Brian Kelly was fortunate to come to Notre Dame and not have to burn many redshirts, or force true freshmen into key roles because there was already quality depth up and down the roster.
This past year was no different with a handful of really talented freshmen sitting out the season. So far, we have covered two of those players.
Up next in this series is another linebacker that the coaching staff has high hopes for.
OLB Ben Councell
Hometown: Asheville, North Carolina
Height: 6'4" 1/2
Rivals: No. 5 WDE, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 91 National
ESPN: No. 19 OLB, Grade: 79
Scout: No. 32 OLB
247: No. 7 OLB, No. 4 North Carolina, No. 97 National, Grade: 95
Need at Position: Medium to High
Expected Spot on 2012 Depth Chart: Third String
Councell was one of the more intriguing prospects last year, not just within Notre Dame's 2011 class, but out of the entire country.
He was the picture-perfect recruit to play the Dog linebacker position in Diaco's 3-4 scheme: tall, lanky, speedy, and with a good nose for the ball. After watching his tape after his verbal commitment to Notre Dame we had an internal discussion at One Foot Down that went something like this:
A) Councell is terribly underrated
B) Councell is a huge need on the edge
C) Will he see significant time as a freshman?
As it turned out, Councell was redshirted, but he is still a huge need on the edge. After a big senior season and a standout performance in the Carolina's Shrine Bowl, Councell also shot up a couple of the services' recruiting rankings and came to Notre Dame as a borderline elite prospect.
Councell remains a very intriguing player because he fits the prototype for his position, but there is currently a log-jam of players vying for minutes there.
As such, I have him going into next year as a third-string player. Councell will probably play a ton of special teams, but he has Prince Shembo, Danny Spond, and Troy Niklas standing in his way at the Dog spot.
Therefore, Councell's playing time next year might depend on the staff shuffling the linebackers around as much as it will his performance in practice.
With Darius Fleming graduating and playing his last game in a couple weeks, there is a huge void left at the Cat position. Only true freshman Ishaq Williams returns---and he played very sparingly this year finishing with just 5 tackles.
The odds are probably fairly decent that Prince Shembo (physically a clone to Darius Fleming) will move to Cat, especially after he struggled this past year in a more drop-back role at the Dog (29 tackles in 11 games). This move would provide a good two-deep at the Cat while freeing up some room at Dog for someone like Councell.
Even without such a move by Shembo or someone else, there needs to be vastly improved play at the Dog position and that might necessitate Councell moving up the depth chart this offseason if he can prove to be a playmaker.
At 230 pounds, Councell might need to add another 10 pounds by next August to satisfy the coaches, but there has to be a premium put on speed and pass coverage at this position with what we've seen over the the past year-plus.
Keep an eye out for Councell in the spring because he might be a surprise playmaker ready to blossom if given the opportunity.