Last spring, Michael Deeb looked like a front runner to emerge in the middle of Notre Dame’s defense. This spring? He was buried behind a group of talented players and experimenting with a position change.
That’s life in Notre Dame’s defense, a reloaded group that relied on young players to fill the holes in 2014 after the starters went down. Deeb looks the part of a prototype middle linebacker, the type of hulking player you want among the first off the bus. But entering his third season in South Bend, he’s yet to find a role on the Irish defense.
With depth up the middle and an a potential injury that needs rehabbing, let’s see where Deeb stands in the middle of his Notre Dame career.
6’2″, 255 lbs.
Junior, No. 42, MLB/DE
Deeb was a three-star recruit, a middle linebacker that the Irish looked at as both a junior, as a on-campus visitor at summer camp before Bob Diaco and Brian Kelly decided to pull the trigger and make an offer.
Deeb had an offer from Florida State, but didn’t have them from Miami or Florida—though he earned MVP honors at Al Golden’s summer camp. Deeb looked the part of a readymade thumper, but questions about his athleticism existed.
Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2014): Played against USC and LSU. Did not register a tackle, though served as a scout teamer at linebacker.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
It was indeed Nyles Morgan that kept Deeb off the field — with a healthy Joe Schmidt indispensable on the interior. But it was a surprise that Deeb wasn’t a special teams regular in either his freshman or sophomore seasons, though the Irish changed their philosophy on coverage teams to find faster more athletic players.
Kelly has talked about the desire to stay multiple, and a linebacker like Deeb allows the Irish to shift into a 3-4 if the time calls for it. And at 242-pounds, there’s no question he’s hefty enough to stand up at the point of attack, something Joe Schmidt could struggle with an Morgan initially as well.
Ultimately, it’s likely Morgan who will determine how much football Deeb plays on the inside of the Irish defense. They are essentially classmates, with nobody thinking Morgan will need a year of seasoning before hitting the field.
Looking into the crystal ball, it’s hard not to see some of the limitations that Deeb showed as a high schooler not showing up as a collegiate player. Sure, coaches talked about Deeb’s relentless work ethic and willingness to improve in the passing game and in coverage. But it’s hard to see Carlo Calabrese taking a lot of snaps on the interior of a 4-3 defense, and right now Deeb feels a bit like Calabrese as a young player.
All that being said, Deeb looks a bit like a cinderblock in a football uniform. And after watching the Irish special teams bumble their way through the 2013 season, expect to see No. 42 running down the field with reckless abandon on multiple coverage teams for the next four seasons.
There were whispers that Deeb underwent a significant surgery in May, though that was never confirmed by anyone inside Notre Dame’s program. But either way, I’m not sure Deeb’s potential in the Irish program will be changed.
At this point, it’s hard to see Deeb finding a role in the Irish defense, at least at linebacker. There were whispers that Deeb was going to get some reps at defensive end, a logical place for a guy who is pushing 260 pounds and can move.
(While the Irish don’t employ one, there are also maybe some cross-training opportunities at fullback, though the last time Notre Dame lined up a thumping inside linebacker in the backfield, Carlo Calabrese was chasing a USF safety down the field.)
Deeb’s limitations—a worry in Diaco’s 3-4 scheme—are only amplified in a 4-3 that demands fleet, instinctive linebackers. But with three seasons of eligibility left, there’s a chance Deeb finds a niche in the program.
Deeb seems to be the type of glue-guy that you want in the program. So if his role this season is serving as the best scout team linebacker in America, he’s likely happy to do that. Right now, Joe Schmidt, Jarrett Grace, Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini and likely Te’von Coney all will factor into the defense before Deeb does. That means Deeb’s going to have to make some significant improvements in his game, and also find another role to play on this defense.
Ultimately, it could be as a in-the-box goalline defender. Or a situational player along the defensive line. Or a great piece of the kick-return wedge. With 85 scholarships, Deeb’s a part of Notre Dame’s plans for two more seasons. Finding a way to contribute should be the goal, whether that be in limited opportunities or not.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL