ND strong on each level of defense

USF will have to meet an elite athlete at each level of the Notre Dame defense, according to offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.

B.J. Daniels and the Bulls offense will have to contend with defensive end Darius Fleming, inside linebacker Manti Te’o and safety Harrison Smith – a trio of upperclassmen that is capable of playing at a very high level.

“I think they probably feel that all three are All-American candidates at all three levels of the defense and surrounded by other just really good football players,” Fitch said.

Te’o and Smith led the Notre Dame defense in tackles last season, with 133 and 93, respectively. Fleming was the team leader in both tackles for loss, 11, and sacks, 6.

Coach Skip Holtz specifically mentioned Smith – who finished last season with seven interceptions, including four in the Fighting Irish’s last two games – in his breakdown of the Notre Dame defense.

“Harrison Smith has really been impressive,” he said. “When you look at the big picture, the last two games of the year he had four interceptions … I think he is a difference maker.”

Team captains

USF announced its team captains for the 2011 season following yesterday’s afternoon’s practice. The offense and defense each have two representatives among the pool of four captains, which includes three seniors and one junior.

Offensive lineman Chaz Hine, who will be the Bulls’ starting center against Notre Dame on Saturday, is joined by fellow seniors in safety Jerrell Young and cornerback Quenton Washington.

USF’s junior captain is quarterback B.J. Daniels, who becomes the first-ever non-senior captain on a Skip Holtz-coached team.

Injury report

USF should be happy in terms of team health, with just three players on the injury report to begin the season. Defensive tackle Demi Thompson (back) is doubtful, while cornerback Spencer Boyd (knee) and linebacker Curtis Weatherspoon (undisclosed) are questionable.