Last Friday the Aaron Lynch messages started pouring into my phone, and the 7 stages of grief quickly followed:
- Shock and Denial - No, he can’t be leaving. He just came back home from Ohio after Easter. This is a cruel Twitter joke, right?!
- Pain & Guilt - Why can’t this program catch the break it needs? Isn’t there more we as fans could have done to keep him on campus? Should we have Tweeted at him more frequently and left more comments on his Facebook page? (answer: definitely not)
- Anger & Bargaining - Forget the integrity of the program. Why aren’t boosters writing checks to keep this kid around? We can make some exceptions for future top 10 NFL draft picks.
- Depression, Reflection, Loneliness - I may never see Notre Dame in another BCS game. Maybe my best Notre Dame memories will really be from Ty’s first year.
- The Upward Turn - Hey, we still have Tuitt, Nix and KLM. Things might be able to turn out better than I thought.
- Reconstruction & Working Through - The team held practice on Saturday? Huh, I guess they’re going to figure out a way to get through this. If they can do it, and they, ya know–actually have something legitimate at stake, I guess I should be able to do it too.
- Acceptance & Hope - Well, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to change his mind. This team still has BCS written all over it, though! They’ll work harder and will be even better without Lynch!!!!!
*Note: These stages of grief may or may not have been replaced with lots of tears, punches through dry wall, and Bud Lights.
Now that we’ve all had a few days to process the news that Aaron Lynch is taking his talents to South Beach (errr, Florida), it’s time to take a look at the Irish defensive line sans the freshman All-American.
Kapron Lewis-Moore: 2011 Stats – 7 games, 32 tackles (16 solo), 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble. Career Stats – 32 games, 150 tackles (62 solo), 16 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
For the 2012 season, 5th year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will be expected to play a larger role coming off a season-ending knee injury in 2011. While KLM was running with the second team in spring practice prior to Lynch’s exit, he is certainly a first string talent that was relegated as a result of his recovery rather than as a consequence of quality of performance. After practice on Saturday, Brian Kelly insisted that the transition from Lynch to KLM is seamless, “because you’re talking about Kapron Lewis-Moore, who is a starter.” While it’s unlikely a coach would ever come out and say, “our next man in is not very good, so we’re probably in trouble here,” this is a case where we can take Kelly at his word. As long as KLM is healthy there shouldn’t be too significant of a drop-off off against the run, though defending the pass is a bit more of a concern. And hey, who wouldn’t want a guy who had his baller shades stolen by Mark Cuban on NYE starting on their D-line?
Stephon Tuitt: 2011/Career Stats: 9 games, 30 tackles (11 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 5 QB hurries
Tuitt came into ND more highly rated than Lynch for many of the recruiting services, though did not quite have the freshman success that Lynch did. Lynch had the benefit of enrolling a semester early, and Tuitt’s production (especially when viewed without the precedent of Lynch’s monster numbers) was quite impressive for a true freshman. We should expect a substantial jump in playing time for Tuitt in 2013 following a full year of training with Sergeant Longo. Tuitt was to be starting regardless of Lynch’s status, though will now carry a bit more of a burden without as many game-changers rotating in on the ends.
Prince Shembo: 2011 Stats: 12 games, 31 tackles (17 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries. Career Stats: 25 games, 46 tackles (23 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 6 QB hurries
Yes, I know Shembo is listed at linebacker. But while Diaco’s defense is commonly referred to as 3-4, last season the Irish had four down lineman on more than half of their defensive snaps. Darius Fleming slid up from linebacker to play with his hand down the most frequently in 2011, and Prince Shembo should be expected to fill that role this year. Shembo gained popularity among Irish fans for his pass rushing skills in more limited playing time his freshman season before switching to a role that didn’t fit his skill set nearly as well during his sophomore campaign. Expect Shembo’s production to increase considerably in 2012.
The reserves: Kona Schwenke, Chase Hounshell, and Sheldon Day
Schwenke, who has unfortunately exhausted two seasons of eligibility despite only seeing limited playing time in 8 games, has yet to have a substantial impact on the field. Like last season the Hawaiian has earned rave reviews in practice (and apparently has done nothing but eat, work out and chug protein shakes judging by his weight gain since arriving on campus). Consigned to the bench for most of the year, Schwenke will have the opportunity and responsibility to step up and be a difference maker this fall. If all else fails, maybe he can can scare Michigan off with the Haka (click and start at 1:40). (*It should be noted that Schwenke is currently listed at tackle, but I am expecting him to move back to end in the near future)
Chase Hounshell saw more time on the field than most expected as a freshman, and had some modest production in the Air Force game while not making a tackle in his other 6 appearances. Hounshell has been dealing with a shoulder injury this spring so has not seen much practice time. Sheldon Day, the newest edition to the DE crew, is 100% untested as an early enrollee freshman and is still a wildcard at this point. While only so much can be gained from watching the ND-produced practice videos, Day has certainly looked the part physically and should benefit further from extra time at the training table and Longo Beach.
How is the line going to look on the field?
If you’re like me, you were hoping that Aaron Lynch would be getting to the quarterback so quickly this season that ND’s questionable cornerback situation wouldn’t matter quite as much (Discussion question: Would you rather have Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood or Ambrose Wooden and Terrail Lambert? Go). Nonetheless, a defensive front 3 (or 4) of KLM, Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt (and Shembo) should remain one of the more dominant units on the team. Lynch’s transfer, however, puts more of an onus on KLM and Tuitt as they will likely be counted on for more playing time without as many strong rotation options, and also largely increases the negative effects an injury could have on the ongoing performance of the unit. The development of Schwenke and Hounshell as the “next men in” will be key to the unit’s success in order to keep legs fresh and provide quality alternatives in the case of injury.