Sunday, October 16, 2011
Bye week grades: linebackers
By Matt Fortuna
Summary: Manti Te'o may just be the best inside linebacker in the country, and his team's unit clearly takes on his identity. Te'o leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, all while rarely receiving a breather. But there is much more than Te'o. Darius Fleming has made the most of his senior season, responding to many public and private challenges from Brian Kelly and seemingly elevating his performance with each passing week. Prince Shembo's speed has been, at times, just ridiculous, particularly when he ran down Pitt's Ray Graham on a 42-yard run that looked like it could have gone all the way. The Dan Fox/Carlo Calabrese experiment has continued to develop nicely as well. You can even throw Jamoris Slaughter in here as well, as the safety moved up against Air Force and forced two turnovers in the rout.
There is little for Irish fans to complain about with their team's front-seven, which has been ruthless against the run and has continued to make life difficult for drop-back passers. A big challenge comes in two weeks against Navy, though, at this point, it is difficult to imagine the nation's top rushing attack having its way after the way Notre Dame's linebackers have looked through the season's first six games.
The backups: Danny Spond has been derailed by a hamstring injury for much of the season, and freshman Troy Niklas did a solid job in his place in Week 3, when Shembo was a last-minute scratch due to a family emergency. Niklas, just a freshman, has earned the nickname "Hercules" from some teammates for his stature, and he will give Irish fans plenty to be excited about in the coming years as well. Freshman Ishaq Williams has seen extensive time as well and will continue to grow.