A Piece That Fits

A Piece That Fits

Michael Deeb is verbal pledge #16 for Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class. Unlike his two incoming classmates at linebacker, Deeb's position slotting seems set in stone before he'll arrive on campus next summer.

Not everyone can deal with clutter. And fewer still thrive with constant distractions, responsibility for others, and daily pressures exacerbating the mess.

For a major college inside linebacker, "clutter" comes in the form of 300-pound guards, stray legs whipping out at their unprotected shins at the last instant, and charging athletic pass-catchers crossing both in front their eyes and behind their areas of coverage responsibility -- play after play -- for 13 fall Saturdays each fall.

True inside linebacker prospects know how to thrive under such conditions, and the Irish might have landed one in commit #16 for 2013 Michael Deeb.

Just as outside linebackers need possess a rare burst, quick feet, or the ability to backpedal and move laterally as easily as they do forward, inside linebackers must be able to diagnose a play, meet and defeat blocks, and take a consistent pounding from the opposition upon every snap, all-the-while securing more tackles than 90 percent of their defensive teammates.

Though performance at both positions can improve exponentially with practice and coaching, both are also more innate than learned skills. And while he currently stars at a vastly different level of football, Deeb seems to possess that innate knack for the quick read and diagnosis of a play followed by explosion forward and through the ball carrier.

At Notre Dame that natural movement will include a challenging middle step: beating a block between diagnosis and tackle. Its something 5-star Manti Te'o does on nearly every play, and something former 3-star prospect Luke Kuechly did better than anyone in college football over the last three seasons en route to a first round NFL Draft selection.

Deeb doesn't have to be the equal of either to succeed as the Mike (middle) or Will 'backer in defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's scheme. Rather, in addition to being a sure tackler, Deeb will be charged with aligning the front seven defensively, taking on uncovered guards on running plays, and moving laterally in coverage vs. short zones. The latter aspect will be his biggest challenge.

The Will linebacker role in Diaco's defense is at present, a two-down player. That is, third down passing situations (or even 2nd and long) often bring an extra defensive back on the field to improve the unit's coverage and quickness in the Will's stead.

Deeb is a player that can capably fill the two-down role inside at either Will or Mike (seems a more natural fit) while striving to improve in coverage vs. the nation's best athletes.

Entrance Exam

There are two true middle linebackers in South Bend at present. One graduates in December and will be remembered as one of the program's best; the other will be a senior (redshirt junior) when Deeb begins what will likely be his redshirt freshman season at the University in 2014.

But instead of projecting an extra season ahead, below is a look at the inside linebacker eligibility chart for 2013, Deeb's true freshman campaign:

Will Linebacker Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese: Both members of the starting tandem are eligible for 5th seasons in 2013 and at present, are expected to be asked back pending future recruiting results.

Mike Linebacker Jarrett Grace: A redshirt freshman this fall, Grace is the heir apparent to Te'o in the middle of the Irish defense. Though he'll never be better than Te'o in attack mode or blowing up screen passes, Grace might already be better in coverage downfield vs. tight ends than is the All-American senior. Grace has eligibility through 2015.

Mike/Will Linebacker Kendall Moore: A redshirt-sophomore for 2012, Moore finished spring ball behind Grace on the depth chart, though the gap isn't insurmountable. In small samplings, Moore also appears his best moving forward and attacking, though that's natural for most 'backers in need of college seasoning/playing time. Moore is eligible through 2014.

Inside Linebacker/ST Justin Utupo: Moore's classmate, both in school and collegiate eligibility, will likely make his biggest mark on the Irish special teams (he's a key player on the strong kick return unit) and potentially as a backup pass rusher (Cat LB) from the dime package. Utupo has shown a knack for rushing the passer since (and during) high school but would be undersized for the role on a full-time basis in college.

Cat/Will Linebacker Anthony Rabasa: Like Grace, Rabasa was withheld from action as a true freshman last season. He worked inside during the fall on the Irish Scout Team but saw spring work at Cat due to the absence of junior Prince Shembo (foot surgery). Rabasa is likely best suited outside, which fits well with the recruitment of Deeb for the interior.

Incoming Classmates: Jaylon Smith could likely play anywhere, though he's an ideal fit for the perimeter, as is 6'5" Danny Mattingly, who gave his pledge to the Irish three days before Deeb.

Deeb enters an enviable situation as an inside linebacker prospect, one that will likely redshirt in 2013 (unless he's deemed a top tier special teams player). Grace will be a senior in class and likely entrenched in his second season as a starter in 2014, Deeb's second season with the program. If Deeb is ahead of the curve as a redshirt-freshman, he could push for playing time at the Will 'backer spot alongside Grace over the next two seasons.

Deeb won't have to compete right away, and he won't be asked to push for a starting job until at least his third season at the program. It would be a career arc similar to current starter Dan Fox, as well as Grace (who should fight for the role entering 2013), and former Irish inside 'backers such as Brandon Hoyte and Donn Grimm.

But if he's better than (or as) advertised, Deeb could find a major role at the Will in '14, his redshirt freshman campaign. Such a rise was experienced by current Will linebacker Carlo Calabrese who won the job in 2010 with a strong August camp during head coach Brian Kelly's initial season.

Then again, Deeb might not be the last 'backer capable of dealing with the "clutter" in Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class.

Note: For previous "Recruit Fit" columns, click the links below:

Danny Mattingly

Mike Heuerman

Isaac Rochell

Jaylon Smith

Malik Zaire

John Montelus

Rashad Kinlaw

James Onwualu

Corey Robinson

Initial Offensive Linemen Haul

Jacob Matuska

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