Rotation of ND linebackers has MSU coach’s attention
By LaMond Pope email@example.com or 713-2691 September 17, 2013 11:22PM
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - SEPTEMBER 14: Dalyn Dawkins #20 of the Purdue Boilermakers runs the ball as Carlo Calabrese #44 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish converges for the tackle and Robert Kugler #57 of the Purdue Boilermakers trips him up at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 14, 2013 in West Lafayette, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Updated: October 19, 2013 7:33PM
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is well aware of Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace.
“Grace is a very good player,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “We recruited him out of high school. A lot of these guys we recruited out of high school.”
Grace, who is from Cincinnati, is instead making an impact with the Irish. He led Notre Dame with 10 tackles in Saturday’s win against Purdue.
“He’s getting more reps, playing better and better at that position,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “That’s a three-man rotation. You earn your playing time. He’s gotten more play at that position based upon plays that he’s making.
“So that position continues to evolve.”
Inside linebackers Dan Fox (24 tackles), Grace (20) and Carlo Calabrese (18) are Notre Dame’s three leading tacklers this season. Fox had 10 tackles each in the first two games before finishing with four against Purdue. Calabrese had nine in the opener, then five and four tackles the following two weeks.
“Fox is a guy that’s playing Mike and Will. We just want to keep all three of those guys active as much as we can,” Kelly said. “We have two seniors (Calabrese and Fox), and obviously Jarrett is a guy that’s keeping it very competitive. We’ll keep evaluating that week to week. We’ve got obviously a guy that is starting to make some plays at the Mike linebacker position. But we’ve got two seniors there that we like a lot, as well.”
Grace didn’t see any action with the Irish in 2011. He played in all 13 games last season, mostly on special teams. He finished with 12 tackles.
Grace nearly matched that mark in the opener against Temple. He finished with 10 tackles against the Owls. After collecting three tackles against Michigan, Grace led the way with 10 tackles against the Boilermakers.
Dantonio has been impressed with Notre Dame’s group of linebackers, including Jaylon Smith. The freshman outside linebacker has seven tackles.
“Jaylon is a guy that is a true freshman that was a national recruit, very good player,” Dantonio said. “He’s active. For a true freshman, he knows what’s going on out there, very active. Calabrese and Dan Fox are in there. Jarrett Grace is in there as well.
“… They’re thumpers. I see those inside guys being thumpers.”
Note: Kelly was asked Tuesday if freshman quarterback Malik Zaire was “in good standing with the doctors and with yourself?”
“He’s in good standing with the doctors, very good standing,” Kelly said.
Zaire missed the first three games as he recovered from mononucleosis. Sunday, Zaire tweeted that he was “cleared,” which when asked later that afternoon if that was indeed the case, Kelly said, “Yeah, but he might be suspended for violating the rules relative to information.”
“He learned his lesson relative to what is information that needs to stay within the program,” Kelly added Tuesday. “He learned his lesson. He touched the stove and we’ve managed that, gotten through it.”