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The top four defensive ends on the roster are all seniors, and Notre Dame failed to bring in any freshmen this year to fill this need. Though Kerry Neal out of Bunn, N.C., is an effective pass rusher, he is expected to play outside linebacker in the Irish's 3-4-scheme, and Ian Williams out of Longwood, Fla., is expected to line up at nose guard. The one positive here is Notre Dame can fill this need with a defensive tackle or a defensive end strong enough to excel in a two-gap scheme.
As mentioned above, Williams is expected to line up at nose guard, so this is less of a need than it was at the start of the 2007 season. However, it's still a need. First off, Pat Kuntz and Derrell Hand are both juniors. Secondly, and more importantly, Kuntz, Hand and Williams lack prototypical size for a nose tackle in a three-man front. In fact, Notre Dame moved 340-pound Chris Stewart from offensive guard in the hopes of remedying this problem, but Stewart struggled and moved back to guard.
It's important to recognize that head coach Charlie Weis wants versatile linemen that can play multiple positions because it will impact how much of a need center is at the end of this year. Weis' philosophy has opened the door for sophomore Dan Wenger to compete for a starting guard slot and the coaching staff is high on him. If Wenger ends up wining the starting job and stays there, there will be no heir apparent to senior John Sullivan at center, and Notre Dame will have to target a player it thinks can make an immediate impact. Even if Wenger starts at center next year, reserve Thomas Bemenderfer is a junior, so the Irish will need a young backup.
Steve Muench played four years of Division I-AA football before joining Scouts Inc. in 2002. He has evaluated both NFL and college players for Scouts Inc., but his current focus is on the NFL draft.