Skip to content

Restocking: Linebackers

Feb 18, 2013, 1:19 PM EDT

Prince Shembo, Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams

It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Notre Dame’s defense faces a pretty extraordinary task: replacing one of college football’s most decorated defensive players ever. Four years after landing Manti Te’o, a rare player who surpasses the recruiting hype that comes along with a five-star tag, the Irish coaching staff found another elite talent at the position. And they didn’t have to fly to Hawaii to land him.

In Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame has one of the most impressive athletes in the country, and a potential elite linebacker to replace Te’o on the mantlepiece. A four-time state champion in high school, Smith’s No. 9 jersey was retired by Bishop Luers high school. It’s been given to Smith by All-American nose tackle Louis Nix, giving you an idea of just how respected a talent like Smith is, even before strapping on the pads.

Finding and landing talent at linebacker — both inside and out — was key in this recruiting cycle. Headlined by Smith, the Irish landing three productive players, yet also had a few near misses that give you an idea of how wide the net was spread. Alex Anzalone waited until enrollment day to make the decision to attend Florida, even though he was openly committed to the Irish just days earlier at the Under Armour All-American game. Danny Mattingly, a lanky outside linebacker, was committed to Notre Dame for most of the recruiting cycle until he found a better fit closer to home at Oregon. And Don Bosco Prep linebacker Al-Quadin Muhammad looked like an Irish lock until January, when he committed to Miami, with reports of academic deficiencies the only thing keeping Notre Dame and the outside linebacker apart.

Let’s take a look at the depth at linebacker, starting with a look back at the recruiting classes that built the position group.

2009
Carlo Calabrese — Likely returning for a fifth year.
Dan Fox — Likely returning for a fifth year.
Manti Te’o — Four year starter at inside linebacker. Consensus All-American.

2010
Derek Roback — Athlete who profiled as a linebacker. Transferred to Ohio to play QB. Now a TE.
Danny Spond — High school quarterback converted to linebacker. Started 2012 as Dog linebacker.
Justin Utupo — Projected by previous staff as DT. Now reserve linebacker and defensive end.
Kendall Moore — Reserve inside linebacker. Has fifth-year eligibility. Run-first defender.
Prince Shembo — Returning Cat linebacker. Started in 2011, 2012.

2011
Ben Councell — Prototype Dog linebacker. Lost starting job after Spond returned healthy.
Anthony Rabasa — High school DE, can play inside and outside for Irish linebackers.
Ishaq Williams — Elite recruit finding way as DE/OLB Cat linebacker. Key cog for 2013.
Jarrett Grace — Inside backer that’ll likely move to forefront with Te’o’s departure.

2012
Romeo Okwara — Young athlete that was too good to keep of the field as 17-yr-old freshman.

2013
Michael Deeb — Prototype inside linebacker. Physically mature, likely special teams contributor.
Doug Randolph — Has positional flexibility. Mature player, better athlete than most think.
Jaylon Smith — Needs to gain weight, but jack-of-all trades. Will see the field immediately.

Way too early spring projection

Even if the Irish signed 25 recruits, it was hard to imagine a world where Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese didn’t return for a fifth season. There just isn’t enough depth behind them to have inside linebackers learning on the fly. While Brian Kelly tagged the fifth-year duo and Jarrett Grace as the three guys battling for two jobs, expect to hear from Kendall Moore, who has the physicality to play, but needs to round out his game.

The strength of this position grouping is on the edge, and it’ll be an interesting spring to watch the outside linebacker rotation develop. The national championship game showed some of Danny Spond’s limitations, and Ben Councell has the size and strength necessary to compete. While Prince Shembo is entrenched, this is a huge offseason for Ishaq Williams, who needs to make the leap from just a guy with potential to a front-line player. And Romeo Okwara will likely serve notice that he demands some playing time as well.

Shaking up that position this summer with be Smith, who is too good of an athlete not to find the field early and often, if only as a big-play specialist. While it appears there might be too many bodies for everyone to find a spot, Bob Diaco’s defense relies on versatility, and developing a rotation can only help.

 

Latest Posts
  1. NBCSN to televise 86th annual Blue-Gold game

    Mar 30, 2015, 7:48 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    Just because Notre Dame Stadium isn’t open for business doesn’t mean the Blue-Gold game will be interrupted. After considering off-campus venues like Soldier Field and Lucas Oil Stadium, Brian Kelly will hold his final practice of the spring, the 86th annual Blue-Gold Game, on the LaBar Practice Fields. And it’ll be televised by NBC Sports Network.

