NCF Nation: Ronnie Stanley

Notre Dame returns to the practice field Wednesday morning after a week off for the Easter holiday. Five sessions are in the bag and 10 remain, including the April 20 Blue-Gold spring game.

Like every team every season, the Irish are welcoming new faces in several new places. Among the biggest for the program heading into the 2013 season are at running back, center and Mike linebacker.

Here is a look at how those battles are shaping up as spring practice No. 6 takes place today.

RUNNING BACK
[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireIrish coaches have talked up George Atkinson III in the chase for playing time at running back.
This is, frankly, a blanket term for a backfield that will likely feature more than one person at a time throughout much of the coming season. But the Irish did lose their top two rushers in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, and with (at least) a strong left side of the offensive line returning, it will be interesting to see how the unit shakes out. Rising junior George Atkinson III has the most experience among returners, and head coach Brian Kelly and position coach Tony Alford have been high on him so far this spring, praising his weight training (he's up seven pounds, to 217) and ability to catch the ball in the slot. Can Atkinson be the typical 20-carries-per-game, between-the-tackles back? Will it matter? USC transfer Amir Carlisle also drew plenty of praise in the same role this spring before the rising redshirt sophomore suffered a broken collarbone March 23. Rising junior Cam McDaniel and rising redshirt freshman William Mahone are back there as well, and the program will welcome in talented prospects Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston this summer, at least one of whom may be primed to make an immediate impact.

From Brett Perotta of the ESPN Stats & Information blog, citing seven signees in college football who will make an immediate impact in 2013:
RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame

Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are gone, leaving a vacancy in the backfield and over 300 carries to go around. Bryant is the first top-10 running back the Irish have signed since James Aldridge in 2006. Notre Dame posted a respectable 4.9 yards per carry as a team last season and will return three starters on the offensive line. With returning dual-threat quarterback Everett Golson, Bryant should have plenty of room to work.
CENTER
So much of how Notre Dame's offensive line shakes out will depend on this position battle. With fifth-year seniors Zack Martin and Chris Watt back manning the left side of the line, and with redshirt junior Christian Lombard seemingly back for Year 2 as the starting right tackle, the Irish need to identify Braxston Cave's successor in the middle. Redshirt sophomore Nick Martin, Zack's younger brother, was running with the first team during the start of the first spring practice, March 20, and figures to have the inside track there right now. Nick Martin served as something of a utility man on the second-team line throughout last season. Redshirt sophomore Matt Hegarty, cleared following a November mini-stroke that threatened his football career, should give Martin a push here as well. Right guard is the other open position battle, and if Kelly or position coach Harry Hiestand deem tackle sophomore Ronnie Stanley or early enrollee Steve Elmer ready, there is always the chance that Lombard could slide to right guard.

MIKE LINEBACKER
Jarrett Grace was talked about a lot last spring by the coaching staff but, frankly, just was not needed so much in 2012. Not with Manti Te'o having the kind of season he had, recording seven interceptions en route to a Heisman Trophy runner-up campaign that saw him rarely leave the field. Now that position is vacant following three consecutive 100-tackle seasons, and Grace, a redshirt sophomore, has the inside track to take over inside. Fifth-year senior Dan Fox, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, is capable of playing both inside positions, and fellow fifth-year senior Carlo Calabrese has resumed his role as the Will linebacker after splitting duties there with Fox the past two seasons. No one should expect anything resembling Te'o's All-America-type run from the position so soon, but with starters, and depth, returning at every other linebacker spot, the Mike is the position to keep an eye on during the offseason.
DAVIE, Fla. — Everett Golson was much more vocal Thursday than he was in fall camp, naturally. That was one of the first things that jumped out during the media's first viewing of Notre Dame practice since August.

