For the first time since 2008, there will be a new face in the middle of the Notre Dame defense. Everybody knows what Manti Te’o accomplished in his four seasons as the Irish’s premiere linebacker. Now, the Irish will look to a number of different players to play a role.
“Obviously, when he leaves, it was a hole to fill, but there’s a bunch of guys doing it together right now,” fifth-year senior Dan Fox said on Friday. “We’re working on it together, and I’m fully confident in it.”
“You can feel there’s a whole different dynamic,” junior Jarrett Grace echoed. “That presence is gone, but it allows other people to grow, and that’s what you need as you develop a team.
Fox, fellow fifth-year senior Carlo Calabrese, and Grace will all work together to fill the void left by Te’o’s departure.
As the most experienced veterans on the defense, Fox and Calabrese are also increasing their roles as defensive leaders.
“Everyone leads in different ways,” Fox said. “I sometimes don’t get out and do that vocal leadership, but I like to do that with my play. It’s just a different style.”
“If I see someone doing something wrong, I’m going to go up to him and tell him what he’s doing,” Calabrese said. “If they have a question, I will know the answer to it, and if I don’t, I’ll find out the answer.”
For the last two seasons, Fox and Calabrese have split time at the Will linebacker position. Grace has served as Te’o’s backup at the Mike position.
At practice on Friday, Calabrese and Fox took snaps together with the first team. Fox was at the Mike position, and Calabrese was at the Will. Grace took most of his snaps at the Mike position with the second team. However, expect all three players to fill those two spots as part of a rotation.
“That’s a fluid situation with all those guys playing in there and getting reps,” head coach Brian Kelly said on Friday after practice. “It won’t be a two-person rotation. That’s three (Fox, Calabrese and Grace) right now, and who knows? It could be four.”
Regardless of who is starting at linebacker on August 31st, the defense looks to be in good hands as they move on from one of the most successful runs in Notre Dame history in 2012.
We have a lot of great seniors, a lot of great guys, and everyone’s just stepping up, and we’re just trying to bring everyone forward, not just one individual person,” Grace said. “Just bring everyone forward, make everyone confident, make everyone have that defensive swagger when they step on the field.”