With the addition on a linebacker spot this year with the installation of the 3-4 defense, linebacker has been another hot topic this spring. Notre Dame returns starters Joe Brockington and Maurice Crum from a year ago, but lost Travis Thomas to the offensive side of the ball leaving at least two open spots. With a new defense, however, only the only sure fire starter at this point is Crum, one of Notre Dame’s defensive captains.
According to practice reports the first group of linebackers so far has been John Ryan and Anthony Vernaglia on the outside and Brockington and Crum on the inside. Crum will be entering his third year as a starter and has the speed and attacking mentality to play well in Corwin Brown’s defense. I still think he might be a bit undersized although he is listed five pounds heavier on the official spring roster than he was final 2006 roster up to 225 from 220.
Joe Brockington is listed at 235 pounds on the spring roster, up 15 pounds from the 220 he was listed at on last year’s roster and was one of the more pleasant surprises on defense during the second half of last season. After filling in for Travis Thomas when Thomas went down with an injury, he didn’t leave the starting lineup and was the most physical linebacker for the Irish. That physical play is something Notre Dame will be in great need of at the inside linebacker spot.
The only other inside linebacker that is really challenging for a starting spot right now would be Toryan Smith. Not much has been said about Smith this spring, but the sophomore to be is listed at 244 pounds and has the best size amongst the current Notre Dame linebackers to play on the inside. Inside linebackers have to take on guards in a 3-4 defense and Smith might be the best suited to do that on the Notre Dame roster. Smith might not win a starting job by the end of spring, but I still think he ends up as a starter coming opening weekend.
At the outside linebacker spot, it also is looking like there are three guys challenging for the two starting spots – John Ryan, Morrice Richardson, and Anthony Vernaglia. Ryan received some high praise from Weis during his first press conference of the spring as being someone who has the perfect body type for an outside linebacker in this defense. Right now, it doesn’t look like anyone will challenge Ryan at the strong side outside linebacker spot and based on the coaches comments this spring, they seem to be think very highly of him.
Vernaglia has said this spring he thought about a switch to offense before Corwin Brown arrived as the new defensive coordinator and has been running with the first team defense. The problem for Vernaglia since he has been at Notre Dame has been his toughness as evidenced last year when he got run over on running plays, but Brown has spoken very highly of “AV” this spring and has mentioned he is excited about his potential.
The third guy in the mix right now would be Morrice Richardson. Richardson is another prototypical outside linebacker for a 3-4 defense. He is an excellent pass rusher and showed a really nice burst off the line last year in spot duty at defensive end. Putting Richardson on the weakside where he can rush the passer could make for some big plays, but like Smith, he is really going to have to take the starting spot away from Vernaglia.
What really excites me about Richardson is that he is exactly the kind of linebacker Notre Dame has been lacking – a big, fast, attacking style backer who can really get after the quarterback. His skill set just seems perfect for the weakside linebacker spot.
The rest of the second group of linebackers has been made up of Steve Quinn and Scott Smith. Both saw action as true freshmen in 2005, but didn’t see much time last year. Both should, however, be able to provide some good depth.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Toryan Smith break into the starting line up at ILB. This would allow for Crum to play on the weakside where his size suggests he is better suited. However, Crum’s leadership is needed on the inside.
I don’t think whoever is running with the first group or first team right now can be taken too seriously. We are just over 1/2 way through spring practice and ND is replacing a lot of starters on defense – there is going to be a lot of changes between now and the time Georgia Tech comes to town.
The reason for spending more time on guys like Richardson and Smith in these articles and posts is because we’ve seen Crum and Brockington quite a bit so we know pretty much what to expect from them, but we really don’t know what to expect from these young guys. The reason for two whole paragraphs on Richardson is simple – I think he has the potential to be the best linebacker Notre Dame has had in a while in this defense.
As for Brown, he is one of the best athletes on the team so its not too crazy to think he could challenge for playing time this year.
I’m not saying that these guys are not good, just I don’t think they’ll have a very large impact on this year. “First team”, “First group”, lets not act like those are two completely different things. I think the players running in “first group” are a good indication as to who we’ll see more of this year.
I want it made clear that I’m in no way saying these guys are not good, but I just don’t get why you seemed to make “second groupers” the feture of youre article, dedicating two whole paragraphs to Richardson.
And as for the Bruton thing, it wasn’t just the Lambert move to FS that made no sense (You’re all about size for our ILB, but you want a 5-11 190 FS), it was also the fact that you had Soph. special teamer Sergio Brown listed over him.
There is a reason I write a lot about some of the younger guys a lot – they have more talent and potential than the upper classmen. Vernaglia and Bruton are far from being “first team” yet. They have been running with the first group during the little time that the media is allowed to view practice, but as of now the only sure starters on defense are Zibby, Crum, and Laws with Lambert and Wooden the next closest thing to sure starters.
By the way, these sophomore that I think are so go, are also running with the second team right which means Weis has noticed they are good, but he also won’t anoint anyone a starter without them earning it.
As for Bruton, I’ll admit I was wrong with him, but that post you refer to also was based on Lambert moving to safety, something that hasn’t happened. Bruton looks a lot bigger than he has this spring and I plan on making plenty of mention of that when I do the secondary write up.
I’m sorry, but you are still EXTREMELY biased to the younger players. You write up very little about the starters, then you tell us how great 2nd string sophomores Smith and Richardson are. Reminds me a few months ago when you didn’t even put Bruton or Vernaglia on the two deep and now they’re first team. If these sophomores are as good now as you think, I think Weis might have noticed by now. Give them a year, and it’ll be their time.