Updated: September 21, 2013 6:31AM
South Bend, Ind. — Ben Councell spent the last two seasons picking up all he could from outside linebacker Danny Spond.
He watched as Spond had to battle 300-pound linemen on one play, then drop back and cover a slot receiver the next.
On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Spond told the team his playing days were over because of undisclosed medical reasons. Kelly added that Councell and Jaylon Smith were among those next in line at outside linebacker.
“They’re both going to play,” Kelly said. “They’re both going to play a lot.”
Councell’s approach has been the same in the aftermath of Spond’s decision.
“There are a lot of things I have to work on,” Councell said Monday. “Having this Danny Spond issue happen hasn’t really changed the aspect or the outlook on the day-to-day basis.
“… If the opportunity, which it has, is presented, I’m excited for whatever their role is for me. I want to lead on the field, and I want to play some football.”
Councell, from Asheville, N.C., was a highly ranked recruit coming out of high school. Scout.com had him at No. 9 among all outside linebackers nationally for the Class of 2011.
He didn’t see any action with the Irish in 2011 but appeared in 12 games last season and finished with 10 tackles. Four of them came Nov. 17 against Wake Forest.
“Getting to watch [Spond] and having [assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob] Diaco critique each and every play is a big help in developing my game,” Councell said.
Smith is one of the top recruits in the Class of 2013. Smith, from Fort Wayne, Ind., was the 2012 Butkus Award winner, given to the best high school linebacker in the country.
Councell has been impressed with what he has seen from the five-star recruit.
“He’s a great player. I learn from him. He learns from me,” Councell said. “It’s a great duo.”
Sophomore Romeo Okwara also might work his way into the rotation.
Okwara played in all 13 games last season, primarily on special teams, and had seven tackles. He had at least one tackle in five of the last six games.
“It was nice to get my feet in the water a little bit,” Okwara said.
All three will have the bonus of still learning from Spond. Kelly said Spond plans to help coach.
“A lot of what I’ve been able to learn over the last two years has been being able to watch him play on the field,” Councell said. “I’m excited to have him as another coach to help me and Jaylon at that spot.”