowns were given up all year. Yet all the media chooses to talk about is the off the field stuff above.
So if there is any unit that should have a big chip on their shoulder this year, it is the Notre Dame defense. Starting with their coach Bob Diaco, he is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and yet he got no offers to be a head coach after that great year last year. I was really surprised that he didn't even get interest from Cincinnati where he was the defensive coordinator under Coach Brian Kelly.
The players will also have a chip on their shoulders because in spite of the great season, all the haters talk about is how they were no match for Alabama. In fact, they gave up six touchdowns to the Tide after giving up only nine the rest of the year. The defense is hungry to get back out there to show that the regular season defense was the real defense. While Te'o got much of the attention last year, it was the whole unit that was great. They are determined to show that as well.
As great as this defense was last year, the scary part is that they can be even better this year. They are returning seven starters and really only had three major losses. Te'o is a big loss but the rest of the linebacking unit including Dan Fox, Danny Spond, and Price Shembo are all back. Junior Jarett Grace steps in for Te'o and veteran reserves Carlos Calabrese and Ishaq Williams are back. Therefore, from a playing standpoint the guys should be able to move on without missing a beat. Where Te'o will be missed is in his leadership.
However, I think the guy that can and will fill that role is Louis Nix. The senior defensive lineman looks ready to have an All American season. He is joined by Stephen Tuitt who also had a great year last year. The big loss from this group was Kapron Lewis-Moore who graduated and moved on to the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Sophomore Sheldon Day looks to be the guy to step in. This unit should be able to move on without missing a beat.
The secondary was the unit that was the most scrutinized last year. They had injury troubles early with Lo Wood in training camp and Jamoris Slaughter in the third game. That forced inexperienced underclassmen KeVare Russell and Mathias Farley into action. But both held their own and performed well. Slaughter is now gone to the Cleveland Browns, but Wood is back. Wood and Russell together could be quite a shutdown tandem. Also expect to see more of Josh Atkinson. The big loss is Zeke Motta but like Te'o, I think his leadership is what will really be missed. Sophomore Nicky Baratti appears to be the guy to step in for Motta. Farley is now the veteran safety. Also look for Austin Collinsworth to have a bigger role as well.
I am very excited to see the step that this defense takes this year. With all the guys returning, they are not only more seasoned but even more confident. Success does that. What really stood out about this unit last year is that they tackled really well.I think they missed more tackles in the Alabama game than they did all year. I see this unit dominating again this year and possibly being even better.