Rookies -- Relative and Otherwise: Senior Kendall Moore, juniors Jarrett Grace, Joe Schmidt and Anthony Rabasa. Freshman Michael Deeb and possibly classmate Doug Randolph, an outside linebacker prospect who could receive an initial look inside.
Position Coach -- Bob Diaco: The former all-Big 10 inside linebacker selection enters his fourth season as the position's coach and coordinator of the Irish defense.
Established Starters: Though not stars, Calabrese and Fox have a combined 34 starts and 75 games played to their credit. They combined last fall for 105 tackles including five for lost yardage with a sack, a pair of passes defended and a pair of quarterback hurries (the latter three categories covered exclusively by Fox who started eight games to Calabrese's five).
Camp Buzz: The long-awaited emergence of junior (redshirt-sophomore) Mike 'backer Jarrett Grace. Manti Te'o touted Grace as "the next big thing" last August. He was lauded by head coach Brian Kelly throughout his initial season of 2011 for scout team performance and again last fall when the head coach was pressed for a backup of note. A starting job is there for the taking but the rangy 6'2 1/2" 248-pound Grace must beat out a 5th-year veteran to earn it.
The Pressure is on… Senior Kendall Moore. Moore should at worst be solidified as a No. 2 inside linebacker and player pressing for playing time entering his fourth year in the program. He's instead firmly entrenched as a blocker/tackler on the Irish return and coverage units…and nowhere near earning a starting nod as of the final practice of spring ball. Can Moore show enough to earn a fifth season of eligibility for 2014, a year in which the roster will likely boast just one experienced inside 'backer among its ranks? Can Moore beat out newly-minted scholarship athlete Joe Schmidt for a two-deep role? (Schmidt toiled as a preferred walk-on over the previous two seasons.)
The Battle is Among… Calabrese, Fox, and Grace. Each of the trio will play, with one (Calabrese?) or two (plus Fox?) of the pair working at both Will and Mike linebacker. According to each of them, they all cross-train, so its not out of the question that the threesome will rotate between the two positions over 13 games. (The Irish coaching staff, however, appears to have a different understanding of "cross-training" at the two positions than do their youthful charges.)
Wither? Anthony Rabasa. The junior has bounced from pass-rushing defensive end (as a pledge) to the inside (2011 season), to the Cat position/edge rusher again (2012), back inside, the most recent move due more to a dearth of available bodies this spring than any grand plan. I've seen Rabasa show promise rushing the passer, coming off the edge -- but there's no room for him at the Cat position these days or in the near future. With three seasons of eligibility remaining, two guaranteed, its time for the Miami product to carve his collegiate niche.
BCS Dreams Because... Few teams can boast the experience or run-stopping ability of the Irish 5th-year tandem…Grace was the best thing since sliced bread when he was entrenched as Te'o's backup…Freshman Michael Deeb is ahead of the curve, though that's more a story for spring ball 2014…Regardless of who plays, they have the best defensive front line in the nation occupying offensive linemen.
Cause for Pause: Coverage issues vs. spread teams and multi-receiver sets could again be an issue for the Irish inside 'backers. Purdue nearly upset Notre Dame in Week Two last season targeting Calabrese in coverage late, while Brigham Young, Pittsburgh and ultimately Alabama had significant success hitting the Irish 'backers in zone coverage for scores. Te'o recorded a remarkable seven interceptions and 10 passes defended last fall -- Calabrese and Fox won't combine for the latter total in their collective careers. (Neither has a collegiate interception, though neither did Te'o entering his final season.)
Take it to the bank: No inside 'backer will approach 100 total tackles as did Te'o in each of the last three seasons but each member of the trio will record between 50 and 85 this fall.