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Notre Dame says defense can be as good as it was last season

Stanford v Notre Dame

Stanford v Notre Dame

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Updated: August 6, 2013 3:43PM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s defense lost its top two tacklers from 2012, including one — linebacker Manti Te’o — who happened to be an All-American, picked up a record seven major individual awards and finished second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

But the Irish opened camp Monday with a defensive unit that might be as good as the one that finished second in the nation in scoring defense last season (12.8 points per game).

‘‘There’s a lot of experience coming back,’’ safety Matthias Farley said Sunday. ‘‘We obviously lost some key guys, but the people behind them are just as talented and have watched them lead by example.’’

Farley is one of eight returning defensive players who started at least nine games in 2012. Notre Dame was seventh in the country in total defense last season (305.5 yards per game).

‘‘We can be as good as we want to be if we push ourselves,’’ nose guard Louis Nix III said. ‘‘ . . . Every team wants to be the best, and every defense wants to be the best. That’s what we strive for.’’

Te’o led the Irish with 113 tackles last season, and safety Zeke Motta was second with 77. Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, a co-captain who had six sacks last season, is also gone. But Notre Dame has depth across the board defensively, and that will create some intriguing battles during camp.

‘‘What’s going to happen at linebacker? We’ve got some really good players,” coach Brian Kelly said Friday. ‘‘We’re really deep at linebacker, inside and outside: [Dan] Fox, [Carlo] Calabrese, [Jarrett] Grace, [Kendall] Moore. You look on the outside with Ishaq [Williams], [Prince] Shembo, [Romeo] Okwara, [Danny] Spond, [Ben] Councell. It’s going to be exciting.’’

Kelly then listed five safeties and said cornerback will be ‘‘interesting’’ to watch.

‘‘We have a lot of veterans coming back, but there’s going to be a lot of things that we’re going to have to evaluate,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We’re going to have a lot of players that will get that opportunity.’’

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