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Offseason Cheatsheet: Linebackers

Looking for some catch-up as Purdue looms just around the corner? Check out the Offseason Cheatsheets, your Du Lac approved crib-sheets that’ll get you ready for the 2010 season. For more, check out the quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, and defensive backs.


As a group, there might not have been a position that underachieved like the linebackers. To a man, the roster was stacked with impressive recruits, yet the production didn’t come anywhere near the potential of the collective unit. While Manti Te’o found the field as a freshman, touted recruits like Steve Filer, Kerry Neal, and Darius Fleming disappeared for long stretches, stuck in neutral from either relegation to undersized defensive end or a back-up role in Jon Tenuta’s 4-3 system. Brian Smith took a step backwards, struggling with the transition to middle linebacker. In retrospect, the underwhelming performance was understandable, nearly all the players on the roster were playing out of position, recruited for a 3-4 scheme long abandoned. But with Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco reimplementing the system each returning player was hand-picked for, there’s reason to believe one of the defensive’s biggest liabilities can become one of it’s biggest strengths.


Short a program? Here’s every linebacker listed on the roster:

No. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. Hometown/High School
5 Manti Te’o So. 6-2/245 Laie, HI (Punahou)
8 Kendall Moore Fr. 6-1/239 Cary, NC (Southeast Region)
13 Danny Spond Fr. 6-2/225 Littleton, CO (Columbine)
30 Steve Paskorz Sr. 6-1/246 Allison Park, PA (Hampton)
36 David Posluszny Jr. 6-0/235 Aliquippa, PA (Hopewell)
44 Carlo Calabrese So. 6-1/240 Verona, NJ (Verona)
45 Darius Fleming Jr. 6-2/247 Chicago, IL (St. Rita)
46 Steve Filer Jr. 6-3/235 Chicago, IL (Mount Carmel)
48 Dan Fox So. 6-3/230 Rocky River, OH (St. Ignatius)
49 Derek Roback Fr. 6-3/233 Waverly, OH (Waverly)
50 Sean Oxley Jr. 6-2/227 Avon Lake, OH (Avon Lake)
53 Justin Utupo Fr. 6-3/251 Lakewood, CA (Lakewood)
54 Anthony McDonald Jr. 6-2/238 Burbank, CA (Notre Dame High School)
55 Prince Shembo Fr. 6-2/243 Charlotte, NC (Ardrey Kell)
56 Kerry Neal Sr. 6-2/246 Bunn, NC (Bunn)
58 Brian Smith Sr. 6-3/234 Overland Park, KS (St. Thomas Aquinas)
63 Steve Bosford Sr. 6-2/220 Arlington Heights, IL (St. Viator)


On Te’o: “There are guys that people gravitate towards. There are guys that set a standard for the way they play. And right now it’s Te’o on defense.”

On McDonald and Calabrese: “We’d like Mac to play more physical, we’d like Calabrese to play with more finesse... Carlo, he’s a strong, physical kid. He wants to knock that guard out every time. The problem is the tight end runs down the middle of the field, he’s got to be covered by you once in a while. Mac on the other hand can cover that tight end down the middle of the field all day long. Once in a while, that guard knocks him back five yards. So, you know, it’s a combination of both of those.

On Neal: “He plays very physical. Very enthusiastic. Can run extremely well. Plays with an energy level, a high energy, at that position.”

On Smith: “I like to see Brian Smith out on the edge, he does a nice job of re-routing, he’s a natural out there.”

On Fleming: I think just by describing what that person has to do tells you that person has to be a unique athlete... Darius has that athletic ability to do those two things. There are not a lot of those guys out there.”

On Filer: “Steve was more interested in what kind of skateboard he had when I got here,” Kelly said after practice. “He’s not that interested in skateboards anymore. He’s interested in playing football, and that athletic ability is starting to show itself on the football field.”

On Spond: “Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic. I don’t know that we have many guys that play with their hands and can really shock you. He’s going to be on all of our special teams as well.”

On Shembo: “We have run a lot of reps at him and we need to continue to rep him because he’s a good football player. Where do we like him? We like him on the field. He’s got some flexibility to play.”


With a philosophy switch, the Irish have gone from looking for linebackers that can play effectively to trying to find a way to get all their playmakers onto the field. With Darius Fleming entrenched at the “Cat” linebacker, the battle for the other outside position -- the Dog -- is a three-way battle between Brian Smith, Steve Filer, and Kerry Neal. I look for all three to get on the field in different ways, with Smith working mostly on passing downs .The battle for the inside spot next to Manti Te’o has been muddled with injuries to Anthony McDonald and Steve Paskorz, but I expect McDonald to end up seeing most of the playing time, with Carlo Calabrese pushing him every step of the way. Looking for a prediction? How about double-digit sacks for Darius Fleming, someone that’ll likely thrive as a hybrid pass-rusher like others have under Diaco. The Irish coaching staff is really high on freshmen Prince Shembo and Danny Spond, and I wouldn’t doubt if Spond’s athleticism helps him find a way into the “Dog-fight” as well.


B. With Manti Te’o ready to take his game to the next level and Darius Fleming ready to dominate, the linebacking corp has taken a huge step in the right direction. If someone can stake claim to the Will inside ‘backer spot, the Irish will have their best linebacking unit in recent memory.