Here are a few other notes and observations from Nova Southeastern University — the practice facility of the Miami Dolphins — as media members were allowed to watch the first 15 minutes, which consisted mostly of tempo drills. (Defense was on an opposite field, so the offense received most of the visitors' attention.)
  • DaVaris Daniels looks pretty much recovered from the broken left clavicle he suffered Nov. 10 at Boston College, as he was active throughout. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin jumped on the redshirt freshman at one point, telling him if his running wasn't better on a particular route, then the Irish would have no chance.
  • Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel, normally No. 1, was wearing a No. 10 jersey to play the role of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on the scout team.
  • Head coach Brian Kelly alluded to depth concerns on the offensive line, and he wasn't kidding. The second-team offensive line consisted, from left to right, of Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Bruce Heggie and an unidentified walk-on wearing No. 76. (Hanratty and Harrell were both wearing No. 65, too.) Tate Nichols (knee) and Ronnie Stanley (elbow) have been out, as has Matt Hegarty for a non-football medical issue.

Notre Dame weekend rewind: Week 1

September, 3, 2012
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Here's one last look at what was a successful opening weekend for the Irish:

The good: Each line received a game ball for its efforts Saturday, and deservedly so. Yes, there is plenty of talent in the Irish's backfield, but that talent doesn't get the chance to do what it did to Navy without the push up front. Remember, Navy was supposed to have the strong ground game. Notre Dame's 292 rushing yards -- and the Midshipmen's 149 -- were a testament to the strong play from both of Notre Dame's lines.

The bad: It wouldn't be a Notre Dame game without a red zone turnover, right? Everett Golson's first career gaffe came midway through the second quarter, when he was picked off by Parrish Gaines at the Navy 4. Fortunately for Golson, he and his teammates did more than enough to make up for it in a 40-point win.

Biggest surprise: Tackle Ronnie Stanley saw some playing time in the second half, a rarity for a freshman offensive lineman. Of course, Jordan Prestwood's departure and Tate Nichols' injury left the Irish thin there. Brian Kelly said Sunday that the decision was made before the trip that Stanley would play if the opportunity arose.

Best quote: In what is probably the most accurate way to describe 303-pound teammate Stephon Tuitt, who returned a fumble 77 yards for a score, Braxston Cave told reporters: "He's a freak."

Next up: And you thought Notre Dame once had quarterback conundrums? The Irish return to the United States to kick off their home schedule against rival Purdue, which has three capable signal-callers and is coming off a 48-6 rout of Eastern Kentucky.
1. This ground game is good: And it's going to be even better when Cierre Wood returns. Of course, not every defense will be as easy to run on as Navy's was, but there are several valuable options -- don't forget about USC transfer Amir Carlisle, either -- that will help alleviate the pressure on Everett Golson.

2. Golson has poise: Yes, that's a vague, cliche term coaches and writers alike love to throw around. But give the redshirt freshman credit: First start, overseas, the pressure of playing quarterback for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly -- and he was never rattled. Golson was an efficient game manager, which was more than enough against the Midshipmen.

3. There may be a punt-return game: Notre Dame averaged 3.7 yards per punt return in 2011 -- and that was after Michael Floyd's 41-yard return in the Champs Sports Bowl. Davonte Neal returned one punt 11 yards. Earth-shattering? No. But after last season's opening-week fiasco, it's enough reason to think this could be a source of production for the Irish, with the true freshman leading the charge.

4. Freshmen will contribute: Neal had the punt return (and a negative-5-yard catch), Justin Ferguson had a 9-yard reception. Ferguson, Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti were special teams regulars. KeiVarae Russell became Notre Dame's first true freshman starting corner. Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day saw some time. And even Ronnie Stanley played with the second-team line, a rarity for a freshman offensive lineman.

Roster breakdown: Offense

March, 28, 2012
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With Notre Dame a week into spring practice, the fifth-year players officially returning and the 2012 recruiting class finalized (we think), let's break down the Irish's complete roster, position-by-position, as it gears up for Year 3 under Brian Kelly.

We'll start with the offense today and delve into the defense tomorrow, with special teams coming Friday.

QUARTERBACK

The players: Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, Gunner Kiel

The incoming: None

The breakdown: Experience is the only real way to rank these guys, as Rees has 16 starts, Hendrix has played in five games, Golson has sat a year learning the offense and Kiel arrived on campus just two months ago. Nonetheless, that likely won't matter as Kelly goes to a square-one approach, opening the playbook from the beginning to allow for a fair chance for everyone. The decision -- which will likely be up in the air deep into the summer -- may prove to be Kelly's biggest so far with the Irish.

