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Offseason cheat sheet: Linebackers

Aug 30, 2013, 3:01 PM EDT

dan-fox-full

While the linebacking corps might be best known for the player that departed, the Irish should be very strong both inside and out even without All-American Manti Te’o roaming the field. Head coach Brian Kelly has talked quite a bit about the type of teammate and leader the Irish need to replace in Te’o, but there’s confidence in the team meeting room that the defense should be just fine without the defensive player of the year.

While Danny Spond’s retirement during fall camp took away another starter, there’s depth at all four positions under Bob Diaco’s watch. With talented newcomers blending with a strong group of seniors, this is likely the best linebacking corps the Irish have fielded since the Holtz era.

POSITIONAL OVERVIEW

It’s crazy to think that this position could’ve actually gotten stronger while losing Te’o, but there’s a very good argument to be made. With fifth-year seniors Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese starting, it’s hard to think of a more experienced duo in the middle of the field. While Calabrese has some deficiencies in pass coverage, he’s had a strong summer and fall camp, holding off Jarrett Grace, who looked like a guy that would plug into Te’o’s role while Fox and Calabrese would continue their platoon.

Senior Kendall Moore provides an exciting backup, a guy that’s immensely productive in the run game but still needs to advance his skills against the pass. Former walk-on Joe Schmidt is also in the mix, with freshman Michael Deeb looking like a guy physically ready to contribute.

The strength of this group might be on the edges. Prince Shembo could be one of college football’s most underrated players, and he could very well end up with double-digit sacks from his Cat linebacker position. Shembo put on nearly ten pounds since last season and somehow looked slimmer during fall camp. Spond’s departure also opened the door for Jaylon Smith, and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly Smith becomes a difference maker for this unit. With the cover skills of a cornerback at 230 pounds, Smith should also be very productive against the outside run game.

With talented depth across the board, we’ll likely see a lot of Ishaq Williams, a guy some people still project to be a front-line All-American caliber player. Kelly talked about Williams quite a bit this camp, saying the junior is ready to take the next step. The same could be said for Ben Councell, who adds some bulk at the Dog linebacker position, capable of playing physical in the box.

ROSTER READING

Here’s a look at the positional breakdown of both inside and outside linebackers.

Dan Fox, Sr. #48
Carlo Calabrese, Sr. #44
Jarrett Grace, Jr. #59
Kendall Moore, Sr. #8
Joe Schmidt, Jr. #38
Michael Deeb, Fr. #42
Prince Shembo, Sr. #55
Ishaq Williams, Jr. #11
Jaylon Smith, Fr. #9
Ben Councell, Jr. #30
Romeo Okwara, Soph. #45
Danny Spond, Sr. #13
Anthony Rabasa, Jr. #56
Doug Randolph, Fr. #19
Connor Little, Jr. #93
Austin Larkin, Fr. #52

CRYSTAL BALL

Expect to see a lot of the top three inside linebackers, with Fox and Calabrese sharing snaps with Grace. Fox might be more of the every down player, but all three are close to interchangeable parts, while Moore could help out situationally.

On the outside, it’ll be interesting to see how Bob Diaco finds snaps for Shembo and Williams, as both are in the team’s top eleven defenders and should find a way to be on the field. For a freshman, Smith has a bunch of qualities that make it very difficult to take him off the field, but that’s an awful lot of pressure on a first year player.

A player to watch: Romeo Okwara. Will the coaching staff try and protect a year of eligibility for the just tuned 18-year-old, or is he too good to keep off the field, even at the deepest position on the roster.

  1. ndfaithful - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Ok, boys and girls, the way I see it is this… the Irish have unfinished business. Once again there are doubters and skeptics. Some of them them even call themselves our fans and friends. Once again we have an unproven QB. Once again the nation challenges our relevance. As KA points out, the revisionist historians have already shoveled dirt on the 2012 team. Once again, I believe this Irish team can be great.

    Only time will tell if they can seize the moment. But I’m here to say why not. We were so close, not far away last year. Here’s to the hopes and prayers of 2013! Go Irish.

    BTW – great article KA.

    • mtflsmitty - Aug 30, 2013 at 9:03 PM

      Awesome post! Rocknesq.

      I know it’s not fashionable to be a blindly faithful fan, ever optimistic. But you know, with as complicated of a world we live in, and the demands of raising a family I so enjoy the simplicity of being a diehard fan. And if that’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

      Off to take the little ones for ice cream.

      GO IRISH!

  2. wisner74 - Aug 30, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    All good news for now, but until I read this article I had not realized how light the Irish were at LB in the sophomore and freshman classes. One scholarship sophomore and three scholarship freshman?

    • rdw71 - Aug 30, 2013 at 5:57 PM

      Yeah, it would have been better with Anzalone in there but he backed out too late for ND to find a good alternative. The 2014 class has a couple and probably more (like Ishaq, some of the guys listed as DE will end up at LB). Even without them, though, if your two-deep next year includes Smith, Grace, Moore, and Williams, with Deeb, Okwara, Councell, Rabasa, and Randolph pushing them we should still be very good.

      • rdw71 - Aug 30, 2013 at 6:32 PM

        And don’t be surprised, if the need is there, to see Baratti and/or Shumate bulk up a little and drop down into the LB rotation – they have all the tools.

        Can you believe we’re talking about the 2014 team before 2013 has even begun?!

  3. 25kgold - Aug 30, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    It’s taking me awhile to get excited about this game. To me, it’ll just be a glorified scrimmage. Think I’ll meet up with you guys in ann arbor (pardon the lowercase).

    Knuckle Up Irish!

  4. ndgoldandblue - Aug 30, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    I actually met Dan Fox’s brother in NYC before that abysmal Navy game. Facially, he looks just like Dan, but the rest of him couldn’t be more different–5’8″ and a 150 lbs. soaking wet. But he was a heck of a nice guy. And I’m sure he has nothing to worry about since he was going to med school in the City at the time.

    Long story short, every time I see Dan Fox, I think of his older/little brother, and I wonder how Dan became such a big athlete and a really good linebacker. Lucky for us, he did.

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