Tag: Anthony Rabasa

Jarrett Grace

Tracking fifth-year spots and the bumpy road to 85 scholarships


With Notre Dame on break, the campus is quiet one week before spring practice gets started. But the work inside the Gug is still likely underway, with recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle pushing forward and discussions about the 2015 roster taking center stage.

While Matt Hegarty’s transfer announcement was the first big move, there are other very difficult conversations likely happening in the near future. With the 24-man recruiting class set to hit campus this June—along with graduate transfer Avery Sebastian—we will get a closer look at how Brian Kelly plans on dealing with the very first roster crunch of his tenure in South Bend.

As we look at the fifth-year senior candidates, it’ll be very interesting how the Irish coaching staff—not to mention the players who will all likely have immediate transfer opportunities after earning their degrees in May—let this play out.

There’s a chance Notre Dame could have players practicing this spring that aren’t a part of the roster come summer and fall. And that’s before taking into consideration the very likely return of KeiVarae Russell and the intention of bringing back Ishaq Williams as well.

Here are the fifth-year candidates currently on the roster:

Josh Atkinson
Jalen Brown
Amir Carlisle
Ben Councell
Matthias Farley
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty (Kelly already announced)
Matt Hegarty (Hegarty announced intent to transfer)
Chase Hounshell
Nick Martin
Anthony Rabasa
Joe Schmidt
Ishaq Williams


Let’s make some assumptions:

We have seen the last of Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown. The veteran cornerback duo didn’t even travel to most away games last season and will be given every opportunity to catch on at a different program, but their time at Notre Dame is finished.

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, you can make the same assumption for Chase Hounshell. Multiple shoulder injuries took Hounshell’s career off course, and he’ll likely have to go to a smaller school to find a home.

Anthony Rabasa played a small role on last year’s defense, serving as a pass rusher in a defense in desperate need. If I were managing the roster, I’m not sure there’s room for him as a player, though what he does off the field and in the locker room (things we don’t know) could be the bigger determining factor.

On the flip side of these decisions, starters Nick Martin and Joe Schmidt are locks to return. The same for Matthias Farley and Everett Golson, with Golson holding the eject button if he feels the quarterback job won’t be his. (I don’t see this happening.)

Jarrett Grace needs to be healthy. We’ve heard Kelly nearly will him back to health with his frequent updates, but after a catastrophic injury that stayed far more under the radar than it should have, Grace seems to be back to playing shape this spring.

If he can play, he’ll be back. If not, it’ll make for a very difficult loss to the team, even if his shoes have been filled capably by Joe Schmidt on the field.

Because Amir Carlisle started the season opener in 2013 at tailback and had a successful first season as a slot receiver, he’s a good bet to return in my mind. Again, more opinion more than confirmed truth, but Carlisle is a high-character kid who can play a position of need on the roster, making him valuable.

Ben Councell might be a different story. Recovering from an ACL injury suffered in 2013 wasn’t easy . He’s also a tough fit in Brian VanGorder’s defense. We heard early last season that Councell would be a versatile piece of the Irish defense. That didn’t happen. So if he doesn’t feel like he’ll have a large role in the defense—or doesn’t feel like he can compete because of the injuries that have piled up—Councell might be on the bubble.

As Pete Sampson reported a few weeks ago, Williams needs to reapply to the university. From there, it’ll be very interesting how it all shakes out, as numbers seem to be tight. But Williams is a veteran body up front, something we saw a need for last season.

Fun With Numbers

Let’s look at how the Irish will get to 85 scholarships by the fall:


24 incoming recruits
22 second-year players
22 third-year juniors
11 seniors
graduate transfer (Avery Sebastian)
re-enrollment (KeiVarae Russell)
12 remaining fifth-year candidates
92 scholarship players

We’ve already basically subtracted four or five members from the fifth-year group if we’re to believe our assumptions. So that makes the seven subtractions look much more manageable than two or three scholarships.

