Several media outlets and other Irish bloggers seem to be of the opinion that the secondary will be the strength of the 2009 Notre Dame defense. I personally disagree with that. The secondary has some great front line players but the depth may not be quite what it seems on the surface. I’ll expound on that when I cover them next. The linebacker corps however, is truly rich with talent. In the case of the 2009 Fighting Irish I expect this position group to be the Center of Gravity for the team as a whole. In my opinion there is enough quality depth in this group to set the foundation for a Top 10 defense.
Listed below is the opening spring depth chart by position for the linebackers. Players with an * next to their class are eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Players in Italics are either limited or out for the spring due to injury. Three things of note before I’m off to the races here. One this does not yet take into account the three freshmen linebackers that are inbound this summer in Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Manti Te’o. At a minimum Te’o will add to the formidable strength in this group and will instantly compete for time. Second this group like the defensive line is also rich with young talent in the sophomore class. The third noteworthy item here is that of all the players listed below only Scott Smith and Toryan Smith will exhaust their eligibility in 2009. Hence this group is about to be legitimately serious for the foreseeable future.
41 Scott Smith (5th year) Scott is a solid player that is also very well respected by his teammates. He will see time but will most likely play less than Sophomore Darius Fleming who brings a better skill set to the table.
17 Zeke Motta (Freshman) Motta has been compared a lot to Harrison Smith but he’s not near as fast. By all accounts he’s a great football player with a ton of upside that could potentially move to Strong Safety down the road. It’s probably 50/50 whether or not he sees the field at SAM in 2009. In reality the Irish really don’t need him to play just yet so he might be best off preserving a year of eligibility for later contributions.
45 Darius Fleming (Sophomore) Fleming reminds me a lot of Neal and is similar in many respects. He’ll be very much in the mix come fall and I expect to see him beat out Scott Smith for the starting role.
58 Brian Smith (Junior) Like Ethan Johnson I think Brian Smith is about to come into his own as a very special football player. He’s a bad ass that flies to the football with leadership to boot. He is going to be the linchpin in this defense for the next two years.
49 Toryan Smith (Senior) I have a soft spot for Toryan. He’s a big hitter that’s hung in there for three seasons after arriving on campus with a lot of high expectations. I hope to see him have a Corey Mays type senior year and I think he’s going to do it. From the looks of it this spring the staff might push Brian Smith over to Will to keep both of them on the field. I’m all over that plan.
46 Steve Filer (Sophomore) In the midst of Manti Te’o mania it was quickly forgotten that this kid was Phil Steele’s #1 LB prospect the year prior. Filer will also be a legitimized stud before its all said and done and will likely start contributing significantly in 2009. The one thing he has working against him is either Brian Smith or Toryan Smith sliding over into this spot as the starter to keep both of those guys on the field.
36 David Posluszny (Sophomore*) Little Poz is still a bit undersized and probably another year away from having a real impact. That said if he’s anything like his brother stand by he still has plenty of time to develop.
54 Anthony McDonald (Sophomore*) McDonald also has all the makings of a top tier linebacker. He’s out for the spring and in my estimation probably won’t make a big splash in 2009 but he definitely has the potential to blossom in the next couple of years as well.
In my opinion John Tenuta is one of the best Defensive Minds in all of college football. For the record I thought that long before Charlie Weis hired him at ND. To be honest I was concerned when it looked like Leslie Miles dumb ass was going to Michigan that he was going to pick Tenuta up as his DC and ND was going to have to play against him every year. I was thrilled when that deal went south and Tenuta ended up in South Bend. In addition to being a great DC Tenuta is also a great linebackers coach. He arguably has one of the best individual units in college football to work with here and I fully expect the ND linebacker corps to excel under his tutelage. Just look at the classification of these kids and you can see a quality two deep for the next three years at a minimum. Start throwing empties if you want to but I think this group has a legitimate chance at becoming one of the best linebacking corps in the country over the next couple of years.