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Spring solutions: Linebackers

Apr 1, 2013, 12:18 PM EDT

Prince Shembo, Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams

There was always going to be a very large hole in the middle of the Irish defense. That’s what the departure of any four-year starter does for you, let alone one of the most highly decorated defenders in college football history.

While most of the recent talk of Manti Te’o is focused on his draft stock, his forty time, or a well-trodden punchline, it’s almost been forgotten that he put together one of the more statistically impressive seasons we’ve ever seen. Te’o’s seven interceptions were among the best in college football. His 100+ tackles led the Irish. He was the truest of three-down linebackers for the Irish, playing exemplary football in the pass game in his final season.

The linebackers meeting room will look remarkably similar to last season, though the missing face will be a big one. Yet Bob Diaco’s prized unit should still be impressive, as the talent returning should all be willing and able to pick up the slack.

Let’s take a look at the depth chart at linebacker and run through some of the remaining objectives for spring.


Dan Fox, 5th Yr.
Carlo Calabrese, 5th Yr.
Kendall Moore, Sr.
Jarrett Grace, Jr.

Prince Shembo, Sr.
Danny Spond, Sr.
Ishaq Williams, Jr.
Ben Councell, Jr.
Anthony Rabasa, Jr.
Romeo Okwara, Soph.


Dan Fox: The main objective for Fox is to get healthy after shoulder surgery. Yet on the field, the Irish are still trying to get a handle on how to use the versatile fifth-year defender, who should take a big leap forward in his final season of eligibility.

Fox’s work at the Will linebacker position should let Jarrett Grace hold down the Mike spot. While Brian Kelly feels very confident about Grace’s ability to step seamlessly into Manti Te’o’s shoes, he’s got some comfort coming from a guy like Fox, who is athletic enough to play either spot.

Carlo Calabrese: Some wondered if the fifth-year senior would be back this season, though Kelly put that to rest rather quickly. In Calabrese, the Irish know what they have — a heavy hitting run stopper that’s going to struggle occasionally in the passing game. For Calabrese, a final season on the field should yield some better results in the mental aspects of his job. He’s played a lot of football. Now it’s time to translate that experience into knowledge, which should help limit any deficiencies in his game.

After listening to Kelly last week, it appears that the head coach is comfortable with another platoon this season, with Fox and Calabrese sharing snaps.

Kendall Moore: There’s still reason to believe that Kendall Moore has some good football in front of him. But this spring he’s going to have to show that his mental game matches up with the considerable physical tools that he possesses. Last week, Kelly probably gave the most truthful assessment of the rising senior (he’s got a fifth year of eligibility available) and his game.

“Kendall has really high-end athletic ability,” Kelly said. “High end. Runs. He hits. We’ve just got to get him to run and hit the right people on a consistent basis. He’s got great energy, great enthusiasm.”

That quote is pretty similar to something Kelly said about center Braxston Cave earlier in his career, so there’s ample reason not to give up on Moore just yet. He looks slated to back-up Grace at the Mike, and could find himself in the starting lineup next season when Fox and Calabrese depart.

Jarrett Grace: We’ve always known that this coaching staff held Grace in high regard, and nothing that Grace has done this spring has changed Kelly or Diaco’s opinion of the talented inside linebacker that has waited his turn behind Te’o.

“Jarrett Grace has obviously done an incredibly job,” Kelly said. “He’s a really, really good football player. He’s going to be all over the field.”

Grace has everything this staff looks for in an inside linebacker, possessing size and speed that even Te’o doesn’t have. There’s a presence that Grace carries as well that shows you a leader that’ll be quick to step up and take charge. Speaking with him for five minutes in Miami, there’s no shortage of quiet confidence in Grace, who had the feeling that his time was coming.

Quite a bit is being thrown on the Cincinnati native’s shoulders. And from the looks of it, he’ll wear it well.

Prince Shembo: Last year was the breakout season Shembo needed. He became the pass rusher many hoped to see, and found a home at the Cat linebacker position, where he excelled both standing up and with a hand on the ground.

Shembo can’t do anything about his height — at 6-2, he’s below profile in Bob Diaco’s system. But he can do a better job working on his leverage, which wasn’t at its best against Alabama, where Shembo gave up the edge too often.

Still, this is an All-American caliber football player. Shembo’s 7.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs will likely be surpassed in his final season, as Shembo understands just how dangerous he can be in this system.

Danny Spond: After a courageous season like Spond had last season, there’s little that could shake the senior linebacker in 2013. Entering his final season, Spond can spend this spring becoming a tactician, focusing on the ins and outs of playing the Dog linebacker, no longer concerning himself with playing cornerback in a nickel formation.

Just like Shembo, Spond doesn’t have ideal size. Yet he’s a true athlete, and someone Brian Kelly has singled out from his first day on campus, for an unusual skillset that lets him make plays at linebacker. Spond will lead a position that’s headed for some interesting battles, with Ben Councell gaining and Jaylon Smith set to join this summer.

