All-American Manti Te’o is gone. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will move on after this season as well. Left to take over on the inside are recruits handpicked by Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco to play in this defense.
Those selections haven’t been plentiful. Already put on scholarship is recruiting walk-on Joe Schmidt, who has mostly played special teams. While the staff has high hopes for Te’o’s replacement, Jarrett Grace, there’s not a lot of depth at the inside linebacker position, especially after this season.
That’s what makes the signing of a player like Michael Deeb so important. At 6-foot-2, 240-pounds, Deeb is a ready-made middle linebacker, a physical specimen that will immediately look the part getting off the bus. He may not have been the most highly recruited player the Irish were chasing at the position (that would be Alex Anzalone, who left the Irish at the altar just days before early enrollment), but he’s a guy the staff has looked long and hard at and feels confident he’ll fit their system.
“We had eyes on Michael Deeb. Michael came here to our camp. We were able to observe Michael,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “We love his energy, we love the way he plays the game, and obviously from our standpoint feel like he’s a guy that can come in and obviously compete for us.”
By default, Deeb will have to compete, first on special teams and in ’14 for a starting role. Let’s take a closer look at the Florida product and see what he has to offer.
Deeb may be one of the least highly decorated players in the Irish recruiting class. He falls outside of every services’ Top 250, though he does have some intriguing scholarship offers, namely Florida State.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Deeb is his development as a football player. Listening to the Irish coaching staff talk about Deeb, they saw a football player who dramatically improved between his junior and senior seasons. Playing for one of the top programs in Florida, Deeb improved on all the minor deficiencies the coaching staff saw in his game — things they asked Deeb to work on.
A highly productive football player on Fridays doesn’t always equate to that on Saturdays, and there’s likely a level of athleticism missing that kept some programs from offering him. That said, Deeb profiles perfectly as a program fit both on and off the field, and he’s a guy the staff thinks will end up being a productive player in their system.
EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES
Expect to see Deeb on the field almost immediately, a special teams presence almost from the start. From there, it might only be a season before Deeb finds his way into the starting rotation at linebacker, just from a numbers perspective.
The depth chart in ’13 looks to be fine at the top with the platoon of Fox and Calabrese partnering with Grace to anchor the defense. But the development of Kendall Moore — a productive player when given the opportunity, but one that clearly still is missing a few elements to his game — will likely determine whether its Deeb that slides in or Moore.
There’s no doubt that looking at the numbers, finding inside linebackers is a key to this recruiting class. Numbers almost demand that Deeb find his way onto the field in this defense, and making sure guys like Grace, ’14 prospect Greer Martini, and at least one more body get infused into the depth chart.
PROJECTING THE FUTURE
It’s hard to look at Deeb and not think of other Irish linebackers. First and foremost, it’ll be interesting to see if Deeb has more athleticism than Carlo Calabrese, a hit first, ask questions later type player that struggles athletically with some of the demands of his position. Since Bob Diaco took over the defense, Calabrese has been a productive player, especially in the run game.
Another player Deeb reminds me of is Mike Goolsby, the highly touted Chicagoland prospect who wasn’t the all-everything player many expected, but still had a productive finish to his collegiate career. Goolsby had a little bit more height than Deeb, but both players should bring a physicality to the field immediately.
The combination of necessity and ability will determine a lot about Deeb’s next four seasons. The staff expects him to see the field quickly, and if they believe he can be a cover man on special teams perhaps he’s faster than many recruiting experts think. All reports call Deeb an excellent leader and a born football player. Those virtues are also important ones for a linebacker.
Expect Deeb to be a contributor from the start. His ceiling? That’s up to the evaluation and development skills of the staff, and the want-to of the player.