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. Last looks: Wide receivers

    Aug 31, 2015, 4:12 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Florida State Getty Images

    Notre Dame’s wide receiving depth chart features talent at just about every level. Starting with All-American candidate and sophomore record-setter Will Fuller and working down to freshmen like Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders, top to bottom this is the most exciting set of playmakers the Irish have had at the position in, maybe—ever?

  2. Mailbag: Special teams, depth, dark clouds and more

    Aug 31, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT

    William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

    Let’s get the rest of the mailbag finished off so we can concentrate on game week. (Feels really good to type that sentence.) Thanks again for some great questions.

  3. Mailbag: Kizer’s chances, the D’s experience and play-calling

    Aug 30, 2015, 3:34 PM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    There are a ton of good questions to get to so this will roll out in multiple parts. Many thanks for the thoughtful work. (And some nice examples of brevity.)

  4. Last looks: Tight ends

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:19 PM EDT

    South Bend Tribune South Bend Tribune

    After a long line of starters with plenty of experience, Notre Dame’s tight ends all but start over in 2015. Scott Booker’s position group comes in with all sorts of intriguing traits. Unfortunately, none of those are experience.

  5. Brian Kelly on Dan Patrick Show

    Aug 28, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

    TheDanPatrickShow

    Brian Kelly was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning and the Irish head coach got his last weekend without a game started by chatting it up with the popular radio host. While Kelly didn’t make any headlines in the interview, he did conduct it from his desk with a Showtime crew hanging a boom mic over his head, part of life with a documentary film crew following him around.

  6. Last looks: Offensive line

    Aug 28, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    Just about everybody expects Harry Hiestand’s offensive line to be a dominant unit. But after months of preseason hype, they now need to prove they can do it.

  7. Williams loses NCAA appeal, college career over

    Aug 27, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT

    USC v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Ishaq Williams’ college football career is over. Notre Dame’s exiled defensive end, who sat out last season as part of a two-semester suspension for his role in the “frozen five” academic dishonesty investigation, has lost his NCAA appeal for reinstatement. Brian Kelly shared the news on Thursday after practice

  8. Brian Kelly names five team captains for 2015 team

    Aug 27, 2015, 8:25 PM EDT

    2015 Team Captains

    The votes are in and Notre Dame’s football team will be captained by five players. Graduate students Matthias Farley, Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt will be joined by senior Sheldon Day and junior Jaylon Smith as the captains of the 2015 Irish.

  9. Bryant begins Juco career, opens up recruitment

    Aug 27, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Getty Images

    It appears that the Greg Bryant era at Notre Dame is over. The junior running back, who was declared academically ineligible to play for the Irish this fall, has enrolled at ASA Miami, a junior college with a new football program run by former Irish assistant Ernest Jones.

  10. Last looks: Running back

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    After two seasons of trying to find carries for a handful of emerging running backs, Notre Dame has the opposite problem: Trying to spread out a growing workload among a smaller, highly-differentiated position group.

  11. Last looks: Defensive line

    Aug 26, 2015, 1:56 PM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With the season right around the corner and preseason camp finished, it’s time to get our final preparations done before the games start counting and the journey begins. We spent the summer pumping out tens of thousands of words on Notre Dame’s evolving roster, so if you’re looking for 50 hours of easy reading, check out the Irish A-to-Z series.

  12. Now Open: Final preseason mailbag

    Aug 26, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT

    New Mailbox

    Have a final question before we have actual football to talk about? Today’s the day. Drop them below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  13. It’s here: Video board going into south end zone at Notre Dame

    Aug 25, 2015, 5:06 PM EDT

    Updated Notre Dame Stadium

    Notre Dame announced a number of enhancements to Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday. Most notable among them, a video board that’ll go atop the south end zone.

  14. Irish A-to-Z: Malik Zaire

    Aug 25, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    Our final installment of the A-to-Z series is perhaps our most important one. Because Notre Dame’s fate is in the hands of quarterback Malik Zaire.

  15. Butler makes surprise ascent to third cornerback role

    Aug 24, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT

    Purdue v Notre Dame Purdue v Notre Dame

    With the injury to freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford, an unlikely candidate has emerged as the frontrunner for the No. 3 cornerback job: Devin Butler. The junior, who struggled mightily at times last season after he was forced into action, looked to have lost his grip on that spot this spring after strong work by sophomore Nick Watkins.

  16. Irish A-to-Z: Justin Yoon

    Aug 24, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT

    Yoon

    No freshman will be tossed into the deep end quicker than kicker Justin Yoon. Essentially Notre Dame’s sole option to kick field goals in 2015, Brian Kelly and the Irish coaching staff are putting a ton of the shoulders of a true freshman, who’ll be asked to fix a three-point operation that went haywire down the stretch after the Irish’s all-time field goal leader Kyle Brindza lost his mojo.

  17. Irish A-to-Z: Brandon Wimbush

    Aug 23, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT

    St.Peter's Prep signing day ceremony St.Peter's Prep signing day ceremony

    When Brandon Wimbush enrolled in school this summer, he became the latest blue-chip quarterback to join the Notre Dame football program with the burden of great expectations. The New Jersey state player of the year, Wimbush would be wise to forget about the prep accolades, instead focusing his efforts on learning the playbook, with the third-string quarterback closer to the field than you’d ideally want.

  18. Even without Jones, expectations clear for Gilmore’s DL

    Aug 21, 2015, 12:12 PM EDT

    Blue & Gold Illustrated Blue & Gold Illustrated

    Keith Gilmore’s move to Notre Dame reunites him with Brian VanGorder, two football lifers who have known each other since they shared a huddle as players. After a long coaching career, Gilmore also reunites with Brian Kelly, a coach he’s worked for at Grand Valley, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now Notre Dame.

  19. Irish A-to-Z: Mykelti Williams

    Aug 21, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Property of Indianapolis Star Property of Indianapolis Star

    Notre Dame landed another Indianapolis product when safety Mykelti Williams joined the Irish this summer, the freshman lending some much needed depth to the secondary. Hailing from Warren Central, the same program that brought Notre Dame Sheldon Day, Williams’ might not contribute as quickly as Day did, but he’ll have a chance to compete for a spot in the two deep behind Max Redfield at free safety.

  20. Irish A-to-Z: Dexter Williams

    Aug 20, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT

    Orlando Sentinel Orlando Sentinel

    With Notre Dame’s running back depth chart down Greg Bryant, freshman Dexter Williams has a clear line to the football field this fall. While wide receiver Justin Brent has converted to the backfield and Tarean Folston returns as a starter, Williams and fellow freshman Josh Adams couldn’t ask for a more advantageous situation, especially with C.J. Prosise taking time to heal an ailing hip flexor.