Tag: Injuries

Temple v Notre Dame

After injury detour, Jarrett Grace looks to be back on track


While our inside looks at Notre Dame’s spring practice have been few and far between (blink and you could miss the footage from the YouTube practice reports), the little news that’s been coming out of the Gug has been good.

Not about a quarterback battle that nobody inside the program wants to talk about. But rather about the return of linebacker Jarrett Grace.

After suffering a catastrophic leg injury that had some assuming that a medical hardship scholarship was going to end his career, Grace is working with the Irish defense, getting his chance to play linebacker again after spending the 17 months rehabbing.

With Grace back on the field and in full gear, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder spoke about Grace’s return to action, making it seem that Notre Dame’s starter from 2013 will have a chance to contribute to a linebacking corps that could be the strength of the defense.

“He’s been excellent. He’s a very intelligent player who couldn’t play last year so all he did was study, study, study,” VanGorder said of Grace. “He’s way ahead of guys that have played because of that.

“He’s an amazing guy. There was a point and time where I didn’t know if he would ever play football again. I had my doubts. So to see him out there, says everything about who he is.”

With Joe Schmidt limited for spring as he recovers from a broken ankle, Grace gets additional reps that’ll give the coaching staff every look they need at a linebacker some believed was the heir apparent to Manti Te’o.

Where and how Grace fits into the defense remains to be seen. Brian Kelly laid out what he thought the linebacking depth chart would look like as he opened spring.

James Onwualu will be the same linebacker, though when defenses demand a larger presence on the edge Greer Martini will be that player. Jaylon Smith is staying at Will linebacker, backed up by freshman early enrollee Te’Von Coney. At Mike, Schmidt may be capable of moving inside or out, but he’s not coming off the field. So until further notice, he’ll be leading a deep position, with Nyles Morgan and Grace both playing catch up.

The mental reps Grace took throughout 2014 when it looked like his playing career was in jeopardy say so much about one of the team’s best natural leaders. And they’ve allowed him to thrive this spring, even as he works his way back into playing shape.

Grace’s recovery and story won’t be complete until he’s on the field next season. And after so many positive updates from Kelly—each incremental step of progress never getting him closer to the football field—it appears that the fifth-year senior’s detour is finally (almost) over.

“I see Jarrett Grace of old with how he’s moving,” linebackers coach Mike Elston told Irish Illustrated. “He’s never really been an elite athlete like a Jaylon Smith. What he’s lacked in that, he’s made up in his grit, competitiveness and knowledge of the offense and knowledge of the defense he’s playing. All that stuff is starting to come out.”






Kelly gives positive update on Grace’s recovery

Temple v Notre Dame

With Notre Dame’s veterans on campus for summer school and workouts, the South Bend Tribune‘s Eric Hansen caught up with Irish head coach Brian Kelly to get a status update on some important members of his team. And it appears that there’s positive news to report on linebacker Jarrett Grace‘s recovery from a badly injured right leg.

Grace broke his leg in four places against Arizona State last season in the Shamrock Series game, a serious injury to his right fibula that’s taken multiple procedures to repair. And while an additional surgery this spring looked like a setback that could’ve kept Grace off the field for all of 2014, Kelly reports that Grace is on the mend and advancing on a time table that has the team’s medical staff very happy.

“He had a real good X-ray the other day,” Kelly told Hansen. “He’s in great spirits and progressing very well. Obviously, the next few weeks are going to be key for him as he ups his movement. He’s probably in the best place that he’s been in a few months. Everything looks like he’s making the kind of progress he needs to make towards August.”

That Grace has the possibility to contribute to this team in August is amazing, considering where he was this spring, when he walked with a pronounced limp almost six months after the injury. Kelly has talked candidly about Grace’s recovery process, including the additional surgery this spring that was performed to help heal the damaged bone, and it appears that things are advancing well enough to give the linebacker a chance to play.

What Grace will actually do in August remains to be seen. But with senior walk-on Joe Schmidt and incoming freshman Nyles Morgan the only viable options to play inside linebacker, getting anything from Grace would be a huge bonus and a wonderful lift for a player that’s worked very hard to return from a setback that seemed career threatening.

Even after missing the 15 spring practices used to install Brian VanGorder’s new defensive, the Irish head coach didn’t sound concerned about Grace’s ability to catch on to a very different system. He was more worried about how the injury will effect the mindset of the Irish linebacker.

“Jarrett Grace has played a lot of football and has a great understanding of the game,” Kelly said. “So I’m not concerned about him (playing catch-up). My biggest concern will be, when does he gain that confidence back where he’s not thinking about the leg?

“And that won’t happen until he goes into camp and has the first tackle and sticks his nose in there and gets up and says, ‘Oh, I’m OK. I didn’t get hurt.’ To me, when guys have to come back from big injuries, it’s always been that confidence factor that’s the biggest hurdle.”

Grace played six games for the Irish last year at inside linebacker, in the starting lineup for three after replacing Manti Te’o at inside linebacker. After a slow start to the season, the rising senior had 41 tackles before the injury.


