Trio to this tandem

Our post-season review of each Irish positional group continues with a look at the No. 4 ranked unit, Notre Dame's inside linebackers.

No. 1 (Field Goal Unit)

No. 2 (Coverage Units)

No. 3 (Tight Ends)

#4 Inside Linebackers

Starters/key reserves: Sophomore Manti Te'o; sophomore Carlo Calabrese and senior Brian Smith. Sophomore Dan Fox, junior Anthony McDonald.

IrishEyes' pre-season rank: No. 10 (of 12)

Quote to note: "You know, he plays really well on game day. Carlo's one of those guys that just has it. He has a great sense for the football and sometimes we didn't see that during practice." – head coach Brian Kelly on the early-season emergence of redshirt-freshman ‘backer Carlo Calabrese.

By the numbers: Inside linebackers are supposed to make tackles in a predominant 3-4 base defense, but the first half of the season – a six-game set vs. consecutive BCS foes – served as a showcase for the sophomore duo of Te'o and Calabrese.

  • Purdue: Combined for 18 tackles ( 9 apiece)
  • Michigan: Piled up 23 tackles
  • Michigan State: Totaled 15 tackles including four for lost yardage
  • Stanford: Posted 25 combined tackles including a staggering 21 from Te'o
  • Boston College: Accounted for 20 combined tackles (10 apiece) with Calabrese registering 3.5 for lost yardage, the high-mark of the season for an Irish defender.
  • Pittsburgh: Registered 17 tackles while holding the run-heavy Panthers to 3.5 yards per rush.

Calabrese recorded 57 tackles in eight starts with five for lost yardage.

Te'o finished with 127 total tackles, the highest total in the program since then-junior Demetrius Dubose registered the same in 1991 for the 10-3 Sugar Bowl champion Irish. Te'o recorded nine or more tackles in nine separate contests. His 9.5 TFL ranked second on the squad and also tied for fourth in total QB hits with several players.

Best moments

In terms of individual brilliance, it's hard to top Te'o's 21-tackle effort in the loss a Stanford, a performance that included a staggering 16 stops in the second stanza, but our vote for the top defensive moment among the inside ‘backers goes to Brian Smith in the finale at USC.

Over a four-game starting stint in place of the injured Calabrese, Brian Smith recorded 23 tackles (two for loss) with three pass breakups, a sack and an interception. But it was the senior's standout performance (among several candidates) for defensive player of the game honors in the upset win at Southern Cal that had the greatest impact on the 2010 season.

Smith recorded five tackles (one for loss) with two official pass breakups and another incomplete pass influenced by his presence. Four of Smith's seven technical statistical plays ended USC drives, forcing a punt, turnover on downs, or short field goal.

Smith's move from backup DROP (outside) linebacker coincided with a 3-1 finish to the season and a 16-quarter span in which the Irish defense allowed just two total touchdowns.

Calabrese's 10-tackle, 1-sack, 3.5 TFL evening in Chestnut Hill in the blowout of Boston College deserves mention as well, but our award for top moment belongs to Smith considering the comparative level of opposing offenses.

Moment to forget: The group, especially the starting trio, played at a consistent level – with one exception. Notre Dame's documented defensive failure vs. Navy included all units involved but the pairing of Calabrese and Te'o uncharacteristically struggled throughout the contest as they played too high, off-balance, and tentative for the bulk of the contest.

In his first matchup vs. a true triple-option team, Calabrese failed to register a solo tackle prior to his mid-3rd Quarter hamstring injury and was both pancaked by 5'8" 168-pound slot-back Aaron Santiago; then later laid to waste by fullback Alexander Teich on a 9-yard touchdown run (28-10 Navy).

Te'o was better in 2010 than in last year's loss to the Midshipmen but was far below his usual level of play as well, suffering through three pancake blocks over the course of the contest and one shocking four-yard shove backward courtesy 5'7" 153-pound wing back Andre Byrd on a 12-yard gain.

The Navy game was apparently an aberration for the ND defense; it was undoubtedly a Saturday to forget for Notre Dame's promising inside linebacker duo.

Class status: Manti Te'o is set to graduate following the 2012 season with the only question at present his potential NFL Draft status following the 2011 campaign; Carlo Calabrese has three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out in 2009 as does classmate Dan Fox; juniors Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny can apply for a 5th-year of eligibility after next season due to medical redshirts.

Freshman Kendall Moore did not see action this season and can thus apply for a 5th-year after the 2013 season. Senior Brian Smith will play his last game for the Irish December 31 in the Sun Bowl vs. Miami.

Final Analysis: Te'o is one of two candidates for team MVP; Calabrese was on his way to the team's most improved award prior to his Game Eight hamstring injury; Smith was a November revelation and one of the defense's three best players over the final four contests.

The unit far outplayed its pre-season ranking (not a projection at the time, just a statement of fact considering its overall inexperience) thanks to the near All-America effort of Te'o and unexpected early excellence of Calabrese. If the Navy game is removed from the equation, Notre Dame's inside linebacker trio could rank as the team's best unit from scrimmage.

For now they'll sit at second behind the tight ends and fourth overall behind the specialty units reviewed above…but there's always the Sun Bowl if they'd like to pad the final 2010 resume. Top Stories