NCF Nation: Anthony Rabasa

Roster breakdown: Defense

March, 29, 2012
Our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster continues today with the defensive side of the ball.


The players: Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day, Tyler Stockton, Kona Schwenke

The incoming: Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTackle Louis Nix is a key cog in what should be a strong, experienced defensive line for Notre Dame.
The breakdown: Injuries forced all three current starters — Lynch, Nix and Tuitt — to play much more than expected last season, and none disappointed. They are all second-year players now, and their pass-rushing ability should have opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks on their heels. Lewis-Moore has been cleared for spring following a season-ending knee injury in 2011 but might not start, though he will likely see plenty of playing time as the line rotates. Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is not cleared yet, but he will likely see significant time this fall after playing as a true freshman last year as well.


The players: Danny Spond, Manti Te'o, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, Justin Utopo, Connor Little, Ben Councell, Joe Schmidt

The incoming: None

The breakdown: As we said with Tyler Eifert yesterday, everyone knows what Te'o is capable of, as he likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick had he left school following his junior year. Fox and Calabrese shared the other inside role last year, and their experience should prove valuable. Shembo has been working at the cat spot this spring, and up-and-coming talents like Williams and Spond figure to see extensive playing time.


The players: Bennett Jackson, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Dan McCarthy, Jalen Brown, Cam McDaniel, Eilar Hardy, Chris Salvi, Joe Romano, Will Salvi, Connor Cavalaris, Matthias Farley, Blake Breslau

The incoming: Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, C.J. Prosise, John Turner

The breakdown: The loss of Tee Shepard really stings this group, which is down to four scholarship corners with a combined zero career starts. Jackson and Wood are in position to take over as the new starters, and playing time last season should help with the transition. At safety, Slaughter and Motta saw plenty of time the last two seasons, and Slaughter in particular has shown a nose for the ball and the capability of providing a leadership force that Harrison Smith is leaving behind. Collinsworth will likely also see plenty of snaps after playing last year.
A flurry of recent activity on the recruiting trail has Notre Dame climbing up the ESPN Class of 2011 rankings.

The Irish check in at No. 9 on the updated Top 25 that was released on Monday. That's two spots up from the previous rating, delivered in June.

Landing Florida defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Anthony Rabasa on the same weekend helped bump up the Notre Dame ranking. The Irish currently have 16 known commitments, including five in the ESPNU 150, and seven who are rated at least a four-star prospect. The highest-ranked player in the class so far is offensive tackle Matthew Hegarty from New Mexico.
Since Brian Kelly has yet to coach a game for Notre Dame, he might have just enjoyed his finest weekend since coming to South Bend.

The Irish added three high-profile commitments on Friday, including ESPNU150 defensive end Anthony Rabasa from Miami, Fla. The good news continued on Saturday as another ESPNU 150 defensive end prospect, Aaron Lynch of Cape Coral, Fla., committed as well.

Two things stand out here: One, many people blame the Irish's recent downfall on a lack of elite defensive line talent. Well, Kelly and his staff just reeled in the No. 7 and No. 10 ranked defensive ends in this class, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc. They have four defensive end recruits already in this class.

Secondly, look at who Notre Dame beat out for Rabasa and Lynch. Rabasa was being pursued by Florida, Florida State, Miami and LSU. Lynch was wanted by those same four schools, as well as Alabama, Ohio State and countless others. Those who questioned Kelly's recruiting ability have little ammunition now, as he has shown that the Irish can still beat major powers for blue-chip prospects -- and get them out of Florida as well.

Time will tell how much these new recruits will actually help on the field, and Notre Dame still needs to upgrade on the interior of the defensive line. But this appears to be a great start.