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Fox, Calabrese prepare to stop Alabama offense

Allan Joseph | Saturday, January 5, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Over the summer, Dan Fox decided he needed to step up his game. The senior linebacker from Rocky River, Ohio, approached defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and asked him to prepare a compilation of areas in which Fox could improve. After reviewing Fox’s 2011 game film, Diaco returned with a package for Fox to study. And the results for the high school safety and onetime outside linebacker have been obvious.

“It was just an overall game-changing experience,” Fox said. “I feel like every play I was making was helped by the summer of progress.”

Fox splits time with fellow senior Carlo Calabrese at the weak-side inside linebacker position, known as the “Will” linebacker in Diaco’s 3-4 scheme. Their growth this year at that position has been an integral part of Notre Dame’s success as one of the nation’s top defenses, but they have always had different styles.

“Carlo and Dan are a great one-two punch,” Diaco said. “Carlo’s a downhill bruiser. Not that Dan’s not, but Carlo really fits the runs and is an excellent run stopper. Dan Fox is excellent in coverage and fitting himself into passes.”

Calabrese went through a process similar to Fox’s in the offseason. Long known for his bruising hits on run plays, Calabrese’s weakness in pass coverage made him a liability on passing downs – so over the summer, he spent time in the film room working to improve just that.

“The one thing I focused on the most was the pass game because I thought that was the weakness,” Calabrese said. “I corrected my mistakes and it’s working out well for me.”

Graduate student defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said their growth had been obvious to the entire defense.

“They’ve been growing a lot. It’s kind of fun to watch them,” he said. “They bring a lot to the table. They hit hard and they learn a lot from [senior linebacker Manti Te’o]. Just seeing those guys develop has been something special.”

Te’o described Calabrese as a “thumper” and Fox as “athletic.” And while the two may bring different styles to the Will linebacker position, Te’o said they shared a team-first mentality.

“[They are] two guys that were highly rated out of high school, and they’re sharing time. They don’t mind because it’s helping the team. That’s the type of the guys they are,” he said. “They’re team players that are doing the best they can to help our team win. When they’re on the field they’re just competitors that come out and play.”

In Monday’s BCS National Championship Game, Fox and Calabrese will need all of their growth to stop Alabama’s offense, especially the rushing attack headlined by senior running back Eddie Lacy and freshman running back T.J. Yeldon running behind an offensive line Fox described as a group of “big fast guys.”

“They’re great runners. [They’re] physical, downhill, tackle-breakers,” Diaco said. “Some guys are make-you-miss guys, some guys are tackle-breakers. They possess both qualities. They run hard and they’re very athletic. They can really do a nice job running the ball.”

But the Crimson Tide rushing attack has noticed Calabrese and Fox.

“They play really good football, really sound football [and] they run to the ball very fast,” senior Alabama lineman Chance Warmack said. “They read plays very quickly, it doesn’t take them too long to catch what the play is and they make big plays.”

Lacy said he expected the linebackers to play physical, fundamentally sound football.

“They have their fundamentals and they do it 110 percent. They give it everything they have,” he said. “They’re going to be where the ball is, and if they get a chance to hit you, they’re going to hit you. They’re going to play very physical, and that’s the kind of game that we like.”

Though he spent months in the film room over the summer and weeks more in preparation for Monday’s game, Calabrese hasn’t changed so much that he has gotten away from what he loves most: hitting.

 “It’s been a long time [since my last hit],” he said. “I’m ready to go out there and play against somebody else other than our team. It’s been a long time, so I’m ready to go. … You’ve always got those butterflies – and then once that first hit [comes], you’re fine from there.”

Judging by the pair’s results, this year’s film review will have a much different look than in 2011.

Contact Allan Joseph at [email protected]