Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Linebacker

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Toryan Smith

Also Returning: Tom Burke, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Brian Smith, Scott Smith
Lost: Maurice Crum, Jr., Aaron Nagel, Steve Quinn, Kevin Smith, Kevin Washington (graduation), Kerry Neal, Martin Quintana, Kallen Wade (position change - defensive end), Harrison Smith (position change - safety)
Gained: Sean Oxley (walk-on), Anthony McDonald, David Posluszny (DNP as freshmen), Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Manti Te'o (freshmen)

It seems like every year Toryan Smith enters fall practice as the starting middle linebacker, then loses his job before the leaves turn. For Toryan, things must look especially bad this year, as the Irish come in with more talented linebackers than at any time during the senior's career.

If Toryan Smith wants to play as much as possible, he'll have to prove his worth as a run stopper. But even playing him on obvious rushing downs is no longer a given, as Brian Smith and Manti Te'o - the obvious choices to replace Toryan in the middle - already rival him in physical size.

Scott Smith enters with a similar story. The senior has finally worked his way into the starting lineup, but he too will have to prove his worth as a run stopper to stay on the field. There is already talk that Darius Fleming - who similarly does not have much of a size disadvantage compared to Scott Smith - is working his way into the starting SAM spot. And hot on Fleming's heels is Steve Filer - to the point where both may see the field as outside linebackers at the same time.

Then there's the possibility of Fleming playing defensive end on passing downs, like he did as a freshman last year. This is a talented and versatile linebacking group - a problem any defensive coordinator would love to have, especially a blitz-happy one like John Tenuta. To recap, there's Toryan Smith at the MIKE; Brian Smith and Manti Te'o at the MIKE or WILL; Scott Smith at the SAM; Darius Fleming at the SAM, WILL, or defensive end; and Steve Filer at the SAM or WILL.

That's not bad for a group that "lost" nine players from the start of 2008, including two starters. Plus it's not couting newcomers David Posluszny and Carlo Calabrese, who have impressed so far in fall practice.