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Notre Dame linebacker Ishaq Williams saw limited action last year playing behind senior Darius Fleming.

Irish LB looks to improve in year 2

Had few chances behind senior

– Ishaq Williams wants to perform on the sme level of his Notre Dame classmates.

The sophomore-to-be linebacker arrived last year with defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt as one of the most sought after defensive recruits in the country.

While Lynch and Tuitt combined for 63 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks last season, Williams was learning his outside linebacker position behind Darius Fleming.

“I understood last year I didn’t do as well as I should have done,” the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Williams said. “I didn’t contribute to the team as much as I wanted to, so I had to do something different, make a better effort.”

Williams played did play in 11 games last year, mainly on special teams, and recorded six tackles with one for a loss. He is battling for the starting outside linebacker spot left open by Fleming’s graduation.

Williams has impressed the coaching staff this spring as he battles the 6-2, 250-pound Prince Shembo for the starting spot at “cat” linebacker. Shembo played in 10 games last season, primarily at “dog” linebacker, and had 13 tackles.

“The light is starting to go on,” coach Brian Kelly said of Williams.

The outside spot Williams and Shembo are battling for is filled with demands. The linebacker must be able to drop into coverage, play run defense on the edge and occasionally drop down to rush the passer.

Tuitt said he knew Williams could figure out the position and expects his classmate to become a big contributor this season.

“It was just a matter of time before he exploded and showed it out,” Tuitt said. “He’s having a great practice, and he has the ability to play the position that he plays really well. He’s an awesome player.”

Shembo’s shift to “cat” linebacker opened the competition at “dog” linebacker.

Danny Spond, who battled a hamstring injury and fell behind Shembo and Troy Niklas last year, is the top candidate to fill the outside linebacker spot. Niklas moved to tight end.

But there is no guarantee as the 6-2, 248-pounder is competing with 6-5, 240-pound Ben Councell for the starting role.

“It’s a very competitive situation,” Kelly said. “(Spond) has a little bit more of a knowledge base going in, relative to the defense, but I think (defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) said this best, when it really comes down to the safety position and the ‘will’ linebacker position and maybe even the ‘dog,’ they can pick the game they want to start.”

In order to win the starting spot, Spond and Councell have to prove they can play in space. It’s a challenge that Spond, who played in 10 games and had 13 tackles last year, is ready for.

“Going into every season, you always have high expectations, and you always want to meet them no matter what your role is,” Spond explained. “I know what my role is, I’ve addressed it, and now it’s time to put it in action.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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