I've read post after post of fans wishing for players, especially linebackers, who are hitters. They want guys on defense who play hard, nasty, and with an attitude. Well Notre Dame fans, allow me to introduce you to Carlo Calabrese. The Verona, NJ native is food for Notre Dame faithful hungry for a nasty linebacker with swagger.
Toughness and physicality are the name of the game for Carlo Calabrese. Already solidly built at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, the Verona standout is one of the most physical football players I've seen on film this year. This young man loves to hit people. You can just tell watching his film that the more he hits to more he enjoys the game. What's scary is that although he has good size and great strength for a high school player, Calabrese still has some room to fill out. This is especially true of his lower body, which will need to be developed some more.
I have to admit I didn't enjoy watching Calabrese's film all that much. As a former quarterback I got some flashbacks watching this young man I would rather have not had. He just destroys ball carriers. What is exciting to see is that unlike many players, Calabrese doesn't need to build up momentum or speed to explode through offensive players. His short area power is amazing. There is one play on his clip where he literally takes two steps and just destroys the running back as if he had built up momentum from ten yards back. That was impressive.
As a tackler the Verona star is more than just power. He also uses very good technique and wraps up well on the ball carrier. He doesn't just look to run through the football. He will wrap up the ball carrier and take him to the ground. Calabrese takes very good angles to the football and keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and the ball carrier. This allows him to always be in good position to deliver a blow. When you combine his natural power with his technique I see Calabrese jarring a lot of footballs loose from running backs in college. For a bigger guy Calabrese does an outstanding job of finding creases in the line of scrimmage and exploding through them to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
I would expect a player this aggressive to be out of position more often. That's not the case with this young man. He combines his aggressiveness and power with very good play recognition and instincts. He is very good at not only recognizing the direction of the play but also whether it's a run or pass play. Calabrese also is a decent tackler in open space. At times he plays a bit too high, and he'll also need to learn to drive his feet more through ball carriers. When he doesn't initially drive the ball carrier to the ground he has a tendency to stop his feet. Developing his lower body will help but he'll need to improve on his finish.
Calabrese uses his hands well when taking on blockers. He extends his hands well and uses his upper body strength to keep blockers from getting into him. While engaged with blockers he also does a fine job of keeping his eyes downfield on the ball carrier. That trait, along with his ability to keep blockers at a distance allows him to shed quickly and made a lot of tackles. I didn't see any clips of him having to anchor in the hole and take on a linemen one-on-one. While he plays a bit high at times Calabrese does show very good footwork from the linebacker position. He tends to take an initial false step but after that his footwork is very efficient. This efficiency, along with his instincts, motor, and solid athletic ability allows him to play much faster on the football than he will ever time at a combine.
This leads us to the one area where Calabrese has received the most scrutiny as a football player. That is his speed and athletic ability. I do agree that Calabrese is by no means a speed player. Pure speed isn't what makes him such an attractive linebacker prospect. But he isn't slow by any means. What speed he does lack, as I mentioned earlier, he makes up for with top notch instincts and hustle. This allows him to be a solid sideline-to-sideline defender. But he does lack a second gear that allows him to close on quarterbacks and running backs. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, I feel Calabrese is a good athlete with good agility. He has very good short area quickness and shows good change of direction ability. This was surprising to me as I expected him to struggle in this regard due to the fact he is a bit stiff in the hips.
Calabrese's limitations as an athlete only really concern me in one area and that is in coverage. As I mentioned, Calabrese has very good play recognition. He diagnoses pass quickly and gets into his drops well. But he doesn't have great range in coverage. I also think he will struggle covering quicker backs in man-to-man situations. I have no idea what kind of ball skills he has, but I do know he reads the quarterback well. This should also allow him to partially overcome his lack of range. Knowing where to go, getting there as quickly as you can, and reading a quarterback allows defenders who lack great athletic ability to be successful in coverage. If Calabrese can do those things he'll be okay in zone coverage. As a pass rusher I like Calabrese's upside from the inside. He has very good timing on the snap, and as I said earlier, can find holes in the front. He also does a great job finding the quarterback, and if he doesn't make the sack, he forces the quarterback out of the pocket.
I'm a fan of Calabrese as a football player. Some want to focus on his limitations. I like to focus on his strengths. No he isn't a top-notch athlete. But as we have seen the last decade there have been plenty of dominant linebackers in college who lacked top level athleticism. What they did have they used to their advantage. Calabrese has plenty of tools to be successful. He is a tough, physical, and aggressive football player, which Notre Dame desperately needs at the inside linebacker position. His instincts are top-notch. He has a motor that never stops. If Calabrese can maximize his strengths his upside is exciting. Inside linebacker is a position of need for Notre Dame. Not only do they lack numbers, but up to this point, they have lacked big-time ability the last two seasons. Last year the Irish added Anthony McDonald, Steven Filer, and David Posluszny to the mix. Adding Carlo Calabrese increases the depth at a position sorely lacking it. But he also adds power, nastiness, and talent to a position lacking that even more.
In the Film Room: Carlo Calabrese
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