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Friday, January 20, 2012
Notre Dame's most improved players

By Matt Fortuna

As the wrapping-up of the 2011 season continues, we take a look at those who improved the most for Notre Dame from 2010 to 2011.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Jonas Gray, running back. Coach Brian Kelly said he had never seen a skill-position player make the kind of leap his senior year the way Gray had this season. Sadly, Gray's season came to an end several days after those comments, as he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Boston College on Nov. 19. Still, Gray left Notre Dame in style, rushing for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. He had 309 career yards and zero touchdowns before 2011.

Louis Nix, nose guard. A bit of a wild card here, considering he did not play his freshman season. Still, he made a tremendous leap from 2010 to 2011, starting 11 games and seeing plenty of time in the middle when Sean Cwynar broke his right hand. Nix finished with 45 tackles, 0.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, and, perhaps more importantly, he obliterated his coaches' spring prediction of seeing less than 20 snaps per game.

Jamoris Slaughter, safety. Plagued by an ankle injury much of 2010, Slaughter starred when healthy this season, splitting time at safety with Zeke Motta and contributing in a hybrid-like role as linebacker in nickel coverage as well. He finished with 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a pick and two sacks. No announcement has been made about his future, but it would be shocking if the senior was not back for a fifth year in 2012.