How Will Notre Dame Replace Louis Nix?
Louis Nix decided to forego his fifth year and enter the NFL, leaving a 340-pound hole in the middle of the defensive line that the Irish staff must fill.
To look at life without Nix, it’s important to understand life before Nix. Shortly after Notre Dame fired Charlie Weis -- before Brian Kelly was hired -- Nix committed to the Irish and ended up being one of the highlights of an otherwise forgettable class. He was a solid prospect but did not carry the ranking of some of the other top D-linemen in the 2009 class.
To top it off, he entered his freshman year overweight and with a low motor. With these reports, Irish fans had to be disappointed, wondering if Nix would even see the field during his Notre Dame career. He redshirted his freshman year while his predecessor, Ian Williams, finished out a quality career. However, in the summer of 2011, Nix went to work developing into the dominant force with the high motor we all saw in 2012 and 2013.
Obviously it’s difficult to judge what type of player a prospect will become, as evidenced by the Louis Nix story, but Notre Dame has several options when it comes to replacing him. The two true defensive tackles currently on the roster are sophomore Jarron Jones and junior Tony Springmann. Jones seems the likely starter at the tackle spot simply because he has more game experience, being called upon after Nix’s final season was cut short due to his knee issues. Both are taller and leaner than Nix so while they may be able to play more athletically, neither will likely demand the standard double team that Nix did simply because of his size.
Similarly, incoming freshman Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah are all well under the size Nix was coming out of high school. If there is going to be one single player to step in and fill Nix’s role, it will come from one of these players but replacing his production in 2014 might come from a schematic adjustment.
Rather than trying to replace Nix, it’s likely that Notre Dame will employ more 4-3 looks instead of the 3-4 base they played with him in the middle. In fact, the starting lineup for their bowl game last season along the defensive line consisted of three defensive ends and a linebacker. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has stated that he is not set on a particular scheme and would rather adjust his scheme to the strengths of his players.
Playing a 3-4 base requires a dominant DT and since none of the current players really falls into that classification at this point, the strength of the defense next year will likely revolve around a 4-3 base with likely starters Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and either Chase Hounshell or Ishaq Williams playing up on the line.
Whether it be personnel or schematics, replacing the productivity of Nix will be no easy task and until someone else steps up and proves he can be as dominant on the interior, and 2014 will likely have a lot of different looks along the defensive line.