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April 5, 2013

Calabrese key in Irish redesign

It’s not entirely clear where Carlo Calabrese will play next season.

Notre Dame has time to figure that out. So does Calabrese.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said he doesn’t want to move the fifth-year senior off the will linebacker position, where Calabrese spent the past three seasons. But head coach Brian Kelly wants to cross-train Calabrese between the will and mike spots to create internal depth minus Manti Te’o.

“We want to be able to slide Calabrese over there,” Kelly said. “So he’s taking some mike reps as well.”

Fortunately for Notre Dame’s inside linebacker positions, Calabrese can double down on football this semester as his student-athlete balance trends toward the latter.

Calabrese has already completed the requirements for his industrial design major and is taking just one course this spring, a ceramics class that meets two days a week. That let Calabrese pick up a part-time job at a local framing shop this winter, putting in four shifts per week.

“It was a lot of hands-on work that we did, cutting mats out, designing stuff on the computer and putting frames together,” Calabrese said. “I already have my major all set and done.”

That means Calabrese got deeper into football this spring as Notre Dame looks to rework its inside linebacker positions minus one of the program’s all-time greats.

With Dan Fox out with a shoulder injury, Calabrese is the only inside linebacker with real game experience.

The New Jersey product started just five games last year while working in rotation with Fox, but still finished with 49 tackles and three stops for loss. He did it all from the will position as Te’o became Notre Dame’s most indispensible defender.

Now Notre Dame wants to find roles for Jarrett Grace and Kendall Moore, both slotted for the mike position only. Diaco said Fox could swing between spots, although Kelly cast the other fifth-year as a will exclusively.

“We're not looking at Dan Fox playing Mike. Clearly we have Carlo, Kendall Moore. We've got a number of guys that we think can play in there,” Kelly said. “I think it's just going to be setting depth. You saw us play last year. We're not just going to play one guy.

“Now, Manti was different. He never came off the field. But we need two and three deep at these positions. That's really how we’re going to approach the spring.” 

Now in his fourth spring practice, Calabrese isn’t in a rush for position conclusion. He’s worked at both spots during the past seven practices and figures to continue through the Blue-Gold Game.

“It’s spring ball, you’ve got to get a look everywhere,” he said. “Just coming from a bunch of experience there and a bunch of playing time and learning from my mistakes, that made me a better player at that position. I’m looking to get better this year at it, just by correcting mistakes.”

Calabrese has also tried to help Grace and Moore avoid those mistakes entirely. Neither has seen much more than special teams duty during their careers, combining for 22 tackles last season.

“Just the younger guys that don’t have as much experience or don’t see as much detail in the game, I’ll give them a little point here or there just to get their groove down and get their flow going on the field,” Calabrese said. “I think it’s going good. This spring they’ve learned a lot already and we have a lot to go.”

For Calabrese, there’s not much time left in his college career, although he’s finally had time to enjoy it with a scaled back academic load and graduation coming next month.

“Freshman, sophomore and junior year you were taking a bunch of classes and on top of that playing football, you had a lot of work to do,” Calabrese said. “Now that I’m older it’s just good to finally feel all done.”

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