Notre Dame opens spring practice Wednesday, its seventh under Brian Kelly. Here are three questions facing the Fighting Irish:
1. What becomes of the QB race? Kelly called his quarterback situation an “embarrassment of riches,” and he’s probably accurate in his assessment. Malik Zaire is a redshirt junior who will enter his third straight spring competing for the starting job after starting three straight games between 2014-15 before breaking his right ankle. DeShone Kizer surprised many in Zaire’s place, going 8-3 as a starter last year. Kelly said not to count out sophomore Brandon Wimbush either. Kelly had initially planned on redshirting Wimbush but has apparently backtracked. Wimbush might be the most naturally gifted of them all, but he is lacking the experience. Kelly seems to expect this battle will go well into fall camp, and perhaps even into the season, but this spring will be crucial for all three, especially with Zaire full-go following his injury.
"I would love to say that there's going to be a No. 1 quarterback, and we're going to -- that's our guy and we're all behind him, and the No. 2 and the No. 3," Kelly said. "I just think we have to go into this with our eyes wide open and really great communication with all three of them and really an open, competitive evaluation, and we can't have any preconceived notions to anything."
2. How does the remade linebacking corps look? Captains Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt are gone, leaving James Onwualu as the lone returning starter. Nyles Morgan is the default man in the middle, but with Greer Martini (shoulder) and Te'Von Coney (shoulder) out this spring, the Irish are down to four scholarship linebackers for these practices. Generating a consistent pass rush will be a priority from the entire front seven, since the Irish said goodbye to defensive line stalwarts Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara.
“It's not going to be from one guy,” Kelly said of the pass rush. “It's got to be collectively from four or five different guys.”
3. Can the offensive line pick up where it left off? There will be plenty of new faces this spring on the starting O-line, which was arguably the backbone of last year’s team. Guard Quenton Nelson is back, as is tackle Mike McGlinchey, although it is unclear which side he will play on. Alex Bars is still recovering from injury, but it looks like he’ll play guard upon his return as well. Sam Mustipher seemingly has the inside track to start at center, too.
Offensive line was the first position Kelly mentioned when asked about which group he is most curious about this spring (aside from the QBs).