Maurice Crum (Jr) – 6’0”, 220
Crum started every game at apache last year as a true sophomore after redshirting in 2004. He’s a versatile athletic who Weis has said can play all three linebacker positions for the Irish if needed. He will play primarily at middle linebacker for the Irish this year however despite lacking ideal middle linebacker size. At 220 pounds he isn’t going to intimidate too many running backs with his size, but he showed last year that he can play and he adds excellent speed to the position.
Crum had off-season surgery on his shoulder after the Fiesta Bowl and missed all of Spring practice but has been healthy in training camp and hasn’t missed a beat. Part of why Weis wants Crum at middle linebacker is for his leadership and his intelligence on the field. The middle linebacker is referred to many coaches as the quarterback of the defense and Weis and Rick Minter have a lot of confidence in Crum’s abilities.
In 2005, Crum was sixth on the team in tackles with 57. Expect that number to increase dramatically with Crum moving over to middle linebacker. For instance, last year’s starter Corey Mays finished the season with 80 stops. While Crum may lack Mays’s size, he is much faster and is much better in coverage than Mays. It’s not out of the question for Crum to play other linebacker positions either. Should Travis Thomas need to see extended time on offense, Mays could shift over to the weak side if Weis thinks freshman Toryan Smith can handle playing in the middle.
Travis Thomas (Sr) – 6’0”, 215
Along with Sam Young starting at right tackle, Thomas’s switch to defense has been the biggest news story coming out of camp this summer. Thomas spent last year as Darius Walker’s backup at running back, but in an effort to upgrade team speed, Weis moved Thomas to linebacker and the early reviews out of camp have been promising.
Thomas is not a stranger to hitting after being a special teams standout for the Irish last year earning him distinction as special teams captain for this year. He can move and can hit, that much we know. Whether or not he has picked up on the nuances of the weak side linebacker position remains to be seen. The good news however is that Weis has not moved him back to running back. He said all along that if Thomas at linebacker wasn’t working out, he would have been moved back to offense full time. That hasn’t been the case however.
Like Crum, he is undersized for the position at just 215 pounds, but like Crum what he lacks in size he makes up for in speed. Still, at 215 pounds, Crum could have some trouble shedding the blocks from bigger tight ends since speed cannot make up for everything. Watching Thomas Saturday night is going to be very interesting because so little is known about his linebacker skills.
Mitchell Thomas (Sr) – 6’3”, 232
Rounding out the starting linebacking corps is Mitchell Thomas, a senior out of Alabama at strong side linebacker. Thomas was a highly touted linebacker prospect out of high school but has yet to make an impact on defense for the Irish. He brings with him a great combination of size and speed. At 232 pounds, he is easily the biggest starting linebacker for the Irish.
With Crum sidelined this Spring, Thomas spent a lot of time in the middle but moved over to the strong side position after battling it out with Anthony Vernaglia in camp. Some were surprised when Thomas beat out Vernaglia since most people felt Thomas was better suited in the middle with his size, but he showed enough in camp to earn the starting nod.
Most of Thomas’s appearances at Notre Dame have been on special teams so it will be interesting to see how he does in coverage.
Anthony Vernaglia (Jr) – 6’3”, 230
Vernaglia battled with Mitchell Thomas for the starting strong side spot after seeing some reserve action in 2005. Vernaglia, a highly touted recruit from California, is an excellent athelete who saw action in five games at linebacker last year.
Vernaglia was one of the jewels of a much maligned recruiting class in 2004 and was in plenty of top 100 lists after an impressive high school career at Orange Lutheran HS. Vernaglia will added some much needed depth to the linebacker position and could still end up starting if Mitchell Thomas struggles early on.
Toryan Smith (Fr) – 6’0”, 230
Smith has cracked the two deep depth chart for the Georgia Tech game as a true freshman. Smith will backup Maurice Crum at middle linebacker this season and could end up starting if he improves enough. Smith is an extremely talented middle linebacker out of Georgia and its not out of the realm of possibility to think he can end up starting since Weis has said before that Crum can play all three linebacker positions.
Smith is a true middle linebacker who can flat out hit. He also has a mean streak which is something you love to see in the middle linebacker. As a freshman, Smith is already at 230 pounds and is bound to end up adding more size throughout the year and in the off-season.
Even if Smith is just a backup this year, he is a very promising talent for the Irish and will see plenty of time on special teams where he’s drawn some praise from Weis already in camp.
Joe Brockington (Sr) – 6’1”, 220
Brockington was the top backup at linebacker for the Irish last year and figured to be in the mix for a starting role this year, but instead he will backup Travis Thomas at weakside linebacker. Brockington, a senior, has shown that he is a steady, solid linebacker who can tackle. Lacks great speed which could be a factor in him not starting this year with Weis wanting to upgrade the speed on defense.
Like Crum, Brockington missed the Spring recovering from off-season surgery which allowed some of the younger guys to step in. Still, Brockington figures to be a force on special teams again this year however after seeing plenty of time the last two seasons on the kick teams.
Morrice Richardson (Fr) – 6’2”, 228
Richardson is another promising freshman who has some real pass rush ability. Richardson will most likely grow into a defensive end for the Irish, but will compete at linebacker this year and with his ability to get to the quarterback he could see some time this year.
Richardson, the Gatorade Player of the Year last year in Georgia, has a bright future ahead of him at Notre Dame and will most likely see some time on special teams this year.
Scott Smith (So) – 6’3”, 242
Smith spent most of last year on the two deep depth chart, but has fallen back a bit with Thomas moving over to linebacker and the emergence of freshman Toryan Smith. This Smith was the primary backup at middle linebacker most of last year and saw some meaningful playing time against Michigan when Corey Mays had to leave the game.
Smith is the biggest of the Notre Dame linebackers, but like Brockington, does not posses great speed. Still, Smith is a solid tackler who will provide some depth at linebacker and special teams.
Kevan Washington (So) – 6’1”, 239
Washington has moved around a bit in the linebacking corps after not seeing any action as a freshman for the Irish in 2005. Washington spent most of the Spring competing for the “Apache” position which Weis is not just calling strong side linebacker, but couldn’t crack the two deep.
Washington can move for a linebacker who is close to 240 pounds and will compete for playing time on special teams this year.
Nick Borsetti (Sr) – 6’4”, 235
Borsetti has only really seen time on special teams for the Irish and probably only will see time on special teams again this year. The senior out of Massachusetts has not challenged much for playing time at linebacker throughout his career and with some of the younger linebackers developing, Borsetti will most likely only be a special teamer again this year for the Irish.
Steve Quinn (So) – 6’2”, 215
Quinn was listed as Maurice Crum’s backup at Apache most of last year as a true freshman, but has fallen off a bit this year. Quinn’s another linebacker who has some pretty good speed but is also undersized at 215 pounds. Quinn played in 10 games a true freshman last year. He saw a lot of time in Spring practice with Brockington and Crum banged up and should at least contribute on special teams again this year.