  2. Redfield and Shumate rising to the occasion

    Mar 30, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    There’s no contingency plan at safety this fall. While Cal transfer Avery Sebastian will add some much needed depth, the starting jobs as Notre Dame’s last lines of defense belong to Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate.

  3. Spring Mailbag: Getting physical, Jarrett Grace, and the Defense

    Mar 29, 2015, 11:18 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Let’s close up the mailbag while also showing some appreciation to the incredible effort given by Mike Brey’s basketball team.

  4. Video Roundup from Spring Practice

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire

    With Brian Kelly hosting his annual coaches clinic, Notre Dame’s practice field is filled with high school coaches (and some intriguing recruits) taking a look under the hood of the Irish program.

  5. Spring Mailbag: Tillery, Optimism, and practice updates

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Let’s get to part one of the mailbag. Some very good questions here, so check back over the weekend as there’ll be more to come.

  6. Bars and Nelson impressing at left guard

    Mar 26, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Quenton Nelson

    Matt Hegarty’s unexpected departure opened up a job along the offensive line. With fifth-year center Nick Martin back in the middle, Hegarty choosing to go somewhere else to play center opened up the competition at left guard.

  7. Expectations for Jerry Tillery sky high

    Mar 25, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Jerry Tillery’s recruitment was anything but ordinary. Long committed to the Irish, Notre Dame held off LSU, with Les Miles and the Tigers’ coaching staff doing everything they could to talk the local product into staying home.

  8. Spring practice mailbag: Now Open

    Mar 25, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  9. After injury detour, Jarrett Grace looks to be back on track

    Mar 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    While our inside looks at Notre Dame’s spring practice have been few and far between (blink and you could miss the footage from the YouTube practice reports), the little news that’s been coming out of the Gug has been good.

  10. Elston ready to make his mark on Notre Dame recruiting

    Mar 23, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT

    USA Today USA Today

    Notre Dame landed three recruiting commitments coming out of the weekend’s Junior Day. And if it’s up to Mike Elston, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

  11. Running back Tony Jones Jr. commits to Irish

    Mar 22, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    This weekend’s Junior Day netted another recruit, with Notre Dame’s coaching staff accepting the commitment of Florida running back Tony Jones Jr. The IMG Academy runner was in South Bend this weekend, and is the first running back in the fold for the Irish in the 2016 class.

  12. Junior Day nets commitments from Julian Love, John Shannon

    Mar 21, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class took a big step forward on Saturday, gaining commitments from cornerback Julian Love and long snapper John Shannon. Both Love and Shannon pledged their commitment after receiving offers this afternoon from the Irish staff.

  13. 2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day

    Mar 20, 2015, 1:41 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s coaching staff begins their 2016 recruiting efforts this weekend with its first on-campus Junior Day. While the reshuffled staff had an opportunity to hit the road in February, the Irish coaches will host their first major recruiting event of the spring this weekend.

  14. Jeff Quinn officially joins staff as offensive analyst

    Mar 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Jeff Quinn Jeff Quinn

    When Notre Dame announced Brian Kelly’s reshuffled coaching staff, one name many expected to be part of the release wasn’t. Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn—an offensive coordinator and line coach for Kelly for decades—had been long rumored for a staff position, but wasn’t part of Kelly’s reshuffled team of assistants.

  15. Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams

    Mar 19, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT

    Notre Dame at USC AP

    As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

  16. Video Roundup: Spring Practice Begins

    Mar 18, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    Notre Dame kicked off spring practice bright and early Wednesday morning. With our first look at the Irish as they prepare for the 2015 season, Brian Kelly’s troops were ready for action, even if they were relegated to helmets and shorts.

  17. Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

    Mar 17, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

  18. Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018

    Mar 16, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT

    Pete Lembo Pete Lembo

    It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

  19. The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started

    Mar 16, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT

    USA TODAY Sports USA TODAY Sports

    After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

    #NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

  20. Notre Dame Mailbag: It’s all about the Quarterbacks

    Mar 13, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    One question, asked a half-dozen different ways. And it’s all about the quarterbacks.