Notre Dame unit preview: Linebackers

Notre Dame unit preview: Linebackers
July 28, 2014, 10:00 pm
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In six words or less: Jaylon Smith and plenty of questions

Projected starters: Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Ben Councell
Rising up the depth chart: John Turner
Arrivals: Nyles Morgan, Kolin Hill, Greer Martini, Jonathan Bonner
Departures: Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Prince Shembo

Looking back

Jaylon Smith tallied 67 tackles and 6 1/2 tackles for a loss while picking off pass and breaking up three others. His freshman season went about as well as Notre Dame could've expected, teeing him up to land on an avalanche of preseason award watch lists this month.

[MORE: Notre Dame set to unleash Jaylon Smith inside]

Both Jarrett Grace and Ben Councell suffered season-ending injuries, with Grace's broken leg requiring two surgeries and Councell's torn ACL holding him out of spring practice. Former walk-on Joe Schmidt performed well after Grace's injury, making a handful of solid plays in pass defense.

2014 outlook

Coming out of spring practice, Notre Dame looked set at Will (Jaylon Smith) and Mike (Grace, or if he's not healthy, Schmidt and incoming freshman Nyles Morgan). At Sam outside linebacker, though, there's a bigger question mark: John Turner -- a converted safety -- and James Onwualu -- a converted wide receiver -- manned that position during spring practice, and both have a ways to go before they're ready to start against some of the high-powered offenses Notre Dame will face this year.

[MORE: Notre Dame-Navy gets prime time kickoff on CBS]

While Councell backed up Smith on the weak side last year, he could be Notre Dame's best bet to take over on the strong side. He's a rock-solid tackler who could be an asset at Sam against run-oriented offenses. Still, he's never played on the strong side, so there's a chance he winds up backing up Turner if he does wind up there.

Notre Dame has better depth at inside linebacker, with Grace -- again, if he's healthy -- and Schmidt both seniors and the highly-talented Morgan pushing for playing time. Smith will play inside as well in some nickel and dime situations.

They said it

"I’m not worried about myself and what I can do to contribute to the team. I really just want to do whatever it takes to help our team win." -- Jaylon Smith on shifting inside and outside

More unit previews

Quarterbacks | running backs | wide receivers/tight ends | offensive line | defensive line | defensive backs | special teams