If you were looking to design a prototype Dog linebacker for former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, he’d look a lot like Ben Councell. At a shade under 6-foot-5 and 254-pounds, Councell has the length and athleticism to set the edge and cover the flat.
But a knee injury and a change of defensive scheme have put into question Councell’s future on the Irish defense. Entering his fourth season in the program, the time is now for the North Carolina native to make an impact on the Irish defense.
Let’s take a closer look at Ben Councell:
6’4.5″, 254 lbs.
Senior, No. 30
Ranked as one of the top 100 players in the country by Rivals, Councell was a darling of the recruitniks because of his length and how he projected at the next level. That being said, he lacked the offers of a Top 100 player, with mostly regional choices — Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, and South Carolina among the more impressive.
Still, when it came to a perfect fit in Notre Dame’s defense, Councell looked the part. A perfect marriage of “RKG” and blue-chip prospect, as Brian Kelly clearly laid out back on Signing Day.
“Ben Councell is another one of those players that we felt was under the radar, and then he had an opportunity to play with some all-stars in an All-Star game, and I think at that point he got everybody’s attention,” Kelly said on Signing Day.
“He had our attention from the very beginning. We felt like he fit exactly what we’re looking for. Again, I know you hear it from a lot of coaches, but if you look at our board, he was at the top of our board from the very beginning of the recruiting process.”
Freshman Season (2011): Did not play, saving a year of eligibility.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in 12 games, penciled as the starting Dog linebacker until veteran Danny Spond returned from migraine headaches. Tallied 10 tackles on the season, with a season-high of three against Miami.
Junior Season (2013): Played in the first nine games of the season before suffering a major knee injury against Navy. Backed up Jaylon Smith at outside linebacker, while also providing depth and bulk against option teams. Had five tackles against Navy before the season-ending injury.
Councell’s future with the Irish is one of the better offseason mysteries we have to answer. Even without the knee injury, his career was in a state of flux. Is he a good enough pass rusher to slide down to defensive end? Is he rugged enough to be an inside linebacker? Can he play outside in a 4-3? Where can Brian VanGorder utilize him best?
Brian Kelly has talked about how impressive Councell’s recovery from his knee injury is, holding him out of spring practice as a precaution, even though he was ahead of schedule. But as long as his potential hasn’t been limited by the injury, there’s a place for a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with athleticism on every defense in America.
If Nyles Morgan isn’t quite ready to start the year and Joe Schmidt can’t hold up in the trenches, Councell has an opportunity to fill that void at the Mike linebacker, potentially kicking into a pass rushing threat as well.
Murky. Very murky.
Entering last season, you’d have been nuts to think that Councell could be a defender that won’t be asked back for a fifth season. But if he’s unable to find a niche in this Irish defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if he played his eligibility out at UConn, with a head coach that hand-picked him.
That being said, the more realistic expectation is that Councell has two years of good football left in South Bend. He didn’t get off to the quickest of starts — failing to seize an early opportunity in 2012 and then getting lapped by a once-in-a-generational player in Jaylon Smith. But from an evaluation standpoint, Councell is a guy that can help the Irish play championship level football. And on this defense, Brian Kelly needs all of those he can get.
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