On the Mike

Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco explains the new inside linebackers alignment with its three-season rock removed from the equation.

Notre Dame's leading tackler, interceptor, pass defender, turnover creator, locker room voice, hardware recipient, and its general heart and soul has exhausted his collegiate eligibility.

Other than that, its business as usual for the Irish inside linebackers, a position without Manti Te'o as its focal point for the first time since the outset of the Brian Kelly era.

Defensive coordinator and position coach Bob Diaco though isn't looking to find a player similar to his former star. He can't.

"We're not going to replace Manti. He's an irreplaceable player, he's a once in a lifetime type guy," said Diaco today following the team's second spring practice.

Te'o's overall impact won't be duplicated in 2013, but a quintet of inside competitors looks to bridge the gap to a new era at the all-important Mike 'backer position.

Reading between early lines, it seems a three-to-make-two scenario could develop with Dan Fox the key component shifting between Mike and WIll next fall.

"Fox is mentally participating but he's not physically participating," said Diaco of the Mike position. "So (Jarrett) Grace and Anthony Rabasa, who we've moved inside, they're just getting a lot of reps looking to get better every day."

Sidelined for the spring due to recent shoulder surgery, Fox has started the last two seasons at Will (a combined 22 starts and 26 games played) and he could again in 2012. But at present, his fellow 5th-year classmate and part-time starter Carlo Calabrese (five starts last season; 10 in his career) mans the position.

"Carlo is going to be the Will," said Diaco. "He is not a multi-position guy for us. Dan is definitely going to be a multi-position player for us, and Grace is going to be at Mike.

"If you're looking mechanically, that's how we're going to structure ourselves."

Grace at the Mike. Calabrese at the Will. Fox at both, perhaps starting at either, perhaps backing up both, doubtless in a heavy rotation with ample playing time.

That's what the next five-plus months will decide.

More from Moore

Also in the mix is senior Kendall Moore, a player who's biggest contributions to date have been on special teams and in mop-up duty, the latter of which he intermittently fared well, notably in a November 2011 win over Maryland.

Consistency, however, has plagued the third-year varsity player.

"Kendall (Moore) is right now working at the Will and he's getting much better. He has a different level of purpose," said Diaco."

Asked if that was a missing ingredient prior to Spring 2013, Diaco offered, "Yeah. Definitely. He has a totally different level of focus right now, which is nice."

The unit adds a sixth competitor in true freshman Michael Deeb this summer. It could also add a current starter to the mix, though no official move is likely. Or necessary.

"I think Danny Spond can do any job we need him to do," said Diaco when asked if the teams' starting Dog might get a look inside. "There's not an all-encompassing moment where you do or you don't (move him) with a guy like that. We work him inside fundamentally at times, so he's getting work inside also. He's been inside (in the past). If you remember three springs ago, he worked exclusively as an inside linebacker."

For now its five guys looking to compete for two roles.

Whether its three-to-make-two on game day among Fox, Grace, and Calabrese, or whether Moore and/or Rabasa enters the Saturday mix will be determined by the play of each through spring, summer, and fall camp.

Such is lifecyle of a position attempting to mitigate the loss of an irreplaceable player inside.

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