Offseason Cheatsheet: Linebackers

1 Comment

Looking for some catch-up as Purdue looms just around the corner? Check out the Offseason Cheatsheets, your Du Lac approved crib-sheets that’ll get you ready for the 2010 season. For more, check out the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, and defensive backs.

POSITION OVERVIEW:

As a group, there might not have been a position that underachieved like the linebackers. To a man, the roster was stacked with impressive recruits, yet the production didn’t come anywhere near the potential of the collective unit. While Manti Te’o found the field as a freshman, touted recruits like Steve Filer, Kerry Neal, and Darius Fleming disappeared for long stretches, stuck in neutral from either relegation to undersized defensive end or a back-up role in Jon Tenuta’s 4-3 system. Brian Smith took a step backwards, struggling with the transition to middle linebacker.  In retrospect, the underwhelming performance was understandable, nearly all the players on the roster were playing out of position, recruited for a 3-4 scheme long abandoned. But with Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco reimplementing the system each returning player was hand-picked for, there’s reason to believe one of the defensive’s biggest liabilities can become one of it’s biggest strengths.

ROSTER READING:

Short a program? Here’s every linebacker listed on the roster:

     No.   Name                    Yr.    Ht./Wt.      Hometown/High School
      5      Manti Te’o             So.   6-2/245     Laie, HI (Punahou)
      8      Kendall Moore       Fr.   6-1/239     Cary, NC (Southeast Region)
     13     Danny Spond        Fr.   6-2/225      Littleton, CO (Columbine)
     30     Steve Paskorz      Sr.    6-1/246     Allison Park, PA (Hampton)
     36     David Posluszny   Jr.    6-0/235     Aliquippa, PA (Hopewell)
     44     Carlo Calabrese   So.   6-1/240     Verona, NJ (Verona)
     45     Darius Fleming     Jr.    6-2/247     Chicago, IL (St. Rita)
     46     Steve Filer            Jr.    6-3/235     Chicago, IL (Mount Carmel)
     48     Dan Fox                So.  6-3/230     Rocky River, OH (St. Ignatius)
     49     Derek Roback       Fr.   6-3/233     Waverly, OH (Waverly)
     50     Sean Oxley           Jr.    6-2/227     Avon Lake, OH (Avon Lake)
     53    Justin Utupo           Fr.   6-3/251     Lakewood, CA (Lakewood)
     54    Anthony McDonald Jr.   6-2/238     Burbank, CA (Notre Dame High School)
     55    Prince Shembo       Fr.  6-2/243     Charlotte, NC (Ardrey Kell)
     56    Kerry Neal               Sr.  6-2/246     Bunn, NC (Bunn)
     58    Brian Smith             Sr.  6-3/234     Overland Park, KS (St. Thomas Aquinas)
     63    Steve Bosford         Sr.  6-2/220     Arlington Heights, IL (St. Viator)

KELLY ON LINEBACKERS:

On Te’o: “There are guys that people gravitate towards. There are guys that set a
standard for the way they play. And right now it’s Te’o on
defense.”

On McDonald and Calabrese: “We’d like Mac to play more physical, we’d like Calabrese to play with more finesse… Carlo, he’s a strong, physical kid. He wants to knock that guard out
every time. The problem is the tight end runs down the middle of the
field, he’s got to be covered by you once in a while. Mac on the other hand can cover that tight end down the middle of the
field all day long. Once in a while, that guard knocks him back five
yards. So, you know, it’s a combination of both of those.

On Neal: “He plays very physical. Very enthusiastic. Can run extremely well. Plays with an energy level, a high energy, at that position.”

On Smith: “I like to see Brian Smith out on the edge, he does a nice job of re-routing, he’s a natural out there.”

On Fleming:  I think just by describing what that person has to do tells you that
person has to be a unique athlete… Darius has that
athletic ability to do those two things. There are not a lot of those
guys out there.”

On Filer: “Steve was more interested in what kind of skateboard he had when I got
here,” Kelly said after practice. “He’s not that interested in skateboards anymore. He’s interested
in playing football, and that athletic ability is starting to show
itself on the football field.”

On Spond: “Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic. I don’t know that we have many guys
that play with their hands and can really shock you. He’s going to be
on all of our special teams as well.”

On Shembo: “We have run a lot of reps at him and we need to continue to rep him because he’s a good football player. Where do we like him? We like him on the field. He’s got some flexibility to play.”

CRYSTAL BALL:

With a philosophy switch, the Irish have gone from looking for linebackers that can play effectively to trying to find a way to get all their playmakers onto the field. With Darius Fleming entrenched at the “Cat” linebacker, the battle for the other outside position — the Dog — is a three-way battle between Brian Smith, Steve Filer, and Kerry Neal. I look for all three to get on the field in different ways, with Smith working mostly on passing downs .The battle for the inside spot next to Manti Te’o has been muddled with injuries to Anthony McDonald and Steve Paskorz, but I expect McDonald to end up seeing most of the playing time, with Carlo Calabrese pushing him every step of the way. Looking for a prediction? How about double-digit sacks for Darius Fleming, someone that’ll likely thrive as a hybrid pass-rusher like others have under Diaco. The Irish coaching staff is really high on freshmen Prince Shembo and Danny Spond, and I wouldn’t doubt if Spond’s athleticism helps him find a way into the “Dog-fight” as well. 

POSITION STRENGTH:

B. With Manti Te’o ready to take his game to the next level and Darius Fleming ready to dominate, the linebacking corp has taken a huge step in the right direction. If someone can stake claim to the Will inside ‘backer spot, the Irish will have their best linebacking unit in recent memory.  

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
14 Comments

Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
12 Comments

Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
26 Comments

It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

57 Comments

Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”