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Irish Depth Analysis 2010- The Linebackers

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After discussing the Defensive Line we move on to the next line of defense. In the 3-4 front the Linebackers have a tremendous amount of responsibility. For a quick review of those responsibilities I would suggest perusing the posts that LB Coach did for us last spring on both the Inside and Outside Linebackers.

The Linebacking Corps is one of the most talented units on the roster and definitely the most talented unit on the defense. This could potentially bode very well for the Irish this fall.

The one area of concern with the linebackers is the disproportionate amount of experience between the inside and outside linebackers. The inside linebackers are led by future All American Manti Te’o and a handful of players that have little to no game experience. Conversely the outside linebackers boast a solid two deep with known athleticism and a significant amount of game experience.

Coach Kelly sees the outside linebackers as the strength of the defense.

I believe that from a defensive standpoint we have play-makers on the perimeter that can do some great things for us. And I think we have some vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities will be experience at the quarterback position, depth at the defensive line position.

Then we have some question marks: consistency and performance in the back end of our defense and our kicking game.

With that in mind let’s take a look at the linebacking corps.

Listed below are the individual players on the defensive line by position. Players with an * next to their class will be eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. One thing to note is that of the 15 Linebackers currently on the roster only Brian Smith and Kerry Neal will exhaust their eligibility this fall.

Inside Linebacker

5 Manti Te’o 6’2" 245 (Sophomore) Te’o will be the face of this defense for however long he decides to stay on campus. Manti is an amazing talent and an even better kid. He drops the hammer when he’s on the field and is equally impressive off of it. If the DL can maintain their gap responsibilities Te’o could have a field day in this defense against the run. He and his fellow inside backers will also have to be mindful of the short passing game underneath. His ability to read, react and play pass coverage when the situation dictates will ultimately determine the degree to which he progresses as a Sophomore. He will get there, the only question is how fast.

54 Anthony McDonald 6’2" 238 (Junior*) At the moment it would appear that McDonald has the inside track to be on Manti’s hip in the middle of the defense this fall. Anthony has battled injuries the last two seasons but as a 3rd year player he should be ready to seize his opportunity to step in and contribute. He is a physical player that should also be an effective run stopper. Unlike Te’o he likely won’t be an every down player and his ability to defend the pass could ultimately determine how much time he spends on the field.

44 Carlo Calabrese 6’1" 240 (Sophomore*) Carlo is another physical player that just looks like he lives to hit people. I expect that he will also be stout against the run and will compete with McDonald for time.

30 Steve Paskorz 6’1" 246 (Senior*) Is there a position Paskorz hasn’t played yet? It seems like every year he starts the season somewhere else. I’m exaggerating but between his back and forth stints as a linebacker and fullback I’m not sure what to expect of Steve as a senior. I hope he is able to provide some depth in the middle of the defense but I don’t anticipate seeing a whole lot of #30 this fall.

36 David Posluszny 6’0" 235 (Junior*) Little Poz spent his first two years in the program learning the ropes and packing on muscle. Now in his 3rd year he has physically caught up to where he needs to be to get into the mix. I’m not sure what to expect out of David this fall but he might be one of the bigger sleepers on the team. I seem to remember his brother being a pretty decent college linebacker.

8 Kendall Moore 6’1" 239 (Freshman) I expect that Kendall will likely retain a year of eligibility this season learning the ropes.

55 Prince Shembo 6’2" 243 (Freshman) I continue to be amazed at some of the physical specimens coming out of high school these days. Shembo is one of them. He has already been singled out by Coach Kelly in camp and is a young linebacker to keep an eye on. With an open competition in front of him Shembo might sneak in there somewhere and contribute.

Outside Linebacker

58 Brian Smith 6’3" 248 (Senior) Brian Smith has had an interesting first three years at Notre Dame. He has played both inside and out and it seems like he has never come off the field in his first three seasons. Smith is an emotional player that has always seemed to enjoy a little jaw jacking which has rubbed some fans the wrong way. He is more natural on the outside and has the talent to wreak havoc out there. Smith and his OLB counterparts will all have to fight the tendency to get too far upfield against the run creating a cutback lane for the ball carrier. If Brian can bear down this fall he could finish his Notre Dame career on a very high note.

45 Darius Fleming 6’2" 247 (Junior) Fleming is a serious athlete with a knack for wreaking havoc off of the edge as a pass rusher. I expect that we will see plenty of Darius doing just that this fall. While he was a small DE in the 4-3 he has good physical traits for an OLB in the 3-4. If Darius can stay healthy he could have a very big year.

56 Kerry Neal 6’2" 245 (Senior) Neal was a lot like Fleming initially then got caught up in the whole "you are a linebacker, no defensive end, no linebacker" madness that was the result of the ever changing defensive scheme under the last staff. Back at his original OLB position Neal could be a great contributor in relief of Fleming.

46 Steve Filer 6’3" 235 (Junior) In the midst of Manti Te’o mania it was quickly forgotten that this kid was Phil Steele’s #1 overall LB prospect the year prior. Filer is a freak of an athlete and I can’t help but think that this is the year that he is going to come on strong and push for time. Filer is a legitimate threat to take minutes from Brian Smith.

48 Dan Fox 6’3" 230 (Sophomore*) Fox spent his freshman year bulking up a bit and will look to contribute this fall. If those first four players stay healthy I don’t expect we will see very much of Dan.

13 Danny Spond 6’2" 225 (Freshman) Spond played about 10 different positions in high school and is one of those RKG big and athletic types that Coach Kelly loves. No telling at this point what will ultimately become of Danny but I expect he will retain a year of eligibility this fall.

49 Derek Roback 6’3" 233 (Freshman) Thus far in camp Roback has also been taking reps at Safety to fill the hole vacated by Chris Badger. At this point there is no telling where he will ultimately end up playing. He is another young player that will spend his fall learning and if the outside backers and safeties stay healthy he will also likely retain a year of eligibility.

53 Justin Utopo 6’1" 251 (Freshman) Utopo is another very big young prospect. He will also spend his fall learning the ropes and retaining a year of eligibility.

Overall I expect the linebacking corps to be the strength of the defense. With improved coaching and assignment execution this unit should be very stout against the run. Combine that with the improved strength along the defensive line and we could see real improvement in the run defense.

If the outside linebackers can consistently set the edge against the run and the inside linebackers can effectively play the underneath passing game this unit could be exceptional. I will be watching closely for both of those things on September 4th. I expect to see a few mistakes early but I anticipate that this group will be very good by the second half of the season.