No Backup Plan

5th-year senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore's undervalued Irish career arc mirrors that of the team's most recent first round NFL Draft Pick at his position...a full 15 years ago.

For some college athletes, time flies, their four years come and go with little, or only late production to show for the hundreds of practices and workouts that helped mold each from prospect to player.

Such isn't the case, for 5th-year senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, whose first four years not only include consistent production and playing time, but also spanned the program's two recent eras.

The only four-year starter among Notre Dame's sextet of 5th-year seniors this fall, Lewis-Moore's initial impact was a diving fumble recovery in the season opener of Charlie Weis' final season in South Bend.

Since that memorable, albeit year-delayed debut, his career arc mirrors a recent program great, and the last defensive lineman to earn a first round selection in the NFL Draft.

Like Lewis-Moore, 1992 enrollee Renaldo Wynn hit campus with size befitting of an outside linebacker rather than reliable run-stuffing defense end. Like Lewis-Moore, Wynn eventually added weight, maintained quickness, and all-the-while produced on Saturdays, a four-year rarity at a position that often encounters the shoulder pads of two, even three opponents looking to slow a defensive lineman's approach.

Like Wynn, Lewis-Moore hopes to save his most impressive moments for his final season at the program:

Below is a comparison of mid-90s Irish standout defensive end Renaldo Wynn and Lewis-Moore entering their respective 5th seasons of eligibility:

Renaldo Wynn: 32 games played/28 starts, 123 total tackles (90 solo), 11.5 tackles-for-loss, 10.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass breakup. (Wynn's 5th-year totals in 1996: 61 tackles including 6 for lost yardage, 9 sacks, 1 pass breakup and two fumble recoveries, including one he returned for a 24-yard touchdown.)

Kapron Lewis-Moore: 32 games played/29 starts. 140 total tackles (62 solo), 13.5 tackles-for-loss, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 pass breakups. 5th-year totals in 2012: to be determined...

Unlike Wynn, Lewis-Moore must bounce back from knee surgery for his final season. And dramatically different from Wynn's 5th-year situation, Lewis-Moore entered his final spring at the program as a relative backup; one looking up at two precocious sophomores with limitless potential.

Back in the Saddle

It seemed a tad askew, but considering the talents of #19 and #7, the sight of grizzled veteran Lewis-Moore running with the second unit also added a promising dose of reality: Notre Dame's talented underclasses were taking over -- seniority no longer meant starting spots, or youngsters forced to respect the class pecking order.

"Kappy's really not a two. We really don't have twos," said defensive line coach Mike Elston of the line's elder statesman at the outset of spring practice. "He runs with the ones a lot too. The depth chart isn't set; it's just a matter of getting guys the most reps (through rotation) in an equal amount to work their game. He gets in there with the ones also.

"Mentally, he's actually returned pretty well from that knee. He was running with that second group to begin with just to make sure he could get acclimated to get the speed right and he's really come back nicely.

It was an ideal three-to-make-two situation: Lewis-Moore, Stephon Tuitt, and Aaron Lynch -- the deepest, most athletic and disruptive trio of defensive ends on the same Irish roster since 5th-year senior Ryan Roberts, red-shirt sophomore Kyle Budinscak, and red-shirt freshman Justin Tuck shared two defensive ends spots in 2002.

That depth has since taken a major hit with the April transfer of Lynch, but Lewis-Moore thinks it will re-develop as the season nears.

"I think we're pretty deep, especially after spring and the summer when everybody gets rehabbed from their injuries, I think we're gonna be alright heading into the season."," he noted following Lynch's departure. "For me, I I need to be ambidextrous playing left and right (sides). I think it'll be tough but I can get the job done.

And according to Lewis-Moore, his knee is ready to roll, just six months following his final play vs. USC in mid-October.

"The knee is good. I just have a big ugly scar. I feel like 100 percent, it gets achy sometimes but that's going to come with it."

Much like Wynn and albeit with lesser fanfare, the aforementioned Ryan Roberts before him, a 100 percent healed Lewis-Moore has a chance to make a final impression in South Bend. Its a luxury he know relishes after a difficult freshman season with no game appearances.

"I was having a hard time not playing, so I wanted it to happen at the time," said Lewis-Moore of his desire to get in late in the 2008 season. "But a couple of guys in the football office explained to me what red-shirting meant and that I'd be happy about it someday. And I am now."

So is a defensive line unit with two potential standouts but no more margin for error on the end.

At his Best: Season-by-Season

His career statistics detailed in the box above, Lewis-Moore's 140 total tackles entering his final season affords the 5th-year defender a chance to join the program's Top 10 all-time tacklers along the defensive front. With 65 stops, Lewis-Moore would tie Scott Zetek (1976-80) and Jim Stock (1972-75) for 10th all-time. Lewis-Moore recorded 62 stops in 2010 and had compiled 32 through 6.5 games prior to season-ending surgery last fall.

2009 Pac-10 Tandem Over consecutive home contests vs. the Huskies and Trojans in October, Lewis-Moore totaled 12 tackles including 3.5 for loss with 1.5 sacks, and two QB hurries. Both hurries forced punts and two of his tackles-for-loss stopped runners near the Irish goal line.

2010 Utah: Finished with 8 tackles and two QB hurries, both on 3rd Down, as the Irish defense dominated favored Utah in a 28-3 Senior Day victory.

2011 USC: Facing the nation's top left tackle Ryan Kalil, Lewis-Moore was one of two Irish defenders to rise to the occasion (classmate and fellow 5th-year Jamoris Slaughter the other), finishing with six tackles in less than three quarters. In back-to-back second quarter plays and already trailing 14-0, Lewis-Moore stopped Trojans runners Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler for no gain on 3rd and 4th and 1, respectively, to halt the Trojans march at the Irish 36-yard line.

2011 USF: In perhaps the most underrated game by an Irish defender in the 2011 season, Lewis-Moore registered 7 tackles including 1.5 for loss with a half-sack and QB hurry. All of his tackles resulted in two yards or fewer, three forced Bulls punts or field goal attempts, as did his QB hurry.

Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco on Lewis-Moore: "Kappy has good eye progression. He's pretty disciplined with his eyes, so he's moving on key. He's an initially quick player, who has the intangible trait of lateral quickness, which is a necessity playing the position he plays."

Numbers of Note/Final Analysis

Of Lewis-Moore's 32 tackles in 6.5 games last fall, 23 stopped runners for gains of two yards, one yard, no gain, or lost yardage. Lewis-Moore was similarly productive in 2010 with 62 tackles in 13 games, but more important, with 38 stops in which runners gained 3 yards or fewer – 27 of those for 0, 1 or 2 yards.

The enviable, potentially devastating Lynch/Tuitt/Lewis-Moore rotation no longer exists in South Bend, but the defensive end unit is in fine shape assuming good health for both KLM and Tuitt next fall. Early Enrollee Sheldon Day will be forced to play and he should assimilate well assuming sophomore Chase Hounshell and nose guard/end Kona Schwenke can help ease him into the rotation.

Because he doesn't put up impressive pass rushing numbers, Lewis-Moore remains undervalued as an overall competitor. His 50 stops on gains of two yards or fewer leads the squad during the Brian Kelly era. Capable of playing inside or out in the 4-3 and on either side of the line in the 3-4 front, Lewis-Moore, Tuitt, and Schwenke provide line coach Mike Elston with unique options: each can play multiple techniques and positions, thus mitigating the loss of Lynch and less publicized, the lack of proven players up front heading into 2012.

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