Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Regular-season report card: Linebackers
By Matt Fortuna
The regular season is over and the end of the semester has arrived. Here, we grade Notre Dame's 2011 campaign by position. Part four of the 10-part series brings us to the linebackers.
Summary: Any conversation about Notre Dame's linebacking corp must start with Manti Te'o, who will face a tough decision after the Champs Sports Bowl. The junior is widely projected as a first-round pick and has filled out paperwork for NFL evaluations. In the regular season, Te'o notched team-bests of 115 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, all despite being hobbled by a bad ankle in the middle of the season and having little support behind him.
Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese played off each other nicely in the middle as well, combining for 81 tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss. They will return as seniors next season and, if Te'o leaves, will take on even greater roles.
One man who won't be returning is senior Darius Fleming, who had a strong season as well, recording 54 tackles, 3.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and an interception. Opposite him at the drop position, Prince Shembo overcame a family scare when his father suffered an aneurysm one day before the Irish hosted Michigan State, forcing him to miss that game. His speed was often on display, and the sophomore finished with a pair of sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. We should also include Jamoris Slaughter here as well, as the safety often came in for Shembo in nickel coverages and played a hybrid-like role, helping the rush defense.
Backups: Troy Niklas started in Week 3 when Shembo was out and Danny Spond was dealing with a hamstring issue. The freshman -- whose teammates refer to him as "Hercules" because of his 6-foot-6.5, 250-pound physique -- notched 20 tackles and a fumble recovery and will certainly be a factor moving forward. Spond, a sophomore, finished with 13 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss in nine games. Fellow freshman Ishaq Williams will likely contribute more in the future as well, as he saw action in 10 games during his first year. Sophomore Kendall Moore, meanwhile, played in every game, recording 10 tackles and two tackles for loss.