The Notre Dame Fighting Irish played their way to a perfect regular season and the BCS National Championship game on the back of a strong defense. Much of their defensive production has moved on for 2013, however, with the biggest name missing being middle linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o. Brian Kelly will be looking for someone to step up and replace that lost production and leadership. Could Te’o's underdstudy, Jarrett Grace, be the answer?
Grace has been sitting behind Te’o for the last several years and soaking up the lessons from the former Irish legend. Before Te’o left South Bend, he imparted some excellent lessons to Grace, telling him to “attack the field with a purpose” on each and every snap. The junior will get his first real chance to show what he can do after posting just 12 tackles in 2012. That lack of experience, however, shouldn’t make the Irish faithful too uneasy.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has raved about Grace during spring practice and can’t wait to see how he holds down the inside linebacker position next fall. According to Diaco, Grace has the speed, ability to change direction and instinct to diagnose and react to plays to be in position to make the tackles an Irish middle linebacker is expected to make. He has the skill set and drive to be a successful successor to the position.
He’ll also be helped by the Irish defensive line in front of him. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt will be major forces on the line and will consume blockers, keeping Grace free to roam and make the plays that Te’o was able to. It won’t be easy to replace a legend in South Bend like Te’o overnight, but Grace has the tools to have a monster season in 2013 and at least start to fill Te’o's shoes.