Manti and Who In the Middle?

With Brian Smith moving back to outside linebacker and Manti Te’o taking over as one of the inside linebackers in Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense, an opening exists at one of the inside backer spots that will be one of the more interesting position battles of the spring.

Rising sophomore Manti Te'o should have a lockdown on one of the inside linebacker positions for the 2010 Irish defense. (Photo - IconSMI)

While Brian Kelly mentioned on Friday that Manti Te’o has “got to get much better as a football player” and that he “wasn’t very good”, no one expects Te’o to be anywhere but the starting line come September. Kelly even went on to say as much without actually saying Te’o was locked in as a starter. “If you write the prescription for a coach; who do you want to coach? Get a guy like that,” Kelly said of Te’o.

In the new 3-4 defense though, there are two starting spots at inside linebacker. On Friday, junior David Posluszny was running with the first team defense alongside Te’o while the second unit consisted of junior Anthony McDonald and senior linebacker turned fullback turned linebacker Steve Paskorz.

The presence of Posluszny with the first team is a bit of a surprise if for no other reason than his listed weight of 225 lbs. That is easily on the light side for a inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense because it’s tough to take on guards at that weight.

The competition for that spot along side Te’o is anything but settled at this point right now and a starter may not emerge till the summer. McDonald is a former 4-star recruit who has battled a number of minor injuries over the last few seasons.  He too is a little on the small side for an inside linebacker at only 230 lbs.

Paskorz, the converted fullback, was originally recruited as an inside linebacker and started his career on the defensive side of the ball before moving to offense in the spring of ’08. He’s got more ideal size at 245 pounds, but he’s spent the past two seasons learning the Charlie Weis offense and will undoubtedly have a little bit of a learning curve going back to defense. Luckily for Paskorz, he played in Corwin Brown’s 3-4 defense in 2007 so his lone season on defense was at least in a similar defensive system.

The wildcard in the mix at inside linebacker could be sophomore Carlo Calabrese. He didn’t play as a true freshman in 2009, but he is a hardnosed, throwback type player that has the type of attitude the defense has been missing. He lacks ideal mobility, but he is big and strong and should be able to handle taking on oncoming guards in the running game.

Whoever ends up starting should benefit from the extra attention that offenses are going to be paying attention to Te’o. The sophomore to be has the potential to have a breakout season and has all of the talent needed to become a standout linebacker. He showed signs of that kind of ability last year, but was inconsistent. With a full off-season in the weight room and learning the new defense, he should be ready to make an impact in the fall.

If McDonald can stay healthy, he might be the best bet to start next to Te’o. He’s got the best overall skillset among the candidates at the inside spot. He isn’t the biggest, but he has better coverage skills than Calebrese and has a little more size than Posluszny. To stake his claim to one of those starting spots, he’ll need to remain healthy throughout spring and fall camp – something that has been a problem for him in the past.

Whoever ends up starting next to Te’o is going to be tasked with helping a defense that was just abysmal against the run in 2009. Notre Dame ranked 89th in college football in defending the run while giving up over 170 yards a game on the ground. Poor tackling was one of the biggest factors in the Irish’s inability to stop the run last season meaning whoever starts next to Te’o will have to show consistent tackling skills this spring.

While there are plenty of questions about who will start next to Te’o, one thing is certain howeve.  Should Te’o get hurt at any point this year, the Irish will be in a major bind at the position. Te’o may need some more seasoning and consistency, but Notre Dame simply lacks anyone else on the roster that has his raw skills.

If Diaco, who will coach the inside linebackers, can get Te’o up to speed and find a capable starter to line up next to him this spring, the Irish defense will be in solid shape heading into the season.

That might be easier said than done based on the situation facing Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator.

There are plenty of questions at most areas of the defense this spring off the heels of last year’s poor defensive performance, but at most positions it’s a matter of developing talented players who have underachieved. At inside linebacker, Notre Dame will be looking for a starter among a group of players who’ve seen a total of just over 13 minutes of combined playing time.

