The talk has been good all spring. Jarrett Grace, the inside linebacker from Cincinnati, seems ready to step into the gaping hole left by NFL-bound Manti Te'o. This Saturday, we'll get a better picture of just how ready Grace is for the stage.
Whether it was the practice reports or the clips from the Irish's spring sessions, Grace appears to be the real deal physically, mentally and even emotionally. As Kevin Arnold over at NBC Sports pointed out earlier this month:
Grace has everything this staff looks for in an inside linebacker, possessing size and speed that even Te’o doesn’t have. There’s a presence that Grace carries as well that shows you a leader that’ll be quick to step up and take charge.
Saturday, at 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, everyone will get to look at the young man and make that decision for themselves.
In filling the void, the first thing we'll be looking for out of Grace is activity. Active against the run. Active against the pass. Active in pursuing downfield. Active at the line of scrimmage. You want to see him active before the snap, getting things set up, and active after the snap as he identifies plays and adds himself to the action.
Next, we'll be looking for mastery of the scheme. Grace has been on campus since summer 2011, so he's had two falls' and two springs' worth of exposure in Bob Diaco's defense. That includes two falls and a spring spent as the understudy to Manti Te'o, someone who had a very firm grasp of Diaco's concepts.
So, for Grace, that means lining up in the right place, making the good run fits and getting to his spots in pass coverage. It also means moving quicker to the play this year than he moved in some of his action in 2012's spring game.
For a defense with three legit monsters on the line up front and a secondary that boasts talent, experience and now depth, too, filling that hole in the interior is a must. Saturday we get a truer glimpse of the future and, for the sake of Irish fans, let's hope Grace rises to not only this challenge but the challenge of the season.