And this is when we get used to the law of averages. Last year, Nile Sykes never made it to the season. From the 2013 recruiting class, we never saw Eddie Vanderdoes in South Bend and Rashad Kinlaw was dismissed as well.

Attrition hit the 2012 recruiting class even harder. Gone are Justin Ferguson, Gunner Kiel, Will Mahone, Davonte Neal and Tee Shepard.

So before we sound the alarm, there’s likely a very strong grasp on what is going on inside this program when the staff decided to expand their signing class to 24, and very good reason why Kelly sounded bullish on accepting a few graduate transfers as well.

Notre Dame doesn’t officially recognize redshirts. One of the benefits of forcing students to earn a degree in four years before being accepted into the graduate program is that it allows both the coaching staff and student-athlete to have full flexibility.

So while it certainly makes for some uncertainty as we try our best to track the roster, after five years of program building, we’re finally experiencing the first champagne roster problem of the past decade.

Irish A-to-Z: Anthony Rabasa

Wake Forest v Notre Dame

After three seasons looking for a position, it’s now or never for senior Anthony Rabasa. After bouncing around Bob Diaco’s system, Rabasa has a chance to simplify his thought process, playing defensive end for Brian VanGorder.

There’s no better depth chart for a player like Rabasa. With little experience behind Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara, Rabasa has every opportunity you could ask for as a seldom-used senior finally presented a window to play.

Let’s take a closer look at the Miami native.


6’2.5″ 250 lbs.
Senior, No. 56



A three-star prospect, Rabasa was a Top 150 player per ESPN and also played in the USA vs. The World game. Rabasa had offers from Florida, Florida State, LSU and Miami, but committed to the Irish before his senior season.

Even as a recruit, Rabasa was a bit of a tweener, not the same size or length of other defensive ends Notre Dame targeted, even though that’s where he played in high school.

“Anthony Rabasa, a big skill player for us, linebacker. Big skill,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “Another young man that we believe, when you look at his film, his motor, his ability to go every snap really was what we loved about him… You see him with his hand down quite a bit. He’s a guy that can obviously stand up for us as well and gives us great flexibility. He’s going to get bigger, he’s going to get stronger.”



Freshman Season (2011): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2012): Appeared in two games, seeing playing time against Boston College and Wake Forest. Collected loan tackle against Wake Forest.

Junior Season (2013): Played in five games, making a total of six tackles on the season. Made three tackles against Air Force, including one TFL.



Rabasa has bounced between inside and outside linebacker positions, trying to find the right fit in the Notre Dame defense. He’s done that now, and we’ll see if it’s too little, too late for the senior who clearly had some impressive opportunities in front of him when he chose Notre Dame.

We haven’t seen anything from Rabasa that points to a breakout season ahead, but he did look the part of complementary piece during spring drills, when we saw No. 56 make a play or two on UND.com’s practice videos.

One of the few undersized players recruited by Kelly and Diaco, Rabasa hasn’t turned into the player many hoped when the big-time Florida prep star chose Notre Dame.



Realistically, Rabasa is facing an uphill challenge as he tries to work his way into the two-deep, with young talented freshmen ready to get their shot at playing. But VanGorder spoke candidly about looking past previous results and starting fresh when deciding who will play in 2014. And if Rabasa can provide a situational spark getting after the passer, he’ll have every chance to do it in VanGorder’s sub-heavy packages.

Physically, four years in Paul Longo’s strength system should give Rabasa a head start. But if Rabasa doesn’t find his niche this season, he’ll likely see his career at Notre Dame end after 2014.



