With spring practice forcing Notre Dame to find answers at inside linebacker, many expected Michael Deeb to be one of the names that jumped to the forefront. But the rising sophomore who sat out his freshman year wasn’t among the contenders for the starting job at the end of the Blue-Gold game, with Joe Schmidt looking more and more like the answer at Mike while Jarrett Grace heals and Nyles Morgan learns the ropes.
That’s hardly a death sentence for Deeb, who came to Notre Dame as a prototype 3-4 inside linebacker out of Florida. But with Morgan and a slew of young linebackers behind him, it’ll be an interesting fall for the rising sophomore.
Let’s take a closer look at Michael Deeb.
6’2″, 242 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 42
Of Notre Dame’s commitments in the 2013 recruiting cycle, Deeb was probably the closest thing to need based. A three-star prospect, Deeb had some impressive offers (Florida State, Ole Miss, Penn State), but also had a pass from in-state schools Miami and Florida, with the Hurricanes passing even though Deeb camped and earned MVP honors at Al Golden’s summer camp.
It wasn’t unanimous among the coaching staff that Deeb was good enough to offer when they first laid their eyes on him. And while we won’t know if Deeb can answer the questions of athleticism until we actually see him play, Brian Kelly talked a bit about the thought process behind the offer on Signing Day.
“I think sometimes when we talk about superlatives as it relates to stars and things of that nature, those are important, but we had eyes on Michael Deeb,” Kelly said. “Michael came here to our camp. We were able to observe Michael. Coach Diaco was able to spend time, and we know what we want from that position. We have a pretty clear understanding of the skill set necessary and the intelligence.
“And here’s what else he brings: He brings an energy to everything he does. When he walks in that locker room, it’s time to play football, and if you’re not locked in, he’s going to make sure he says something to you. We love his energy, we love the way he plays the game, and obviously from our standpoint feel like he’s a guy that can come in and obviously compete for us.”
Kelly’s comments point to Deeb as a 3-4 inside linebacker. How he translates to Brian VanGorder’s system remains to be seen. But even if he isn’t an early winner of a starting job, Deeb will find a way to contribute on this football team. I had expected him to be one of the team’s top special teams players in 2013, but his eligibility was saved, with the Irish rolling the dice on Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Jarrett Grace making three guys work for two interior jobs.
They didn’t, so the fact that Deeb’s redshirt stayed on is worth noting. You can make an argument for that being good for his future or maybe not as much. But it’s hard to bury a guy who spent a season getting bigger, stronger and faster in the weight room, even if he isn’t as custom of a fit as he may have been in the previous scheme.
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.
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