Whether one, two, or three of the quartet redshirt, Kelly and the Irish have ideally tiered the program's linebackers to add punch to an already improved defense through the 2016 season.
But its Anzalone's skillset that make his pledge enticing.
Position PlansKey to a four (or more) linebacker class is the versatility of its members. Like Smith and Mattingly before him, Anzalone possesses the ability to play both inside and out, and is likely the best inside prospect of the three. Yet my initial film review showed Anzalone in a rare light: a player with a knack for operating in space, both in zone and man coverage.
Anzalone's listed 40-yard dash time is irrelevant (I didn't bother to look it up because they're usually inflated in high school). What's important is his functional football speed -- its top notch.
I noted earlier this summer that Jaylon Smith is the prototype Dog linebacker if there is such a thing for such a vexing position. Notre Dame actually brought in two in the same cycle, as Anzalone, like Smith, could play the spot and never come off the field. The pair's versatility allows for evaluations by both, and therefore others, at multiple positions.
Not quite as tall/rangy as the players Kelly and his staff generally profile for the outside, Anzalone's size (6'3" 220) and expected growth better fits the Mike or Will linebacker spot. His film -- already impressive as a potential Dog -- likewise backs up that assertion as he's adept at running through the traffic and would-be blockers to make full-speed tackles where many would hesitate.
Blockers at the high school level are a mere inconvenience for Anzalone -- he's getting to the ball carrier, both on balance and with velocity. That'll change in college, where every opposing skill set is greater, but there's little doubt he could thrive inside with his ability to defeat/shed blocks while bringing impressive coverage skills to the position. That's a necessary upgrade if the Irish defense is to evolve from solid to championship level.
Running Back?: Anzalone's position flexibility includes a potential evaluation at running back, though I believe his straight line speed, lateral quickness, and aggression would become more garden-variety with the ball in his hands at the BCS level.
At 6'3" 225+ pounds, Anzalone would need to run with a lower pad level to survive between the tackles vs. the likes of Michigan State and USC. Conversely, his size and frame and athleticism are at a standout level at linebacker.
Regardless, the No. 3 ranked outside 'backer by Scout.com epitomizes Kelly's Big Skill recruiting profile. Anzalone can play multiple positions and on both sides of scrimmage. (Blessed with coordination and good hands, he'd be a dangerous weapon as an H-Back/tight end as well, though the Irish are suitably stacked at the position.)
His initial and final destination can be decided by the staff once he hits campus. The suggestion here is defense, and as the swiftest, most instinctive inside linebacker of the Kelly era.
2013 Depth ChartThe following is a look at Notre Dame's linebackers depth chart for 2013 with eligibility entering that season in parenthesis.
Notes: 2013 pledge Danny Mattingly and 2012 incoming freshman Romeo Okwara are likely to get initial looks at the Cat linebacker position. Both could grow into defensive ends.
Notes: Fox and Calabrese will both be gone by Anzalone's second year in the program and of the three current competitors, only Grace appears on, or ahead of schedule, in his development at the position. Current redshirt freshman Anthony Rabasa worked at inside 'backer for the Scout Team last fall but was also evaluated at the Cat spot in the spring, likely the result of an injury to junior Prince Shembo (foot surgery).
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