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Fighting Irish Positional Analysis: Middle LB

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Returning All-American MLB Manti Te'o
In the 10th of a 13-part series, looking at each position prior to signing day, here is a quick rundown of the Mike and Will linebackers: those departed, those still on hand, those recruited, what the future holds among current junior recruits, and what the future holds at the position.

(Note: The number listed in parenthesis is the years of eligibility remaining and the listing of a player's class is based upon the upcoming 2012 season.)

On the roster
Inside linebackers departed: Anthony McDonald, David Posluszny
Inside linebackers returning: Sr.-Manti Te'o (1), Sr.-Dan Fox (2), Sr.-Carlo Calabrese (2), Jr.-Kendall Moore (3), Jr.-Justin Utupo (3), Soph.-Anthony Rabasa (4), Soph.-Jarrett Grace (4), Soph.-Joe Schmidt (4)
Possible position switch: If the Irish are looking to balance out the numbers at outside and inside linebacker, two current inside guys that have a background on the outside are junior-to-be Justin Utupo and sophomore-to-be Anthony Rabasa.

2012 Targets
Committed inside linebacker recruits: None
Inside linebacker offers (2011-12): Brian Nance (Euless, Texas; Baylor commit)
Inside linebackers on the ND board: None
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2013 Targets
Junior outside linebackers verbally committed: None
Junior outside linebackers offers (2012-13): Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.; Auburn commit)

Analysis
Notre Dame didn't actively pursue inside linebackers in this year's recruiting cycle because all eight return for the 2012 season, including standout Manti Te'o, who decided earning his degree and following through with his commitment to the Irish was more important than the money that awaits him on the next level. Te'o followed up his 133-tackle sophomore season with another 128 stops in 2011, including a team-leading 13 ½ tackles for loss and five-and-a-half sacks (No. 2 on the team).

Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese formed a pretty good one-two punch at the Will linebacker spot for the Irish, combining for 85 tackles. Consistency tackling remains the No. 1 goal with Fox and Calabrese. Both have two years of eligibility remaining and should have their best seasons ahead of them.

It will be interesting to see how the pecking order shakes out with the other five inside backers. Junior-to-be Kendall Moore was listed as Te'o's back for most of the season right through the Champs Sports Bowl. He turned some heads with his physicality on special teams. Brian Kelly is on record praising sophomores-to-be Jarrett Grace and Joe Schmidt, the latter a walk-on, during the 2011 season. Grace fits the prototype of a Mike linebacker. Schmidt's lack of size/leverage works against him, particularly in a 3-4 alignment, but he's as a tough kid.

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