Status Report: Irish Linebackers

Our final series of spring wrap-up columns examines Notre Dame’s roster with a look at each individual’s status entering the summer months. Is he ascending? Has he stagnated? Did he take a step back?

Jaylon Smith (Will) – He’s the best player on the team and might be the best linebacker in the country in 2015. So I’ll save some space and continue writing about others…

Status: Ascending. Dude…

Nyles Morgan (Mike) – Began spring as the starting middle linebacker by default and ended there of his own merits – partially. To be fair, Jarrett Grace wasn’t fully engaged until past the mid-point and team MVP Joe Schmidt trotted out of practice to rehab for 14 consecutive sessions. August will be interesting…

Status: Ascending. Morgan took advantage of his opportunity this spring.

James Onwualu (Sam) – The special teams standout will start on the strong side, occasionally ceding time to Greer Martini vs. power-rushing attacks (of which there aren’t many) or goal line situations, and to Smith in certain sub packages. Onwualu is the team’s best special teams player – if he’s not on at least three of the four Irish “Run Teams” (KR/PR/KO/Punt) you need no further evidence that the all-important third phase of the game is given the short shrift by the current regime.

Status: Ascending

Joe Schmidt (Mike) – Let’s see: took part in a lot of stretching and rehab…waved cordially to the media…spoke regularly with visiting coaches, fans, onlookers…jogs without a limp…oh yeah, we never had a chance to speak with the 2014 team MVP -- and he doesn’t even play quarterback…

Status: Stagnant. Schmidt didn’t need the spring as did fellow injured teammates Jarron Jones and Drue Tranquill but it could have further sharpened his game. A summer near and an August camp at full strength would greatly improve his quest to open the season starting at the Mike, not to mention Notre Dame’s playoff aspirations.

Jarrett Grace (Mike) – It’s remarkable that Jarrett Grace is going to be tackling opposing ball carriers this season. (If you’re wondering why, visit Google. Also, welcome to Irish Illustrated!)

Should greatly aid the Irish vs. downhill running teams, but a starting assignment seems unlikely if Schmidt and Morgan are in good health.

Status: Ascending. Reminiscent of Lazarus…

Greer Martini (Sam) – Can backup the Sam, Mike, and Will positions and will likely do so for each at some point next season. Martini would likely be the first Sam and Will off the bench should Onwualu/Smith go down to injury.

Status: Stagnant. Not his game, that’s likely ascending, but Martini’s prospects to start – something he did twice last season – are quite low. His career arc is ascending and like Onwualu, will be a special teams standout.

Te’Von Coney (Will) – Heck of a job by a would-be senior in high school playing among some of the nation’s best. It is to be hoped Notre Dame doesn’t need him to start next season (Re: Jaylon Smith and the NFL) but it’s likely he’ll be pressed into action. Spring 2015 helped get him ready…  

Status: Ascending

Michael Deeb (Mike) – The junior (redshirt-sophomore) is buried behind Schmidt, Morgan, and Grace at Mike and would be behind Smith, Coney, Martini, and walk-on Austin Larkin -- and likely the incoming Josh Barajas -- at the Will. His path to playing time is on special teams and it’s time the third-year player makes his mark.

Status: A Step Back -- and he needed two steps forward.

Summer Additions: Josh Barajas, Asmar Bilal

Next in our Spring Status Series: The Irish Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Top Stories