Now that we have a starting quarterback I will jump back into this examination of the depth chart.
After starting the discussion with 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. The good news is that this deep and talented Linebacking Corps should be up to the challenge .
Let's take a look.
5 Manti Te'o 6'2" 255 (Junior) Te'o remains the face of this defense and is poised to put himself into position for some postseason awards. 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. With a more mature defensive line executing their responsibilities Te'o could really have a massive year in terms of numbers. Te'o had his knee scoped in the offseason after tweaking it in the Sun Bowl but there has been no talk of any lingering issues. Manti is ready to go. The primary discussion around Te'o this fall will be all about whether or not he will declare for the NFL draft after this season. We will have plenty of time to debate that in the coming months. For now I'm just looking forward to watching #5 lead what should be a great front 7 this fall.
54 Anthony McDonald 6'2" 238 (Senior*) McDonald arrived on campus with high expectations and now enters his 4th season in the program having spent the majority of his career to this point battling injuries. He is currently competing with sophomore Kendall Moore to be Manti's backup at Mike Linebacker. I would really like to see McDonald stay healthy this fall and get a chance to contribute. He is a capable backer that definitely adds some quality depth to the unit when healthy.
8 Kendall Moore 6'1" 242 (Sophomore*) Moore retained a year of eligibility last fall and is now pushing the Senior McDonald to get into the mix with the 2's. He remains a bit of an unknown quantity but the fact that he's pushing McDonald has to bode well for his future. I want to see this kid in action.
48 Dan Fox 6'3" 230 (Junior*) Foxy and Carlo Calabrese have been battling for the spot next to Te'o throughout camp and as Coach Kelly told us on Tuesday morning Foxy has won out. Coach Kelly mentioned that Foxy "Likes contact now" and went on to basically describe the Will position as a 1A and 1B type scenario. Fox will see more time against spread type offenses where the run stuffing Calabrese will get more reps against the grinders. The Will position is one that Diaco has specifically mentioned as having quality depth which says a lot about how Fox and Calabrese compliment one another. They should both see plenty of reps this fall.
44 Carlo Calabrese 6'1" 240 (Junior*) As mentioned above, Carlo has been battling with Dan Fox to lock down this spot throughout camp and I expect to see them split time. Carlo definitely looks the part of an inside linebacker and had a few flashes of brilliance last fall. If nothing else Carlo is stout against the run and drops the hammer when he gets to the ball carrier. I expect the Junior to have a solid season this fall.
36 David Posluszny 6'0" 235 (Senior*) Little Poz spent his first two years in the program learning the ropes and packing on muscle. He spent his 3rd year buried on the depth chart and this fall looks like it will likely be more of the same.
53 Justin Utopo 6'1" 251 (Sophomore*) Utopo is a good sized kid that retained a year of eligibility last fall while he was cutting his teeth. Due to the logjam of talent in front of him we likely won't see much, if any, of Justin in the rotation this fall either.
59 Jarrett Grace 6'3" 240 (Freshman) Grace and fellow freshman Anthony Rabasa will both likely spend their fall bulking up, learning the sytem and playing scout D. That said Diaco seemed pretty high on Grace when discussing him on Tuesday. That could bode well for the future.
56 Anthony Rabasa 6'3" 240 (Freshman) See Jarrett Grace above.
45 Darius Fleming 6'2" 255 (Senior) Fleming is a serious athlete with a knack for wreaking havoc off of the edge from the Cat position. Darius was a small DE in the 4-3 as a Sophomore but he has good physical traits for an OLB in the 3-4 and really started to come into his own last fall. The coaching staff is really high on Darius and he has been on the receiving end of a lot of public praise from the staff during camp. The staff has specifically cited his improved ability to drop into pass coverage as the key improvement in his game. I am looking forward to seeing it on the field this fall. Fleming has the potential for a breakout season.
1 Ishaq Williams 6'5" 255 (Freshman) Williams enrolled early this past spring as a top flight recruit and appears to to be in the mix for the #2 Cat spot behind Feming. Williams is a freakish athlete that could very likely turn into one more beastly addition to this defense over the next couple of years. Despite being a freshman the coaches have mentioned that his athleticism is coming more into play as he gets more comfortable in the system. Ishaq will be fun to keep an eye on this fall.
46 Steve Filer 6'3" 245 (Senior) 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 but he has yet to be able to put it all together on the field. That video of him jumping out of a swimming pool is impressive though. Filer is a fine example of just how deep this unit is as he would likely be starting at most other places. As it currently stands Filer also appears to be in the mix at Cat and Bob Diaco mentioned on Tuesday that "we see Filer as a starter." I will be interested to see how many snaps Fleming, Williams and Filer each get this fall.
55 Prince Shembo 6'2" 250 (Sophomore) Shembo is another physical specimen with a mean streak. As a freshman Shembo came in off the radar last fall and found ways to contribute. He is another linebacker that the coaches have singled out in their comments to the media as a player that might break onto the national scene this season.
13 Danny Spond 6'2" 242 (Sophomore) Spond has packed on 20lbs of muscle since arriving on campus last fall and the coaches love the way that he gets after it. He pushed Shembo hard for the starting spot in camp and I expect we will see plenty of Spond in the rotation.
58 Troy Niklas 6'6 250 (Freshman) Niklas arrived on campus as a defensive end and was recently moved to OLB by the staff. Coach Kelly has mentioned that he has the ability to play both the Cat and the Dog positions. Troy's nickname is "Hercules" and it appears that the young freshman is living up to it. On Tuesday morning Coach Kelly said that he will push for time at the Dog position with Shembo and Spond. I like the move to OLB for Niklas. That means that a couple of years down the road the front seven could feature Ishaq, Tuitt, Lynch and Nicklas on the edge. I like it.
30 Ben Councell 6'4" 230 (Freshman) Councell is a few pounds light at the moment but another great prospect. I expect he will become a contributor in due time but in the short term I expect that he will retain a year of eligibility and settle into the system.
Overall I expect the linebacking corps to be the strength of the defense, which is saying something in comparison to the defensive line. This unit has serious quality depth as the staff feels that they are legitimately 3 deep at almost every position. Their collective familiarity with their assignments as we enter year two in the system combined with the improved strength along the defensive line could result in a dominant front seven.
What do you think?