It's been a rough two weeks defensively for the Fighting Irish football team. First, Pat Kuntz was not enrolled at the University anymore and was taking classes at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis. Citing "personal reasons", Kuntz has been known to have had academic difficulty in the past. Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibit Notre Dame in disclosing any information regarding Kuntz's situation. So if you can put two and two together, Kuntz was dismissed for academic difficulty and can hopefully return in the summer on probationary status. Basically what this means is if Patrick can shore up his academic deficiencies, he should be back with his Irish mates in the summer before two-a-days.
This week, Derrell Hand's career reportedly could be sidelined for good with a spinal cord injury. With a thin line on defense already, losing both Kuntz and Hand was a major blow to the Irish's 2008 season. That now leaves six players (Justin Brown, Paddy Mullen, Andrew Nuss, Emeka Nwankwo, Kallen Wade, and Ian Williams) with EIGHT combined starts! It doesn't look good when you face the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue, in weeks 2, 3, and 4 of the early season.
Out of the six, only three have actually played in games. Justin Brown has played in 26 games, while starting in six throughout his career with the Irish. Paddy Mullen has had some spot duty, alongside some special teams play in three games last season, while Ian Williams played in all 12 games last season, starting two of them, as he earned Freshman All-America honors.
If all of the current verbals solidify their commitments, the Irish will add four top notch players to the defensive line. Sean Cwynar, who's currently enrolled, Ethan Johnson, Hafis Williams, and Brandon Newman, could definitely push for immediate playing time. Look for Chris Stewart to possibly make the switch over again to add some depth. Newman and Cwynar should definitely see action right away, while Johnson will compete soon once his knee heals properly.
With such a young and barely tested group, the Irish should have their hands full early on, or do they? Looking ahead at next year's schedule, the majority of the teams the Irish face in the first quarter of the season, will have about two returning starters along the offensive line. Overall, there are 27 returning starters on Notre Dame's opponents roster. That's an average of 3 returning starters. Below is the breakdown:
San Diego State (4-8) 1 returning starter (Trask Iosefa)
Michigan (9-4) 2 returning starters (Justin Boren and Stephen Schilling)
Michigan State (7-6) 2 returning starters (Roland Martin and Jesse Miller)
Purdue (8-5) 2 returning starters (Zach Reckman and Zach Jones)
Stanford (4-8) 3 returning starters (Ben Muth, Alex Fletcher, and Chris Morielli)
North Carolina (4-8) 4 returning starters (Kyle Jolly, Aaron Stahl, Calvin Darity, and Garrett Reynolds)
Washington (4-9) 2 returning starters (Ben Ossani and Ryan Tolar)
Pittsburgh (5-7) 2 returning starters (CJ Davis and Joe Thomas)
Boston College (11-3) 3 returning starters (Matt Tennant, Cliff Ramsey, and Anthony Costanzo)
Navy (8-5) 1 returning starter (Anthony Gaskins)
Syracuse (2-10) 3 returning starters (Ryan Durand, Corey Chavers, and Jim McKenzie)
USC (11-2) 2 returning starters (Butch Lewis and Jeff Byers)
With the exception of Boston College (11-3), the teams with three or more returning starters across the offensive line had a combined record of 10-26! So with a youthful defensive line, the Irish might not have that much of a disadvantage. Obviously there are a few "IFs" that could help make or break the defensive line for Notre Dame.
1) "If" Pat Kuntz can come back, the Irish won't have to speed up the learning curve for the incoming Freshmen;
2) "If" all the verbal commits stay on track, Notre Dame will have 10 players to compete for playing time;
3) "If" the NCAA adopts the NFL clock rules, offenses will have to work on minor adjustments. Next month, Dave Perry will head up a 12-person panel that will "look long and hard" at implementing the NFL's timing system when it convenes in Indianapolis. The NFL clock rules that the NCAA could implement would be: 1) The clock doesn't stop on first down; 2) Penalties stop the clock in the final two minutes of each half; and 3) The Play clock begins at 40 seconds.
Not that the those are significant changes, but it will give offenses some extra work in camps if it does pass.
Notre Dame is resilient. They are called the Fighting Irish for a reason, correct?
"Sometime, when the team is up against it -- and the breaks are beating the boys -- tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper...