In Case You Missed It: The 'Backers

Notre Dame's spring session is two-thirds complete. Irisheyes.com continues its quick breakdown, position-by-position, of key developments to date.

Click here for our spring review of the offense's skill positions to date.

Click here to review the offensive and defensive lines.

Mike and Will 'Backers

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's specific position group must replace the program's best defensive player in at least 20 years. In Manti Te'o's stead steps Jarrett Grace, of whom Te'o referred to as, "The Next Big Thing" last August.

Projected Starters and Key Reserves through nine practices: Grace backed by junior preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt and senior Kendall Moore. Moore also trains behind 5th-year senior Carlo Calabrese at the Will. Calabrese's fellow 5th-year Dan Fox is not involved in any contact this spring following off-season shoulder surgery. An early glimpse at the rotation is described by Diaco below.

Key Storylines: Head coach Brian Kelly recent overview gave life to fan and media assumptions that Grace and Moore could form a 1-2 punch at Mike, with Calabrese and Fox again serving as dual Wills (for the third consecutive season). Its more likely though that a three-man rotation emerges, with Fox backing both Grace and Calabrese, and potentially playing more overall snaps than either, as Fox is likely to earn a bit more time in medium-yardage, down-and-distance (potential passing) situations.

Change in the pecking order? None, though Moore's final landing slot (backup Mike or Will) will be telling: if he's the backup Mike, the staff likes him enough to earn snaps from scrimmage next fall. If he is, however, a technical backup Will 'backer, that likely indicates he's the No. 3 Will, behind both Calabrese and Fox, and thus much further from action other than with the special teams.

Junior Anthony Rabasa was moved back inside, his slotting as a freshman in 2011, after spending 2012 as a third-string Cat 'backer.

Quote to Note: "Carlo is going to be the Will. 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. Kendall is right now working at the Will and he's getting much better. He has a different level of purpose."
-- Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco near the outset of spring ball.

Dogs and Cat 'Backers

Returning senior starter Danny Spond has been limited at times this spring with nagging neck and shoulder tightness. His absence has opened the door for junior (redshirt-sophomore) Ben Councell to receive more reps this spring.

Projected Starters and Key Reserves through nine practices: Spond and Councell at the Dog; senior Prince Shembo and junior Ishaq Williams as the Cats. Sophomore Romeo Okwara trains at both in the spring, but his future -- 2013 and otherwise -- is likely as a Cat 'backer.

Key Storylines: Councell's emergence gives the Irish a true two-deep at Dog (Spond rarely left the field last season). Enjoying a relatively anonymous spring from a media perspective is Shembo, though Kelly said of his senior pass-rusher following the team's eighth practice, "We've got two guys that really have a great work ethic and lead by the way they practice. Prince Shembo is an incredibly determined practice guy. Every single day, he's out there, and Jarrett Grace."

Change in the pecking order? None, its a ridiculously deep unit that will become more impressive in June when five-star freshman Jaylon Smith hits campus.

Williams also lends depth at defensive end, but his true role there will be when the line shifts to a 4-3 front, and he's in on a rotational basis behind Shembo. Defensive line coach Mike Elston noted this week that Williams works nearly exclusively with linebackers coach Bob Diaco.

Quote to Note: "Councell's got a lot of physical ability, and now that he's put on the weight and has gotten stronger, he's long, almost 6-foot-4…that's a pretty big kid out there. It's been good that he's gotten work."
-- Kelly on Councell's extensive work in Spond's absence.


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