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Fighting Irish Positional Analysis: Outside Linebacker

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Returning OLB Prince Shembo
In the ninth of a 13-part series, looking at each position prior to signing day on Feb. 1, here is a quick rundown of the Cat and Dog outside 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.)
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On the roster
Outside linebackers departed: Darius Fleming, Steve Filer
Outside linebackers returning: Jr.-Prince Shembo (2), Jr.-Danny Spond (2), Soph.-Troy Niklas (3), Soph.-Ishaq Williams (3), Soph.-Ben Councell (4), Fr.-Romeo Okwara (4)
Possible position switch: With seven inside linebackers returning (eight including non-scholarship ILB Joe Schmidt) and what looks like five outside linebackers (Okwara likely will end up at defensive end), there is a chance the staff will try to balance that out by moving one of the inside linebackers outside. Junior-to-be Justin Utupo arrived as an outside linebacker, but seems better suited inside. Sophomore-to-be Anthony Rabasa, who preserved a year of eligibility in 2011, was listed by most as an outside linebacker coming out of high school. He might be a good fit at Cat linebacker where Prince Shembo is expected to shift from the Dog to join sophomore-to-be Ishaq Williams. Although Jamoris Slaughter was a situational Dog linebacker last year and likely will continue in that role at times, he is expected to be a starter at safety.


2012 Targets
Committed outside linebacker recruits: Romeo Okwara, although he'll likely end up on the defensive line.
OutsIde linebacker offers (2011-12): Noor Davis (Leesburg, Fla.; Stanford commit), James Ross (Orchard Lake, Mich.; Michigan commit), Ken Ekanem (Clifton, Va.), Brian Nance (Euless, Texas; Baylor commit), Reggie Northrup (Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami commit), Jamal Marcus (Durham, N.C.), Joseph Jackson (Jacksonville, Fla; North Carolina commit)
Outside linebackers on the ND board: Ken Ekanem

2013 Targets
Junior outside linebackers verbally committed: None
Junior outside linebackers offers (2012-13): James Hearns (Tallahassee, Fla.), E.J. Levenberry, Jr. (Woodbridge, Va.), Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

Analysis
The Irish seem to have plenty of talented players vying for spots at the Cat and Dog linebackers, but very little experience beyond Prince Shembo, who probably will flip sides this spring from Dog to Cat. That will require a learning curve, although the Cat spot is probably a better position for him over the long haul.

Whether Shembo emerges as the answer at Cat or not, the Irish need sophomore-to-be Ishaq Williams to begin to flourish like highly touted classmates Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt did at defensive end. Williams saw very limited action last season behind Darius Fleming, but the Irish need him to tap into his immense potential in that 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame. Williams playing at peak effort would be a bear to contain.

The front-runners for the Dog position are junior-to-be Danny Spond and sophomore-to-be Troy Niklas, although the former never did work his way onto the field at Dog during the 2011 season. In fact, when Prince Shembo missed the Michigan State game due to his father's illness, it was Niklas, not Spond, that started against the Spartans. This should be one of the more interesting battles of the spring, although Niklas' physical gifts would appear to give him the edge.

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