The Irish A-to-Z
Josh Atkinson
Nicky Baratti
Alex Bars
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Justin Brent
Kyle Brindza
Chris Brown
Jalen Brown
Greg Bryant
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Amir Carlisle
Austin Collinsworth
Ben Councell
Scott Daly
Sheldon Day
Michael Deeb
Steve Elmer
Matthias Farley
Tarean Folston
Will Fuller
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty
Eilar Hardy
Mark Harrell
Jay Hayes
Matt Hegarty
Mike Heuerman
Kolin Hill
Corey Holmes
Chase Hounshell
Torii Hunter Jr.
Jarron Jones
DeShone Kizer
Ben Koyack
Christian Lombard
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Nick Martin
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Cam McDaniel
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
Kendall Moore
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Romeo Okwara
James Onwualu
C.J. Prosise

Offseason cheat sheet: Linebackers


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.


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.


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


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.

Nichols, Rabasa have season ending surgeries

Tate Nichols

Brian Kelly announced that reserves Tate Nichols and Anthony Rabasa would be done for the season, with both needing shoulder surgeries. The surgeries were being performed this week with an eye towards having both players ready to compete in spring practice.

“We want to get these guys 100 percent for spring ball,” Kelly said. “They both had sublexing shoulders that were coming in and out. We were able to shoulder harness them, they were able to practice effectively for us. But we don’t want them to be held back in the spring, because they’re going to be good players for us. October 1st was kind of the deadline for that.”

Nichols was the closest to seeing the field, opening up the season in the two-deep depth chart behind starting left tackle Zack Martin. Rabasa likely was spending the season on the developmental track anyway, with his transition to inside linebacker perfect for a redshirt season.

Entering the year, the Irish felt like they had three starting caliber tackles, with Christian Lombard ready to play behind fifth-year senior Taylor Dever or Martin. Nichols has impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism, a trait apparent ever since Kelly and his staff targeted the high school tight end early in their first recruiting class, flipping the big-bodied athlete from a commitment to Stanford and immediately moving him to the offensive line.

Meanwhile, Rabasa’s surgery allows him to return for the spring, inserting a guy that impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism into a potentially fluid inside linebacker depth chart. If Manti Te’o decides to leave Notre Dame after three seasons and go to the NFL, the Irish will have a slew of candidates competing for two jobs, with Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, and Kendall Moore returning and guys like Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny not guaranteed a fifth year.

Kelly’s mentioning of an October 1st deadline is interesting to note because it actually acknowledges the importance of spring football and the continual development of the depth chart. Even though both guys were able to practice and participate, they’re being shut down know because of the calendar, so they’ll have every chance to recover and be ready in the spring.

Signing Day 2011: Big Skill

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Most coaching staffs spend time identifying where recruits will play on the field before making a decision on their future. Not to say that isn’t the case for Brian Kelly and his staff, but Kelly has refined his approach to recruiting high school athletes and put position secondary, instead focusing on three subsets of players: Skill, Big Skill, and Power.

While Notre Dame is using that breakdown online to help untangle the swarm of bodies that can technically be classified as defensive ends, Kelly’s spoken eloquently on the three sets of players. Before last year’s recruiting class was inked, Kelly talked about the three different player groups he looks for when recruiting:

“I have a different way of categorizing as we get to know each other better,” Kelly said. “I recruit power, big skill, and skill. Those are the three categories, those are the only three categories I operate out of. Power, big skill, and skill.

“A power player fits a profile for us. Generally those are you your linemen. Big skill is profiling out, if I could take 20 guys who are tough gentlemen who fit the profile at Notre Dame academically and were 6-foot-4, 215 or 220 pounds, you’d never be able to track who is playing where. ‘I don’t know, he just takes a bunch of those guys and some play defensive end, some play tight end, some are safeties, big skill.’

“Then skill obviously have a specific, specific strength in that particular area, be it ball skills, throwing it, kicking it and I’ve always operated out of those three categories wherever I’ve been and will continue to operate out of those three categories here at Notre Dame.”

If there was a grouping that the Irish needed to address in this recruiting class, it was finding elite athletes to play the Big Skill positions. From a sheer numbers perspective, the switch to a 3-4 defense meant filling the rosters with athletes that could play with both a hand on the ground as well as in space, and with Notre Dame’s depth chart extremely thin at both outside linebacker and defensive end, filling those spots in the 2011 recruiting class were essential.

