Pre-spring breakdown: Linebackers

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
2:30
PM ET
Our series continues with the linebackers.

Starters returning: Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond
Players returning: Ishaq Williams, Jarrett Grace, Kendall Moore, Ben Councell, Anthony Rabasa, Justin Utupo, Joe Schmidt
Players departing: Manti Te'o
Newcomers: Michael Deeb, Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph

The breakdown: Te'o, of course, leaves the biggest void, as Notre Dame is tasked with replacing the man who came as close as any pure defensive player ever did to winning the Heisman Trophy. But he is the only linebacker departing, assuming that Fox and Calabrese have had no hold-ups with their fifth-year paperwork.

Brian Kelly said during the winter that Fox and Calabrese, along with Grace, will be the front-runners to fill Te'o's vacant spot in the middle. He added that Moore and incoming freshmen could emerge as candidates as well. Fox and Calabrese have split time as starters during the past two seasons, and it will be worth watching how much that is the case this season, as it will likely depend on how well Grace progresses. Grace received much hype during last year's spring season but ended up seeing little time, though Te'o was clearly a big reason for that.

During last fall's camp, Councell generated similar hype to what Grace generated in the spring. Councell saw plenty of time at the dog while Spond was sidelined with what turned out to be a severe migraine. Spond emerged as one of the Irish's biggest surprises last season -- he started in Week 3 at Michigan State and never looked back.

Shembo, meanwhile, made a huge jump in 2012, starting at the cat and tallied 10.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 12 hurries and one forced fumble. He was another valuable pass-rushing option for the Irish -- among the biggest disruptors on a team that finished the regular season atop the nation in scoring defense. He kept Williams from seeing lots of action during his second year, though the Brooklyn, N.Y., native did see more and more time as the season progressed and should continue to grow.

Smith was the highlight of this recruiting class, as ESPN's No. 7 overall player can probably play either outside or inside, though he will not arrive on campus until this summer.

Matt Fortuna | email

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