This installment of Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy takes a look at a player and position group about which the Irish have a lot to be excited in 2015. There is probably no more dynamic position in all of defensive football, as linebackers are called upon to do all things. They’ve developed into punishingly strong, fast players who are able to drop into pass protection on one play and de-helmet the quarterback on the next.
For Notre Dame, its linebacking corps is full of proven talent and promise. Captains Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith anchor a deep group that sees the return of Jarrett Grace to pre-injury form. James Onwualu is going to start, leaving Jarrett Grace, Nick Coleman, and Greer Martini as the backups. Nyles Morgan should see time as well, giving the Irish its deepest squad in years.
The Irish: Without question, Jaylon Smith, 6’2.5″ and 240, is the best player the Irish have and among the country’s top linebackers overall. A player whose physical abilities and game-savvy challenge the writer to come up with ever-more hyperbolic descriptions of his brilliance, Smith’s name can be found on the watch lists for the Lombardi Award, the Butkus Award, the Nagurski Award, the Bednarik Award, and, well, you get the idea.
Smith finished last season as Notre Dame’s defensive player of the year and a second team All-American. Watching him play, it was too easy to forget that he was just a sophomore as he started all thirteen games and dominated in almost every situation. He lead the team in tackles, solo tackles, assisted tackles, and charm. His tackle-tally is second only to Manti Te’o for sophomores. If he comes back for his senior season, I’d be amazed; most pundits have Smith as the top linebacker prospect eligible for the 2016 draft.
The Enemy: Su’a Cravens, 6’1″, 225 pounds, is the kind of athlete who makes defensive coordinators salivate and keeps offensive coordinators awake at night. Cravens was a five-star safety who has transitioned to linebacker and has the moves and speed to return punts. Of all of his traits, it is Cravens’ quickness that separates him from the pack and allows him to close and tackle in space better than most. A junior, Cravens is making waves in Troy with a new leadership voice. By the time the Trojans face the Irish, he should have developed into a California dream and Irish nightmare.
Cravens is on the Bednarik, Butkus, Walter Camp, and Lombardi Award watch lists. He finished last season with sixty-eight total tackles, five sacks, nine passes broken up, and three interceptions.
Hating Hurricanes Since 1990.
Bayou Irish is a Jersey boy and Double Domer who fell under New Orleans' spell in 1995. He's been through Katrina and fourteen years in the Coast Guard, so we cut him some slack, mostly in the form of HLS-subsidized sazeracs. But, when he's not face down on the bar and communing with the ghosts of Faulkner and Capote at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, he's our man in SEC-land, doing his best to convince everyone around him that Graduation Success Rate is a better indicator of success than the number of MNC's won in the last five years.
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