Irish D-line weathers injuries

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ethan Johnson doesn't talk about practice.

He doesn't talk about odds, either, though he admitted Tuesday that his sprained right ankle was improving.

"I'm not into doing probabilities, but I'm definitely better than I was yesterday and the day before yesterday," Johnson said after practice Tuesday. "So I'm just improving every day and just taking it a day at a time."

Brian Kelly said during his noon news conference Tuesday that Johnson would practice that afternoon for the first time since he injured his ankle in an Oct. 1 win at Purdue.

Johnson would not divulge practice details but his return, which remains up in the air, is now all the more important given the season-ending knee injury to fellow senior starting end Kapron Lewis-Moore.

"The young guys are playing roles they really shouldn't have to be playing right now," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "They're really not ready to play the amount of reps that they're having to play each week. So getting them ready for this type of offense definitely doesn't suit that -- assignment football, play after play, the discipline and the mental focus necessary to play four quarters against a team like this and be assignment correct on every play. So it becomes a challenge."

Lewis-Moore marks the third of three injuries to Notre Dame's season-opening starting defensive linemen, as he will miss the final five games and a potential bowl game.

Nose guard Sean Cwynar, who is now at full strenghth, missed Week 2 at Michigan with a broken hand. He was also held out against Air Force in Week 6 because of a broken right hand, which caused him to play with a club for a hand.

Johnson missed the majority of the past three games after being hurt on the first play at Purdue three weeks ago, and he tried to help freshmen ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt along the way while he was sidelined.

"You have to," Johnson said. "If I'm not out there, [if] I see someone do something that they shouldn't be doing, I'm gonna let them know; I'll let them know in a reasonable way. I mean, it's game day. You can't be trying to coach up everything; you got to let them play and not worry about too many other things because it's just game day. You're out there having fun."

Johnson's injury -- along with that of Cwynar's -- made Lynch and Tuitt have to grow up fast.

With Lewis-Moore now out for the season., the spotlight will be on the freshmen even more.

"Both of them are playing more than we really want them to play, and more than they're ready to play," defensive line coach Mike Elston said. "So sometimes that can hurt their growth, it can stunt their growth. So that's kind of the process we're going through with Aaron and making sure you don't put too much on his plate right now but more than he's ready for."