This article is a part of our 2013 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating players on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Irish LB Dan Fox didn't participate in spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery.
ILB Dan Fox
6-foot-3 | 240 pounds
Experience: Played in 39 games, started in 22
Stats: 131 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks
Shoulder surgery in January forced a more professional looking Dan Fox to watch most of his fourth run through spring practice from the sidelines. The inside linebacker, who clipped his identifiable long hair after the season, was one of three Irish defenders that had a tear in his shoulder cleaned up in January.
Fox made 63 tackles in his most productive season in a Notre Dame uniform last fall. His workload increased throughout the year as he started taking more of the starts and snaps from tag team partner Carlo Calabrese at the Will position. He started nine of the team’s 13 games and finished fourth in total tackles.
The Ohio product needed an extra year to fully develop into a college linebacker after redshirting as a freshman. Calabrese was a full-time starter in their shared spot as a sophomore, but Fox’s superior mobility started to earn him more reps during his junior season. He started all 13 games while splitting time with Calabrese that year.
His challenge this offseason was finding a way to not fall behind physically while healing from surgery. Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said he was impressed with the work Fox put in on that front.
“He really looks pretty good. Although he’s not doing football, I don’t think there is going to be this huge leap to get him back,” Diaco siad. “He’s had a nice spring even not participating. It will be good to interject him back into a leadership role as an older player that’s been around here a long time and has a lot of reps under his belt. That will be positive. We’re looking forward to that. It’s hard when you’re detached from an on-the-field presence standpoint to really take on that leadership role.”
2013 Job Description
Fox will have plenty to learn when he gets back on the field in August. Notre Dame is asking him to know both inside linebacker positions. He will be part of the crew that replaces Manti Te’o at the Mike linebacker spot.
His experience on the field will help in certain situations when junior Jarrett Grace, a first-time starter, needs a hand. The option to put both Fox and Calabrese on the field at the same time gives Notre Dame a level of familiarity that makes the coaching staff comfortable. Fox’s versatility will allow the Irish to use a rotation of three men in two spots somewhat like they’ve done in the past at the safety position.
Diaco also mentioned that Fox is a player that Notre Dame will look to for leadership on the field this year. He’s the only player on the defense to appear in every game during the last three seasons, and his spot in the middle of the formation puts him in a natural position to take charge.
What make a good year?
Fox — like Grace and Calabrese — should be one of Notre Dame’s top tacklers in 2013. During the past two seasons Te’o has gobbled up many of the tackles in the middle of the field, leaving fewer opportunities for his fellow middle linebackers. Two years ago no other traditional linebacker was among the top five tacklers on the team. Last season, Fox finished fourth on the team, but next after him among linebackers was Calabrese in ninth.
All three of Notre Dame’s men in the middle should see those numbers rise this season. Fox has been the better player in pass coverage while sharing time with Calabrese so far in his career. To have a good final season in South Bend, he’ll have to match his counterpart’s physicality in the run game while playing both inside positions.