“They’re all big, they’re all fast, they’re all athletic,” Kelly said earlier today when talking about the players coming in that fill the Big Skill distinction.


Ben Councell, OLB: There might not be a faster rising player in the recruiting universe, as Councell went from an under-the-radar regional prospect to a four-star, national guy thanks to his performance at the Shrine Bowl. In many ways, he’s the perfect prototype for outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks to mold into Bob Diaco’s multiple 3-4 system. Here’s how Cooks described him this morning:

“Long, fast, smart, athletic, he’s going to be able to do a lot of the jobs were going to ask our outside linebackers to do,” Cooks said.

Councell walks into South Bend needing to add weight, but immediately presents an athlete that has the ability to play the drop linebacker position.

Jarrett Grace, ILB: Grace represents the only inside linebacker in the recruiting class and while he’s a little short on star-rating, he’s got some offers that have you thinking he’s an elite recruit, with Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama all pursuing the Cincinnati product.

Grace is listed at 6-3, 235 by Notre Dame, adding some good height and size at an interior linebacker position. He was a first-team AP Ohio All-State linebacker, as well as a two-time first team All-Star by the Cincinnati Enquirer. Grace is a complete football player that’s got the ability and physical tools to be a very good linebacker in the 3-4 system.

Ben Koyack, TE:

Koyack ranks as one of the nation’s best tight ends, continuing an astonishing trend for the Irish in reeling in elite players at that position.

“He’s an outstanding football player. He possesses all the key elements of somebody who’s going to be a spread style and attached tight end,” tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said. “What set him apart in my mind more than anybody in the country was his ability to do something with the football after he caught it. He was our No. 1 target from the very beginning.”

Rivals views Koyack as a top-ten player at his position while Scout has him listed as the No. 1 tight end in the country. Koyack was a consensus first-team All-State player in Pennsylvania and was selected SuperPrep’s best offensive player in the Northeast. At 6-5, 242-pounds he should challenge for playing time immediately.

Troy Niklas, TE/OL/DL:

Once again, the Irish coaching staff goes into Southern California and snags the Los Angeles Times lineman of the year, repeating last year’s feat when they signed Justin Utupo. Niklas is the definition of ‘Big Skill,’ and even the Irish coaching staff acknowledges that there are three potential places he could end up depending on how he develops. Niklas has the athleticism to succeed as a tight end, starting as a forward on his high school basketball team as well as playing on both sides of the ball for Orange County power Servite high school. Niklas didn’t visit South Bend until last weekend, when he took his official visit to Notre Dame. He’ll start his career at defensive end, where he’ll need to add weight to his frame.

Anthony Rabasa, OLB:

Rabasa was named the best defensive lineman in Miami-Dade County by the Miami Herald, giving you an idea of just how productive of a football player he was throughout his high school career. Rabasa is the only edge player that checks in at under 6-foot-4 (He’s 6-3.5), which gives you an idea just how important the mold is for Kelly and his staff as they identify fits for their defense.

Rabasa is spending Signing Day down in Texas with future Notre Dame teammates George and Josh Atkinson, Matt Hegarty and Stephon Tuitt representing Team USA as they play an All-Star team from players assembled around the world. He’s a physical mature player who’ll likely battle for playing time coming off the edge in pass rushing situations, a perfect understudy to a guy like Darius Fleming.

Ishaq Williams, OLB:

If there’s a blue-chip player in the ‘Big Skill’ class it’s Ishaq Williams, who has already been in class for two weeks at Notre Dame after his much publicized commitment to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in the early morning hours before Williams was scheduled to visit Penn State.

In years past, the Irish stayed in the running for players like Williams but lost out. But Diaco’s ability to beat recruiters like Penn State’s Larry Johnson for a player from Brooklyn goes to show you that the youth on this coaching staff — no defensive coach is older than secondary coach Chuck Martin, who’s only 42 — serves Kelly and his play-it-to-the-end mantra well.