Ishaq Williams: While many are still waiting to see the elite player the Irish recruited, Williams saw his productivity and playing time increase throughout last season. With Chase Hounshell’s unfortunate injury this spring, Williams will now spend more time with his hand on the ground, a development that might be beneficial for him.

At 6-foot-6, 261-pounds, Williams has all the size and strength needed to succeed at either defensive end or outside linebacker. And with Prince Shembo still a key cog of this defense, Williams was going to need to show some versatility. Hounshell’s injury might actually work to Williams’ benefit, though it’ll be up to Ishaq to determine just how good he can be.

Ben Councell: The starting Dog linebacker last year almost by default, Councell spent a year learning behind Danny Spond, and entered spring a bigger, stronger and more confident player. In an ideal world, Councell is the prototype OLB for this system, and has all the skills needed to succeed. After learning on the fly last season, another season in the program will give him the confidence to seize any opportunity that comes his way.

Anthony Rabasa: In years past, Rabasa was the type of outside linebacker that Irish defenses would kill for. But the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder is a bit of a tweener in this system. He’ll cross-train this spring between inside and outside linebacker, with the depth in the middle the shortest line to the field. With a shoulder injury behind him, Rabasa has a fifth-year of eligibility available to him, though he’ll need to find his role in this defense soon, as reinforcements will continue to fill the depth chart.

Romeo Okwara: With the depth chart thin, there was no chance to protect a year of eligibility for Okwara, who played last season as a 17-year-old freshman. And after a year in the program and another 12 months of weight training, the challenge will be keeping Okwara off the field, as he looks like a potential monster in this defense.

Still not 18 years old, Okwara weighed in a shade under 260 pounds, giving you reason to believe that a 280-pound defensive end isn’t all that far away. If that’s the case, the Irish have some positional flexibility with the North Carolina native, though they might be forced by the youngster to find a place on the field sooner than later.


  1. dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    I would first give the job to the person that does not have a Facebook twitter. If that’s not possible(it’s not, I know), then I’d give it to the person who comments least and has the least friends/following on fb, twitter. If that’s not possible, then give the job to the person who runs faster than 4.7 40, done.

    Dam, I should be a coach.

  2. fnc111 - Apr 1, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    You should be. Press conferences would be much more entertaining. The ND job will be opening up after next season when Kelly bolts for the Detroit Lions.

    • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 3:43 PM

      No thanks I don’t want the nd job. Too many policies and procedures. too many wannabe republicans. Too many brown nosers on my @ss. I already have a giant hemorrhoid there taking up unnecessary real estate rent free, i dont need anything else there. I’d take Alabama or LSU job where the depth charts are decided by tossing 4 numbers in the air and whichever lands nearest gets the starting job cuz everybody on team runs 4.4. Hell even their waterboy runs 4.4 just incase one of the players get caught with sizzurp, they just promote the 4.4 waterboy on the football team.

    • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 3:44 PM

      Fnc, are you predicting that we are going to lose another national championship game? Hell, ill take it!

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 1, 2013 at 8:39 PM

      If he bolts it will be for your mom.

      • dickasman - Apr 2, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        HOTT! I’ve always wanted to see her in action in person!

  3. yaketyyacc - Apr 1, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    the linebackers are definitely a srong position for the Irish. Grace seems to be ready to well fill the shoes left by Manti. like the rest of the team, more speed and strength, and then more spped and strength after that. another right on the money article.

    • bernhtp - Apr 1, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      No one will fill Manti’s shoes, at least not this year, but the whole corps might be as good as last year with further development and recruitment (e.g., Jaylon Smith).

      Grace is interesting. He’s clearly athletically gifted – great size, strength and speed. Manti had two more stars than Jarret as a recruit. I’m hoping that he’s closed the gap a good bit.

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Apr 1, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    I hope Manti’s career at ND will not always be dwarfed by the circus atmosphere the defined it’s end. He’s too good a player and person to deserve that. Paterno on the other hand, I’m glad that he will be defined forever by his scandal. Certainly not comparing the two in any way, only to say that the accomplishments of a full career can definitely be overshadowed by extrinsic factors. Manti was a player for the ages like Gipp, Montana, Rocket, etc. I only hope that people won’t be afraid to use his name in that kind of company for fear of the instant “Yeah, but what about the fake girlfriend?” comeback. Maybe that will fade and his record will remain. We’ll see.

  5. mediocrebob - Apr 1, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    If he gets it done on the field, people won’t talk about the fake girlfriend bs as much.

    Just kidding. The hater will always talk about it.

    • bernhtp - Apr 1, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      Hate to say it, but Manti would benefit from putting down the Book of Mormon for a while and picking up a hot babe to get some locker room respect. He can ultimately marry a girl he shares bible passages with, but turn the laughter into envy in the meantime.

      • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 5:16 PM

        I dunno bern. (in Denny Green tone) I have a closet suspicion he could be what he is he says he isn’t. What’s that you say? A democrat! There, I said it!

      • bernhtp - Apr 1, 2013 at 6:29 PM

        Please don’t use for d-word on this board. You might get banned.

      • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 7:24 PM

        Cheezzzzzz…Well it’s either that or my first name, whatta ya want from me?

  6. mattnef - Apr 1, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    Where is that Spring Practice Breakdown: Part 3?

  7. dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Forget football. How bout them lady irish? Since Brett Griner is out, I think we have a championship on our hands!

    • bernhtp - Apr 1, 2013 at 6:36 PM

      Having Baylor/Griner out of the way is good news, but it will be tough to beat UConn a fourth time. Two of the previous three games were decided by a total of 3 points and the other went to 3OT..

      • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 7:15 PM

        Bern, look at me(grabs him by both arms), put your lips on my lips, weeee caaaaaaan dooooooooo itttttt!(water boy). I think we can do it bern. They don’t have enough borderline male players to beat us!

        • bernhtp - Apr 1, 2013 at 7:36 PM

          I hate Geno Auriema and want to see that just-ate-shit scowl on his face again.

          It will be nice to only have to play women again. Two years ago we were beaten by that huge cow from T A&M. The remark that almost got me in a Texas bar fight during the finals was “I know you’re an A&M school, but do you really have to bring your livestock onto the court?”

          Of course, nothing was worse than Griner. She has a voice deeper than Lurch from the original Addams Family show. I like our chances again human women.

      • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 8:06 PM

        Ahhhhhhhhhhahahaha, bernoooooo! I didn’t know you had it in ya! Hahaha, lolololol lolololol. Captain closet Funny! Highhhhhh fiiiiiiiiiiiiive(borat!). Hey, geno is a freaking natural born pad prik king ain’t he? I thought I was one miserable sog but that guys somethin else. I think he must be mad from cocaine withdrawal too. I feel him in a way.

        And um yeah, Brett Griner is something else. You hear that voice in interviews and all of sudden, I’m drinking Don Imus truth serum. I think Brett is on the “hangover” program if you know what I mean and I think that you do. She ll be playing in the Bangkok basketball league in no time. Muffet McGraw even slipped in her interview and mentioned it, lolololol.

        I firmly believe the fighting nd ladies will make us proud with championship.

  8. kiopta1 - Apr 1, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    Why does every thing asman writes about turn into a convo of things up his arse or a racially tinged political rant?

    • dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 7:17 PM

      Hi, how Do you do? How’s the weather today? Beautiful day isn’t it? Goodbye please thank you very much.

  9. dickasman - Apr 1, 2013 at 7:22 PM

    Hey kiopta don’t make it bad.
    Take a sad song and make it better.
    Remember to let him into your heart,
    Then you can start to make it better.

    Hey kiopta, don’t be afraid.
    You were made to go out and get him.
    The minute you let him under your skin,
    Then you begin to make it better.

    And anytime you feel the pain, hey kiopta refrain,
    Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
    For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
    By making his world a little colder.

    Hey kiopta don’t let me down.
    You have found him now go and get him
    Remember to let him into your heart,
    Then you can start to make it better.

    So let it out and let it in, hey kiopta begin,
    Youre waiting for someone to perform with.
    And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey kiopta you’ll do,
    The movement you need is on your shoulder.

    Hey kiopta, don’t make it bad.
    Take a sad song and make it better.
    Remember to let him under your skin,
    Then you’ll begin to make it
    Better better better better better better, oh.

    Na na na na na ,na na na, hey kiopta…

    • rayguy14 - Apr 1, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      Things really escalated there…

  10. mikes1160 - Apr 1, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    Fnc111, if you’re not a fan, just say so. Your Kelly bashing is tiresome, as is your negativity.

  11. mcirish27 - Apr 1, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    Asman, a lot of the things you say are pretty funny, but in a sociopathic kind of way. In the end, I imagine you’re mostly just a pretty creepy dude.

    I could take your commenting or leave it, but more interested to hear about what it’s like to see the world through such creepy, sociopathic eyes. Do share….

    • dickasman - Apr 2, 2013 at 11:23 AM

      Will do! I am here for you guys. I am here to make you feel better to let you know that you guys are all semi normal. Btw, by chance you put out?

  12. 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 2, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    be careful what you ask for, you just might get it…

  13. goirishgo - Apr 2, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    If this board was a Lethal Weapon movie Dick would be Leo Getz.

    • dickasman - Apr 2, 2013 at 6:40 PM

      Ouch that hurts. Geez thanks a lot! Which lethal weapon? Because in the porno version, although I have the Mel Gibson looks, I iz be Denny glova fo sho purely due to “it’s” size.

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