While the news didn’t trend on Twitter like Dayne Crist did nationally this afternoon (another example of Notre Dame’s irrelevance in college football I guess), one surprise in Brian Kelly‘s press conference was that junior Dan Fox unseated Carlo Calabrese as the starting Will linebacker next to Manti Te’o. Calabrese spent the lion’s share of last season starting while Fox transitioned from outside linebacker during an injury riddled season.
Asked for the biggest reason Fox found himself in the starting lineup, Kelly was pointed.
“Last year, he was not a guy that liked contact,” Kelly said of Fox. “He likes contact now. He knows that contact is necessary in that zone that he plays in. Here’s another young man that’s developed a toughness to him.”
The move is high praise for Fox, but also underscores the multiple nature of a position that almost seems situational. With South Florida bringing in a mobile quarterback like B.J. Daniels, having a guy with athleticism like Fox might give the Irish their best chance to contain the Bulls’ offense.
“Danny Fox will start at the Will, Brian Kelly said. “Both those guys are going to play, I think I’ve made it pretty clear, just like Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke, Jamoris is going to start there, but that’s a 50/50 deal. It will be the same thing with Watt and Nuss and it will be the same thing with Fox and Calabrese. I’m very pleased we’ve got the kind of depth at those positions.”
To give you an idea of how close the battle at linebacker was, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco clarified that both Fox and Calabrese will have a prominent role in the defense.
“It’s not a 1A, 1B, it’s an or,” Diaco said. “We see them as both starters. Carlo and Dan are going to be fifty-fifty players.”
As with the job at linebacker, Jamoris Slaughter taking back the starting job at safety after being hobbled with injuries throughout much of last season is interesting, although not entirely unexpected. Safeties coach Chuck Martin talked about how important it was to get consistent play out of the field safety, likely one of the reason’s the staff tapped Slaughter in front of Zeke Motta.
“We go into the year with the idea that those field safeties better not give up plays, because that’ll cost us the game. And then with the idea of hey, let’s pitch in,” Martin said. “We know Manti’s going to make plays, and Gary and RJ, and Harrison and a lot of guys up front can make plays, so we want the field safety position to start off being very solid and then at some point we want to put that tape on Sunday and say, Jamoris or Zeke that’s really the play that tilted the game in our favor.”
With Slaughter and Motta being called upon to play consistent football, Martin also has the advantage of knowing that he’s got more than just the minimum allotment of players at his disposal.
“I think we have trust in more than just three safeties and two corners,” Martin said. “I think as camp’s progressed we’ve got a lot of guys that are fighting to get on the field and help us win. I don’t think we’re going into the season like last year where we knew we had really limited options, we go into camp with the idea that a lot of guys are going to play well and adjust. We’ve still got a lot to improve on to get guys ready to play.”
Those options are likely senior Dan McCarthy and sophomore Austin Collinsworth, two promising athletes that just need to find a way to get on the field and get some experience.
“I think they’re both getting there,” Martin said of McCarthy and Collinsworth. “They both need reps and both need experience. We know its a process back there, especially deep defenders. They’re fighting to gain the ground they need to feel comfortable to get in the game.”