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  1. kelleygreen 8 years ago

    So far the words Kelley is saying are music to the faithful’s ears. Along with the we stink and we took a step, he took ownership for not getting his message through to the team.

    I also liked his comments on Harrison Smith. In BK’s mindset there are types of players for each position. He put Smith in his place and said if you can’t play safety you aren’t playing.

    It is about damn time the Irish players started hearing the truth. Just because they are at Notre Dame doesn’t mean they can skate by.

    BK is going to coach it up his way and they had better listen to what he is saying.

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  2. jack 8 years ago

    These guys needs this. They need a foot in the ass. To many times last year I saw heads hanging in the fourth quarter, this is needed. The players that don’t respond can sit. It is time they hear the sad reality about this team, you sucked last year and were soft. Man up and take care of business. Excellence is in the details. Another great military saying that I think applies to this situation is Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Pefromance. Make practice stressful and tough and games will be easier and fun. More reaction and less thinking.

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  3. Chris 8 years ago

    Sounds like rumors of soft practices during the time of Chucksters were correct. Of course not practicing at full speed and contact until year 3 told most fans what they never thought they would hear…GO BK! Its about damn time and yes he is correct – we dont have time for this crap! “What we have here – is a failure to communicate….you got to get yer mind right Luke…”

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  4. Shazamrock 8 years ago

    I absolutly loved the SouthBend Tribune / BK interview. “On offence we stink right now”. “We took a step back today.” “18,19,20yr olds who are on the ND football team, on the practice field on a beautfull 70 degree day, and I have to spend my time motivating them?”
    This guy is as serious as a heart attack. He means business. I hope it rubs off on his players. I hope that when next September rolls around his team means business too.

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  5. IrishChan 8 years ago

    This is completely off topic but I had to pass it on…

    Check out

    I stop by to have a look around and found this interview of Bryant Saunchly (Oklahoma St). Now, I’m sure he’s a good kid and probably nervous with all the microphones, reporters and nfl scouts. But what exactly has he been doing for the last 3-4 while attending college? Read the interview below the video clip…

    It really makes me appreciate Notre Dames commitment to recruiting kids that are not only going to be great athletes, but also represent the school well.

    I’v heard people say we should lower our standards at ND. I completely disagree with that. The Fighting Irish are the standard. I would rather watch a team of educated, responsible kids that play football than a bunch of kids who can’t seem to express a thought….but are really good at playing football.

    Again…I feel kind of bad about pointing this kid out….but the University of Oklahoma, his coaches, friends, and parents let this kid down. Could someone tell me how he made it out of Eng. 111-118? Did he have to take Public Speaking? I’m talking about the core classes….


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    1. Shazamrock 8 years ago

      I might be wrong about this, but I seem to remember something about Jerome Bettis and Chris Zorich each having a speech impediment.
      In our modern age of extensive
      media coverage where perception is everything, I believe it was something that they worked very hard at correcting. Since Graduating from ND I have seen both do interviews, and they both seemed to have over come their issues. I would like to think that attending ND had something to do with it.

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    2. joey d 8 years ago


      Did he go to both universities, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St?? That damn Bob Stoops is responsible for this kid not being able to articulate during an interview, and he wasn’t even his coach!!!

      Also, I would like to point out that the guy in the video with the speech impediment is Mike Mayock!!!

      GO IRISH!!!!!!!!

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      1. IrishChan 8 years ago


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  6. C-Dog 8 years ago

    Great article Frank. I only hope that the new Irish coaches make use of everyone on that list. One mark against Weis, especially on defense was lack of substitution. They subbed at corner but not much else. I nver bought the excuse that the non-starter abilities dropped off that much. And even last year with apparent parity inside the Irish roster, 2nd and 3rd stringers weren’t used well, nor was their game prep good. Brian Kelly expects all players to be prepared to play. And so they will. If done properly, ND wil have a great and opportunistic defense with several standouts and not dependent on anyone player. But Teo still is a monster.
    Love it, Go Irish!!!

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