Notre Dame players will get their first experience of what it's like to play for Brian Kelly this spring.
It will be an important time for the Irish and their first-year coach as he uploads his spread offense, evaluates roles and generally instills a new way of doing things.
Here is a primer on what to watch for during spring practice in South Bend.
Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
• The quarterback situation. There's no more important position on the field, especially in Kelly's system, and he usually likes to have gobs of quarterbacks available. However, he'll have to undergo his first spring at Notre Dame shorthanded. Sophomore Dayne Crist, the presumed starter in 2010, is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered midseason, and just how much he'll be able to do remains a question. Certainly the coaching staff won't want him to endure contact or risk further injury, because the depth behind him is almost nonexistent.
Signee Tommy Rees enrolled early and can chip in, and perhaps receiver John Goodman can go under center for some reps. Notre Dame will likely just have to get through the spring until reinforcements -- from the likes of signees Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa and possibly multi-talented athletes Derek Roback and Danny Spond -- arrive in the summertime.
• Defense, defense, defense. Quite simply, the Irish didn't play much of it in 2009, and how they fare in 2010 will likely depend largely on the improvement Kelly and new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco can bring to the unit. Diaco will install the 3-4, which will put a premium on defensive linemen like Ethan Johnson and Ian Williams continuing to make strides.
Going into his first spring after a promising rookie year, linebacker Manti Te'o could be ready to take the next step toward superstardom. The secondary was hit hard by graduation, and early enrollees Chris Badger, Spencer Boyd and Lo Wood may be given a shot to win playing time there. Most of all, Kelly and Diaco need to find out who the playmakers are and figure out the best way to utilize them.
• The offensive line transformation. The Irish started four seniors on the offensive line last year, and super sub Dan Wenger also graduated. Only guard Trevor Robinson returns, though luckily for the team he had a strong sophomore season. Replacing longtime starters like Sam Young and Eric Olsen won't be easy. And though the previous coaching staff planned for the eventual departure of the '09 starters, Kelly wants more athletic, faster offensive linemen for the spread system than Charlie Weis needed for his pro-style attack. The spring will be a key time for that changeover to begin to take root.