Reviewing the Redshirts is back with another freshman who sat out 2011.
Many of these players will take a while to make an impact on the program, while others will be called upon to fill out the two-deep or even start sooner rather than later.
The first installment featured a player that should be a household name by this time next year.
The second player in this series might take longer to see the field on a consistent basis, but he's received some high praise this far in his first year on campus.
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Height: 6'2" 1/2
Rivals: No. 24 ILB, No. 27 Ohio
ESPN: No. 46 OLB, No. 28 Ohio, Grade: 78
Scout: No. 14 OLB, No. 235 National
247: Grade: 90
Need at Position: LOW
Expected Spot on 2012 Depth Chart: Third-String
Some services listed Grace at a healthy 6'4" but he was officially listed in the summer at about an inch and a half shorter. No big deal, as Grace would have been a rather jumbo-sized middle linebacker at 6'4" anyway plus he's at a very rugged 240 pounds already as a true freshman.
Like many freshmen who sit out their first year, there's been little information or news about Grace, but recently defensive coordinator Bob Diaco made some rather shocking comments on his young linebacker (from ISD):
"He's going to be awesome, he really is," Diaco said, gushing with praise for his freshman linebacker. "He's a werewolf, he really is. He's got it all. Smart, big, tough, aggressive, fast, demonstrative, communicator, he's going to be a beast."
Diaco continued to heap praise on Grace without any prodding.
"It's because he's got the whole package," continued the Notre Dame linebackers coach. "He's aggressive, nasty, loves football, loves this place (Notre Dame), demonstrative communicator, runs fast, large body, hard worker."
That's some high praise from Diaco---who rarely offers much positive information on any of his players---particularly the younger ones.
Grace wasn't an elite recruit coming out of high school but he wasn't a chump either. With these comments from Diaco, you would have to believe that Grace has a terrific shot at becoming one of the top recruits in his class and a multi-year starter.
However, he is still likely another year away from making a significant impact due to quality depth in front of him.
At the very least, Grace will be faced with unseating Te'o and Moore at the Mike ILB position, and Calabrese and Fox at the Will ILB position heading into the spring. If Te'o does in fact leave early for the NFL (Edit: Late-breaking news last night---Te'o is coming back for his senior season) then Grace's playing time schedule becomes quickly accelerated, but as it is he's a third-stringer.
A comparison to current redshirt freshman Kendall Moore might be instructive.
Moore was more or less the same level of prospect as Grace, was redshirted his first season, received a decent amount of praise from the coaching staff, and then only saw the field in very limited action in 2011 (10 tackles, 2 for loss).
That's probably the same path Grace is on.
Some other things in Grace's favor however:
1) Obviously the coaching staff really like him and it sounds like Grace has the mental aspects of his position down as much as his physical talents. This could lead to increased playing time as an underclassmen and a shot at starting much quicker than other defenders.
2) Grace is physically ready to play at middle linebacker. Kelly and Diaco have stressed how important it is for the guys in the middle to be able to take on guards and bring a physical presence in run defense help. At 240 pounds from the get-go, Grace appears capable of doing that.
3) Unlike many prospects that play more in space on the outside or even at defensive end in high school, Grace is the one true middle linebacker that Brian Kelly has recruited. Being the prototypical fit for your position is going to help Grace tremendously over the next year or two.
Grace will have to be patient will sitting behind a trio of veterans, including Manti Te'o who is coming back, but this should mean he won't be thrown into a position that he's not ready for.
And that's usually the way to go with proper player development.
Either way, it looks like Notre Dame has a rising young star ready to take over in the middle for the next four years.