Notre Dame football will undergo some huge changes throughout 2013 and beyond, but once again, the Fighting Irish have to be considered genuine contenders for success.
The Irish were embarrassed in the BCS Championship Game against Alabama, 42-14, and with the likes of Manti Te'o leaving for the NFL at the end of the year, Notre Dame will line up in 2013 without several of the stars that earned them such success in 2012.
Greatness is still more than capable for the Irish this year, though. They still have a plethora of talent on hand and the skill to earn some big rewards this season. What they need is for guys to step up and fill the shoes of the guys that have left or are not as strong, and to become genuine stars in 2013.
And for Notre Dame, the key man in 2013 will be Dan Fox.
Fox had a solid 2012 season for Notre Dame—finishing fourth on the season with 63 tackles, which included six in the championship game alone.
Yet this season, his team needs him to step up even more than he already has and become the game-changing linebacker that he has the potential to be.
The loss of Te'o in the middle of the field is a huge loss for the Irish, but Fox can be the man to replace the linebacker this year—both in terms of defensive production and raw tackling numbers, but also in terms of leadership and experience, and how the team looks to him this season.
No player stands out from the Irish's team as a defensive captain, but the fifth-year senior has the experience to be just that for Notre Dame this year. His ability to get alongside the new recruits and the pre-existing guys in the team to harness the best from them will be key to his and the team's chance at success this season.
Fox could well end up calling the pre-snap signals as well this season for Notre Dame—a role that Te'o fulfilled when he was in college. This in particular could be a real weapon for Fox to utilize in his game, with the linebacker likely to thrive with these duties.
Keep in mind he originally came to Notre Dame as a 4-star safety, so his ability to read a play and see it developing in front of him is one of the best.
And it could lead the Irish to even further success in 2013.
The coaching staff at Notre Dame can see just how important Fox could be this season. Brian Kelly was full of praise for his star linebacker in November, concluding that "there were times that we thought that he was clearly the No. 1 player at that position" (per The Observer).
Te'o too echoed similar sentiments:
You see Dan Fox play, and he doesn’t hesitate. He is a lot more confident in his ability to make plays and comfortable in the scheme.
He knows what to do, he knows that the guy next to him is doing, and he knows where I’m going to be. Combine that with confidence, you will get Dan Fox’s process throughout his career here at Notre Dame. He’ll get better.
Unfortunately for the Irish, Fox will miss most of spring training due to surgery, and there is no official return date for him into the team. But either way, be sure that once he does make it back on that football field, the fifth-year senior will have a real impact for Notre Dame in 2013.
Both on and off the field.
How do you think Notre Dame will go in 2013?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre
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