Spring Update: Linebackers

With spring practice winding down, Irish Eyes takes a look at how each position group is shaping up. Today we look at the linebackers, a group that has seen some shifting during the spring and could see more before the start of the season.

Charlie Weis made it clear that the depth charts that were posted before the start of spring were incomplete because of the absence of fifth-year applicants and the placement of injured players at the bottoms of their positions.

While it is not surprising, it is interesting to see how different the linebacker corps is at the end of spring practice than the group on that initial list.

The pre-spring depth chart did not include Scott Smith, who was approved for a fifth year of eligibility by Notre Dame last week, and with Darius Fleming nursing a shoulder injury, early enrollee Zeke Motta was listed as the starter at Sam.

Brian Smith was listed as the starter at Mike with Toryan Smith backing him up and Steve Filer was the top man at Will, in front of David Posluszny and Anthony McDonald.

Less than a month later, Brian Smith is the only starter remaining from the depth chart issued at the start of spring practice and he is at a different position. The lineup that the Irish have shown the most during spring practice is Smith, Smith and Smith.

Toryan Smith was impressive enough at the Mike spot that the Irish staff moved Brian Smith to Will where he is now number one. Scott Smith has taken the first reps at Sam since the start of the spring, but he was not included on the depth chart.

Linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta said that Toryan Smith's rise goes back to the Navy game last year when he filled in for an injured Brian Smith. Toryan Smith led the team with 10 tackles and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the win over the Midshipmen.

"We went into the Navy game and from his high school days, he kind of knew the system, so when Brian went down his whole personality and a lot of things changed for him because now he's on the field and playing," Tenuta said.

"The last part of the season he did a tremendous job for us and he stayed on that up-rise and he's done a great job for us in the spring."

Brian Smith has played inside last season after playing outside as a freshman.

"At this point, I'm pretty comfortable with the defense where if I get stuck at any linebacker I know what to do," Smith said. "Since I played Mike last year and I'm playing Will this year, I know that much more about our defensive scheme and what we're trying to do and it helps to be able to know what's coming and make adjustments."

Brian Smith's position could change based on Filer's development and where Manti Te'o ends up when he arrives in the summer.

"Based on situation and who we need out there are the guys that are going to be out there, the most productive guys," Tenuta said.

Brian Smith is all in favor of moving around to different spots.

"I love it because you never know where I'm coming from," he said. "The more they are confused about where I'm coming from, the better it is for me to make plays, so I love it."

Tenuta loves Smith.

"Brian does a great job just because of his effort and he's up-tempo everyday in practice because he loves football. His passion for the game takes over everything that he does," said Tenuta. "When he comes out on the practice field he's going to have fun and he's going to make things happen so he's a joy to be around."

Brian Smith is excited for the chance to play with his buddy.

"Toryan has always been one of my closest friends. Just having him on the field with me, we're always on the same page and he's a force in there," said Smith. "He's in there banging heads with everybody and making great plays…It's really fun to be out there with him."

Smith believes that the linebackers will be better this year because they are more familiar with what they are being asked to do.

"Everything has progressed very well. Guys are out there making plays," he said. "Everyone knows what they're supposed to do so it's not about doing your assignments, it's about doing your assignment above and beyond the call of duty.

"They're not worried about what their assignment is, they're worried about how can I make a play for negative yards, TFLs, sacks, picks. Guys are trying to make a great play instead of an OK play."

CHARTING DEPTH: It will be interesting to see if Fleming passes Scott Smith at the Sam position once preseason camp rolls around, either way the Irish will have solid depth and that does not take the presence of Te'o into account.

Motta will also get a look at Sam and while playing time could be tough with all of that experience and star power ahead of him, it is clear already that his early arrival has helped him.

"Zeke is a high motor kid, he just goes all of the time," said Tenuta, whose eyes lit up at Motta's mention. "He's a joy to be around. He really likes it…He's got a lot of ability."

Filer and Posluszny are behind Brian Smith at the Will position right now with McDonald behind Toryan Smith at the Mike.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Filer and Posluszny are two players that could give the linebacker unit even more flexibility and depth.

Filer said that the coaches had him play outside linebacker last year so that he only had learn the defensive schemes for one side of the field, but is now comfortable enough to play one of the interior spots.

"That's what I played in high school and that's where I'm used to," he said. "Inside linebacker allows me to play both sides, run to the ball and coverages. I just have my hands full with it, it gives me a bigger range of places I can go make tackles and make plays."

While Filer feels comfortable, he knows that he still needs to prove that to the staff.

"I think that Steve is a guy that's got athletic ability, he's got some toughness and he's just working his way into getting some playing time," said Tenuta.

"He's got to learn the system and be productive within the system."

Posluszny does not have the athletic ability of Filer, but he makes up for it with great instincts. Posluszny has impressed the staff this spring after sitting out as a freshman.

INJURIES, ETC.: McDonald has struggled with injuries since he arrived on campus and that leaves little depth behind Toryan Smith at Mike. Weis has already told McDonald that he will need to show up this summer when the freshman class arrives.

Fleming is recovering from a shoulder injury, but he is confident that he will be back this summer.

"It kind of sucks not being able to be out there right now," said Fleming. "At the same time I have to plan on what I'm going to be doing this summer, catching up where they are now and competing for a spot in the fall, so I'm looking forward to it.

"It's nothing big, It's something with my shoulder. They're just being precautious about it right now. No, I didn't have surgery, they just want to rest me. August is the biggest time of the season and it's not August right now, so I'm pretty much just resting to get ready for then."

Fleming will actually playing linebacker again instead of being called a linebacker and really being more of a defensive end.

"I would be standing without my hand on the ground and it's something that I definitely have to work out by playing linebacker again, like in my senior year in high school," he said. "I got used to it but it's something that I'm planning on working on this summer, but it's nothing I can't do. I feel like I'm a versatile player so I think I can catch up pretty fast.


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