Jarrett Grace is a player that Notre Dame and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder would love to have available for the fall. Grace’s slow recovery from a nasty, gruesome broken leg suffered in the AT&T Dome however has thrown the linebackers availability up in the air for months. On Saturday though, head coach Brian Kelly gave some promising updates on where Grace in his road to recovery.
In an interview with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Kelly said that the senior linebacker looks like he could be ready for action by August.
“He had a real good X-ray the other day,” Kelly said. “He’s in great spirits and progressing very well. Obviously, the next few weeks are going to be key for him as he ups his movement. He’s probably in the best place that he’s been in a few months. Everything looks like he’s making the kind of progress he needs to make towards August.”
Once Grace got hurt, it was assumed he would be ready for the 2014 season. Upon further examination of his injury however, it was revealed that Grace didn’t just break his leg, he darn near shattered it with breaks coming in four places. Along the way setbacks have also cast doubt as to whether or not the Irish linebacking corps which could sorely use Grace’s services would have them this fall.
Heading into the fall, the Notre Dame linebacking corps is easily the most questionable position group on the roster. The defensive line has some players coming back form injury, but between Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day, Ishaq Williams, Romeo Okwara, Tony Springmann, Isaac Rochell, and Andrew Trumbetti the Irish should be OK. The secondary should be a strength with Keivarae Russell, Cody Riggs, Cole Luke, and Max Redfield. On offense, the Irish are set at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and along the line like we haven’t seen in years.
At linebacker though? The Irish have more questions than answers right now. What can they get from Doug Randolph after the sophomore missed his entire freshman season? Will the heralded incoming freshman Nyles Morgan be ready to step in and play from day one? Can Joe Schmidt, a great Notre Dame story, provide the kind of production needed to beat the Florida State’s and USC’s on the schedule? Is sophomore Michael Deeb ready to contribute? Will either converted safety John Turner or converted wide receiver James Onwaulu be able to hold up at SAM while both weighing in around just 220 lbs? And what about senior Ben Councel? The once heralded recruit is coming off an ACL injury from 2013 and has just 25 career tackles.
Throw in the questions surrounding Grace’s availability in 2014 and its probably a safe bet that the linebackers are the one group that has VanGorder up at night. Luckily for the Irish, VanGorder has extensive background working with linebackers which will hopefully help the staff answer at least some of these questions and field a competitive group on linebackers to go along with budding superstar Jaylon Smith.
As for Grace, if the Irish can get meaningful snaps out of him in 2014, it’ll provide a huge boost to the Irish defense. Grace was just coming into his own last year before breaking his leg against Arizona State. Against Temple and Michigan in gmaes one and two, Grace totaled just 10 combined tackles including just 3 in the loss to Michigan. In his next three games, however, Grace racked up 27 tackles in wins over Michigan State and Purdue and the loss to Oklahoma.
Just how much Grace will be able to give, even if he gets the green light from the medical staff, will be interesting to see though. Grace missed all of the spring so he has not had any experience playing in VanGorder’s defense which as we’ve heard will likely be much more of a 4-3 defense as opposed to Diaco’s 3-4. In addition to the mental aspect of the new scheme, there is also the physical and psychological hurdles involved with coming back from a rough injury like the one Grace suffered.
Putting a nasty injury like the one Grace suffered in Dallas in the rear view can be hard to do. For now though, just having the possibility of a return from Grace this fall is great news for the Irish defense. Now the best anyone can hope for is that there are no more setbacks and we all see #59 trot onto the practice field in August with the rest of the 2014 Fighting Irish.