Spring Wrap: Inside Linebackers

Our third position review of the Irish defense exiting spring ball examines the team's most sparse unit, its inside linebackers. In this, the eighth edition of the Irisheyes.com's "Incomplete" series, O'Malley explains who stood out, who's a step behind, and who'll improve next fall.

Inside Linebackers -- Skeleton Crew

Two of the team's six inside 'backers, longtime starters Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, will exhaust eligibility at season's end while a third, Kendall Moore, is a senior who could apply for a fifth year. The rest of the crew will be available through 2014 (preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt), 2015 (Jarrett Grace and Anthony Rabasa) and beyond (incoming freshman Michael Deeb.

Spring Pecking Order: With Fox sidelined by off-season shoulder surgery, it was Calabrese at the Will and Grace at the Mike, the pair backed by Moore and Schmidt, respectively. Rabasa appeared to work as the No. 3 Mike for most of the spring session.

Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco noted that when Fox returns, he, not Grace or Calabrese, is the player who'll play both Will and Mike linebacker for the 2013 Irish.

Spring Star: Grace is the new face in what will likely be a three-man inside 'backer rotation, but it appeared the 5th-year senior Calabrese was the spring session's standout.

"Carlo is changing his body composition," said Diaco. "He's always been able to play everything we've asked him to, (but) I think you'll see a different level from movement from him in that there'll be a lot less missed opportunities than there has in the past. I'm pleased with how his professionalism and his approach has changed."

Aid on the Way: True middle linebacker prospect, Michael Deeb.

Remaining Spring Questions

Who'll start isn't relevant, as the trio of Fox, Calabrese, and Grace will log the majority of playing time, but with Fox the only swing player of the threesome, will he be used situationally? Play-by-play pending the down-and-distance? Per drive? Can Calabrese improve defending the short zones? What does Grace bring vs. power running teams such as Michigan State and Stanford? Against spread attacks such as Michigan and Arizona State? Can he be more than a two-down player vs. the pro-style attack of USC?

Is Kendall Moore a viable backup option vs. quality teams in competitive contests? Does the staff trust preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt more than Moore in a pinch? For an entire game? Will Rabasa's second move inside (he was recruited as a Cat, evaluated first inside as a 2011 freshman, moved to Cat last fall, and back inside this off-season) pay dividends, if not in 2013, beyond?

How many deficiencies did Te'o hide playing next to the Will tandem over the last three seasons?

Final Thoughts

Improving vs. the pass is necessary for Calabrese, but he can best aid the defense if he can become a consistent, head-knocking run-stopper for 13 games rather than intermittently as in season's past…I thought Fox outplayed Calabrese overall last year, but there's no doubt Calabrese was the bigger force in goal line and short-yardage situations; the fact that the latter lines up as a defensive linemen when the Irish have their backs to the goal is impressive…Fox made my honorable mention list six times in 13 separate film reviews last fall and landed among the top 10 Irish game performers once (at Oklahoma)…Calabrese made honorable mention once (Stanford) and top 10 twice (Wake Forest and Alabama)…The latter parenthetical is relevant entering 2013...

If Notre Dame doesn't offer backup Kendall Moore a fifth season in 2014 (even as a backup yet again) it means one of three things: 1.) they believe walk-on Joe Schmidt could be a strong senior backup, 2.) incoming 2013 frosh Michael Deeb is ahead of schedule, or 3.) the base defense will turn heavily to a 4-3 front, with Grace backed by Deeb, Schmidt, Rabasa, and 2014 freshmen such as Greer Martini

Grace has to be very good for Notre Dame's defense to reach its potential. Better than either Fox or Calabrese (to date)…

Can any combination at the Mike make half the impact that Manti Te'o did last season, both as a zone defender and in terms of timely pass rushes, tackles at scrimmage, and making stops for little extra yardage in the open field? Diaco noted tackle production won't drop off from Te'o to this year's Mike(s), but where those 100+ tackles occur is crucial...

He's admittedly not my first choice, but it wouldn't surprise me if Calabrese is the breakout defender of 2013. Next in the series: The team's cornerbacks ...

Intro to Series

A key defensive line prospect. The nation's best high school linebacker. Two punters (phew!). The offense's quickest player. Two of the defense's three best cornerbacks. One of its three best inside linebackers. Two of its five best safety prospects. Two running backs capable of winning weekly roles. Two freshmen pass targets (one already on campus) capable of filling in at the back end of the rotation. Countless special teams contributors.

The list of potential -- and in many cases, certain -- 2013 commodities not involved in Saturday's quirky Blue Gold Game ranks as one of the spring game's most relevant stories, and leads to my final grade on head coach Brian Kelly's Irish as they exit a 15-session, five-week spring:


Just as it did in 2012 -- a national runner-up season and the best in 19 years for the program -- Notre Dame's 2013 football team will be made whole by its first-time scrimmage contributors.

That list last fall included major contributions from the likes of Tony Springmann, Danny Spond, Keivarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, and of course, Everett Golson.

"We're also going to bring in a number of freshmen that I'm certain are going to be involved in special teams, especially some of those bigger-bodied guys," said Kelly during his spring wrap-up press conference. "You've got (Michael) Deeb and (Doug) Randolph and Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield just to name a few. We've got some guys coming in, some DBs, in (Devin) Butler and (Rashad) Kinlaw. There is going to be an influx of talented guys that can help us in that area."

And from scrimmage as well, not only the freshmen, but those returning from injury, little-used players from 2012, and a host of others. The only guarantee for 2013 is that September's lot of key contributors will differ -- perhaps greatly -- from November's.

Reviews Published to Date:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Outside Linebackers
Defensive Line

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories