Big Skill 'Backers Bring Versatility

Notre Dame has five linebackers pledged among its 21-player class to date. The group's versatility fits perfectly with head coach Brian Kelly's desire to stock the Big Skill profile in this, his third full recruiting haul. Irisheyes.com examines the program's growing linebacker depth with a breakdown of next year's roster at the Cat, Dog, Mike, and Will linebacker positions.

Up or down? That's the pre-arrival question most have regarding outside linebacker prospect Doug Randolph, who took in Notre Dame's win over Michigan from the stands.

"It was crazy," Randolph told FOX Sports NEXT's Kristen Kenney. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. I loved everything about Notre Dame - the post game Notre Dame song and watching the way the team played. They all swarmed to the ball every play."

Initial staff reports indicated the vexing Dog 'backer position could offer Randolph's initial evaluation. Currently manned by emerging junior Danny Spond, the Dog's main role is to set the edge of the field (wide) side vs. outside running plays/stretch runs, but is also one with extensive coverage responsibilities, usually vs. tight ends and running backs, but also against slot receivers in short zones and in the flat.

Randolph's head coach at Woodberry Forest (Va.) Clint Alexander believes his pupil would excel with his hand on the ground at the Cat position, currently occupied by Spond's classmate, Prince Shembo.

"He is a high energy, impact player with nothing but upside," Alexander told FOX Sports NEXT's Brian Dohn in an August interview. "He's 236 pounds right now and is probably going to be 245 by the time spring rolls around. He really isn't done growing. You can tell. But he's still a physical freak.

"He's tailor-made for (CAT)" Alexander said. "He's an unbelievable pass rusher. He can play in space. We had a game last year where a tall receiver was killing us and I told him, ‘Go man him up. You play basketball. Go take him out of the game.' That was it. The kid never caught another ball. He can play in space, but he's a great pass rusher.

"He's fast, he has real long arms and he just keeps coming. He's got a first and second and third move. He's not just going to make one big effort and say, ‘Oh, I got stopped.' I think he wears a lineman out with that. Everybody's got a first move, but I think he has a second and third."

At present, the CAT 'backer serves as a part-time defensive end, part-time boundary linebacker in a two point stance. That's likely a function of the player's inherent strengths, in this case, Shembo, who's power at the point and pass-rush prowess greatly exceed his coverage skills.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is no longer forced to put square pegs in round holes to fit his scheme. That was the case in his first and only season in Cincinnati, at times in 2010 and 2011 in South Bend. As such, if Randolph can play at 245 pounds and still move in space, he could challenge for a Dog role. If he can play at 255-260 and hold up vs. the run as does Shembo, he could see time at Cat. Or to be blunt, the initial destination of incoming classmate Jaylon Smith could be the deciding factor for Randolph as well.

Regardless, Notre Dame's linebacker depth chart shows great versatility in the coming years.

2013 Depth Chart

The following is a look at Notre Dame's linebackers depth chart for 2013 when Randolph hits campus. The number in parenthesis represents each player's eligibility entering the '13 season.

Dog and Cat Linebackers: Prince Shembo (1), Danny Spond (1), Ishaq Williams (2), Ben Councell (3), Romeo Okwara (3), Anthony Rabasa (3), Jaylon Smith (4/5), Danny Mattingly (4/5), Doug Randolph (4/5).

Notes: Mattingly is the most likely to be evaluated as a defensive end in addition to outside linebacker spots. Considering the his 6'6" frame, and the available talent at linebacker, a shift to DE (or tight end) would make sense. Smith could play each of the four positions linebacker positions but if he's not first evaluated at Dog, I'm not sure why the position exists. Smith is the best coverage linebacker prospect in the nation.

Spond played the best game of his Irish career vs. Michigan last week; just his second career start. Shembo has been one of the team's five best players in September, while Williams has provided relief in both base sets and the nickel package, serving as a pass-rusher and coverage linebacker.

Mike and Will Linebackers: Dan Fox (1-GR), Carlo Calabrese (1-GR), Kendall Moore (2), Justin Utupo (2), Jarrett Grace (3), Michael Deeb (4/5), Alex Anzalone (4/5).

Notes: Fox is a near lock to return for a 5th season while Calabrese has, by my estimation, better than a 75 percent chance at present pending his 2012 performance/end season health. Grace is a lock to be part of a three LB rotation in Manti Te'o's wake.

Anzalone is a player that could challenge for a starting job in his second season at the program (2014). Speaking of '14, Notre Dame has another committed inside 'backer already in the fold for the upcoming recruiting cycle, verbal pledge, Greer Martini.

For our other "Recruit Fit" stories, click the links below:

Torii Hunter and Will Fuller

Jamel James

Alex Anzalone

Michael Deeb

Danny Mattingly

Mike Heuerman

Isaac Rochell

Jaylon Smith

Malik Zaire

John Montelus

Rashad Kinlaw

James Onwualu

Corey Robinson

Offensive Linemen Haul

Jacob Matuska


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