Injuries end Danny Spond’s career

BYU v Notre Dame

Sad news out of South Bend today, as senior linebacker Danny Spond announced that he’s retiring from football due to injuries. Multiple sources have told me that concussions have ended the career of the versatile 6-foot-2, 248-pound linebacker from Littleton, Colorado.

(After discussing Spond’s retirement with someone inside the program, the story has been adjusted. Concussions did not end Spond’s career.)

Brian Kelly announced the news Saturday after practice.

“It was an emotional decision,” Kelly said. “It didn’t come without a lot of thought. He spent the day speaking to a lot of specialists and his family was here, so this was not a decision that came easy.”

Spond’s career at Notre Dame was riddled with injuries, but will mostly be remembered by an impressive junior season in ’12. After a major hit last preseason almost ended Spond’s career, concussion like symptoms put Spond in the hospital before being diagnosed as migraine headaches. Spond returned after missing the start of the season to take over the Dog linebacker job, bringing a versatile player to Irish defense, holding up against the run while becoming a key cog in the Irish pass defense.

Spond was expected to start again at outside linebacker until another hit ended his career during this training camp. While Spond is likely to explain in more detail the difficult decision to call it a career, the field-side linebacker position now becomes a two-man race between junior Ben Councell and true freshman Jaylon Smith.

Still, it’s difficult to look too far in the future without acknowledging the loss of Spond both on and off the field. Kelly said as much himself, talking about the importance of the player that was Kelly’s first committed recruiting target at Notre Dame.

“He loves his teammates, but I think what’s most important is he did what was in his best interest for his future,” Kelly said. “He’s got a bright future… He wants to be with the team, and our teammates were excited to hear he’ll be with us every day. He’ll travel with us. He’ll help coach.”

Steve Filer likely lost for the season with ACL tear

Army v Notre Dame

It appears that Steve Filer‘s career at Notre Dame is over. One of the Irish’s best athletes appeared to suffer a career-ending knee injury at practice on Wednesday during a one-on-one pass rushing drill, robbing Filer of the final four games of his Irish career.

“We’re probably going to lose him for the year. It looks like an ACL,” Brian Kelly said. “It’s tough losing a senior, especially when it’s a non-contact situation and when you lose a guy that’s not going to play for Notre Dame anymore.”

Filer had started to take more and more snaps in pass rushing situations, specializing with a hand down as the Irish have been short defensive ends with Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson out with injuries. While he’s never become the impact player many expected when he came to Notre Dame among the most heavily recruited prospects in the country, he’s an important guy in the locker room and a veteran team leader.

“That was tough,” Kelly said. “Today, you can see the guys rallying around him. Darius Fleming is going to wear his jersey for the Maryland game, as a tribute to him and not being able to play.”

Fleming and Filer came into Notre Dame together, but veterans of the Chicago Catholic league. That Fleming will turn in his 45 for 46 is a great tribute to a good friend and fellow linebacker.

Who takes over for Filer in his specialist role remains to be seen. If you had to guess, expect to see more of Prince Shembo with his hand on the ground, with the depth behind at the Dog linebacker getting better with Danny Spond and Troy Niklas improving every week.

Injuries end Roberson and McDonald’s spring

Cam Roberson
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Brian Kelly’s suspicions were confirmed when an MRI of freshman running back Cameron Roberson’s knee showed a partially torn ACL and a torn lateral collateral ligament. There’s no official timetable on Roberson’s return, but you’ve got to think that getting anything out of Roberson next season would be a big surprise.

Meanwhile, linebacker Anthony McDonald’s spring is over after suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle. McDonald was a front runner to play next to Manti Te’o last season but had injuries derail his progress as Carlo Calabrese and Brian Smith slid ahead of him in the depth chart. The injury is another bit of bad luck for the Southern California product, who has struggled to stay healthy and had plenty of opportunities this spring to get an extended look.

Down to two scholarship running backs, the Irish fielded open tryouts for walk-ons, as running backs coach Tim Hinton broke down the current depth chart.

“We have five total,” Hinton said. “Derry Herlihy (a walk-on from last year’s team) has come back and helped us out, and obviously the new guy (Tyler Plantz, of Providence Catholic school in In Lenox, Illinois). It’s an interesting room. I’m coaching my rear end off, it’s a lot of fun. Because three of the five really don’t know a lot, we are working the heck out of those guys.

“Here’s what coaching them in the spring does, it makes them better scout players in the fall. And the better our scout teams are, the better our No. 1 defense is.”

The injury to Roberson certainly hurts the depth of the Irish backfield and two scholarship running backs isn’t an ideal allocation of your roster. That said, there’s no real reason to panic (yet), as Cam McDaniel’s arrival this summer gets the numbers back to an appropriate, albeit thin, place. While most recruitniks doubt McDaniel has the chops to be a three down running back, it’s clear that the coaching staff is confident in his abilities.

McDonald enters his senior season snake-bit, and the pectoral injury likely limits his ability to weight train and continue to add the needed bulk and strength to contribute on the inside. Even with Te’o limited and McDonald out, there’s a good group of linebackers competing for playing time.