Everyone knew coming into this season that Manti Te’o would again be the core of this defense, but we didn’t know the support he would receive from the rest of the linebackers. Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, and Danny Spond have all made significant contributions to this defense and are the reason for Notre Dame’s success defensively. This group led Notre Dame to be the 2nd best team in the nation in scoring defense at 10.3 points per game. Not only that, but the 5th best rushing defense in the nation only giving up 92.42 yards per game. The linebackers receive an A as an overall grade for their performance. Let’s see how each linebacker did individually.
Manti Te’o, MLB
The Heisman candidate has been the leader of this defense all season and because of his play and leadership Notre Dame is going to Miami for the National Championship. Yes he is that good, if you actually pay attention to his technique and what he does when he doesn’t make tackles you would see why he is one of the top NFL prospects. Te’o takes on blocks very well using his hands to get off the block and make a play. He moves very well for a linebacker and his lateral movement when shuffling across the defense to make plays is among the best in college football. Manti leads the Irish in tackles with 103 and in interceptions with 7 (tied for second in the nation for interceptions). Without Manti Te’o the Notre Dame defense would be good, but not great.
Overall Grade: A+
Carlo Calabrese, MLB
The senior linebacker who has made a good contribution to the run for the Irish defense. Calabrese is a first and second down linebacker since he lacks speed to be in many pass coverage’s. Carlo is 7th on the team in tackles with 46 and also has 2 tackles for loss on the season. The thing he struggles with is lateral movement and the initial step to the play. If Carlo can get quicker and work on his shuffle he would be a more complete player. What he does bring to the table is he will hit people hard (2 forced fumbles on the season).With one year of eligibility left I think Calabrese will come back if approved and might turn into an every down linebacker with Manti graduating.
Overall Grade: B-
Dan Fox, MLB
In my opinion the second best inside linebacker to Manti, and the 3rd best linebacker on the team. He is versatile when it comes to his run support and pass coverage. He is better in pass coverage than Calabrese, but still needs work in man to man coverage situations. The concern I have for Fox is if he can be the strong side linebacker. Since he rotates a lot with Carlo he always has rest and isn’t in the game every down, but I think he could bean every down linebacker. There is a chance that Fox could come back for another year, which would more than likely put him at the Sam linebacker position.
Overall Grade: B
Prince Shembo, OLB
Arguably the second best pass rusher on the team after Stephon Tuitt. Shembo is the 6th leading tackler on the team with 48, and the second in sacks with 7.5. He is a hybrid linebacker that can play the run, pass, and rush the passer. I think he is the second best linebacker on the team next to Manti and will have a huge role next year for the Irish. Shembo is just skimming the surface of his capabilities on the field and could be one of the best linebackers in the nation next season. He will be a difference maker in the national title game on January 7th.
Overall Grade: A
Danny Spond, OLB
In ten games this season he has 38 tackles, which is 12th on the team, but has one interception on the year. Has gotten a lot better as the year has went on, especially on his outside contain. Spond still has a hard time when he is on the back side of a play and can either stay at home too long or goes with the play too early. Spond in my opinion isn’t very fast for an outside linebacker, but he gets the job done. He is only a junior and will be back for his senior season, which should be an interesting one depending on who comes back.
Overall Grade: B-