Irish linebackers set for first test without Grace

Irish linebackers set for first test without Grace
October 17, 2013, 5:45 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jarrett Grace returned to South Bend last Tuesday, and while his spirits have been high after breaking his leg Oct. 5 against Arizona State his teammates described losing him for the season as "sad" and "heartbreaking."

Those feelings came from Grace's fellow inside linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, who now have to shoulder the load of playing time at the 'mike' and 'will' spots with a thin, inexperienced depth chart behind them.

While Calabrese said he's confident in senior Kendall Moore and former walk-on Joe Schmidt, there's not a whole lot of game experience there. Calabrese and Moore will man the will spot, while Fox and Schmidt will take over the mike, where Manti Te'o made his mark.

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Freshman Michael Deeb will be a swing guy between the two positions, although coach Brian Kelly would prefer to not play him this season.

Fox started at will alongside Te'o last year, with Calabrese chipping in as well. Fox began 2013 as the will starter, but ultimately lost his job to Grace and began playing some mike.

Kelly, though, was impressed with how Fox handled his demotion and switch.

"He had every excuse in the book -- the first thing he could have said is, hey, I went to mike. I'm the will," Kelly said. "He already had a built‑in excuse. Didn't use one of them. Didn't use any of them. Just went to practice and went to work harder.

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"He could have been disruptive, could have done all those things, but that's why Dan Fox is a special kid. And now we've got to put him in bubble wrap. He knows that."

For all the public confidence Notre Dame has in the guys behind Fox and Calabrese, they're unknowns. Fox and Calabrese bring known qualities and drawbacks to the table.

Notre Dame linebackers know there's no quick fix with Grace out, and are a reminded of a promising season being ended too soon every time they see him. But there's a game to win on Saturday, and while Calabrese and Fox hurt for Grace, they're staying focused on the task at hand.

"It's difficult off the field seeing him," Calabrese said. "But once you step on the field, it's all business."