RUNNING BACK

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireCierre Wood is still the clear favorite in Notre Dame's backfield, but the Irish have other running backs ready to vie for playing time.
The players: Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, Cam Roberson, Tyler Plantz

The Incoming: Will Mahone, KeiVarae Russell

The breakdown: Wood is the clear No. 1, as he was heading into last season as well. Riddick broke off a pair of huge runs toward the end of Saturday's scrimmage, and Kelly wanted both him and Atkinson to see more time back there as Wood rested with a minor quad injury. (Kelly said Wood did go in the rodeo drill earlier.) Both Riddick and Atkinson are capable of playing in the slot, and may end up seeing more time catching balls this season than taking handoffs, though Tony Alford will coach both regardless.

Carlisle, the USC transfer, is eligible to play in 2012 but out for the spring with a broken ankle. Where he fits in will be interesting, as carries may be hard to come by if Atkinson really progresses this spring in the backfield. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Carlisle was featured on kickoffs last season with the Trojans, and there, or on the punt return team, may prove to be the fastest way on the field for him.

WIDE RECEIVER

The players: John Goodman, T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Luke Massa, Eric Lee, Nick Fitzpatrick, Ryan Liebscher

The incoming: Justin Ferguson, Davonte Neal

The breakdown: Goodman has talked about making the most of this last chance, and the coaching staff would not have invited him back for a fifth year had it not believed in him. Whether he can be a top target is up in the air, but he should bring some stability and leadership to a group loaded with youth. Jones has been solid through two years and Kelly has said he is on the cusp of breaking out. Toma has done everything asked of him and then some in the slot when replacing the oft-injured Riddick, and he may have the position to himself this year.

Daniels has the complete package physically, but he has yet to take a snap after redshirting last season. He was seen running with the 2s to start spring, but that could easily change with a strong showing. Smith, too, ran with 2s to open spring, but he must stay healthy first. Ferguson has the tools to compete for playing time upon arrival, but that could likely depend on how the incumbents step up in front of him. Neal is pegged as an athlete, but Kelly said there are no plans right now to play him at corner upon his arrival. He could possibly be a playmaker at receiver or on special teams.

TIGHT END

The players: Tyler Eifert, Troy Niklas, Alex Welch, Ben Koyack, Jake Golic, Arturo Martinez

The incoming: None

The breakdown: We all know what Eifert can do, which is why he almost entered the draft this year. Niklas is the big question mark. And by big, we mean it literally. A switch from linebacker -- where he started one game last fall as a freshman -- to tight end for the 6-7, 252-pounder has many excited to see what the offense can do with a potential two tight end set. Everyone saw what the New England Patriots did last year with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

It would be foolish to expect that much so soon -- both without Tom Brady as the Irish's quarterback and without Niklas having played the position since high school. How quick Niklas can master the playbook and blocking could go a long way in seeing some of these sets come to fruition. The move does leave some to wonder what this means for Welch and Koyack, but the duo is young and, according to tight ends coach Scott Booker, up for the challenge.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The players: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard, Bruce Heggie, Jordan Prestwood, Matt Hegarty, Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Brad Carrico, Matt Tansey, Dennis Mahoney

The incoming: Mark Harrell, Ronnie Stanley

The breakdown: Cave will not be playing much, if at all, this spring as he recovers after injuring his foot last season. Golic, who started in his place, is the center with Cave out, but it would not be surprising to see Golic move to right guard upon Cave's return. Right now Lombard is manning the right guard spot, with Nichols at right tackle. How the second unit gets shuffled upon Cave's return to the starting unit remains to be seen, but to open spring, it consisted of Heggie, Prestwood, Hegarty, Hanratty and Martin.

Greenberry shocks all, picks Houston

February, 1, 2012
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Two of the three letters Notre Dame awaited from the West Coast arrived. The other got stuck in Texas.

In one of national signing day's most shocking moves, four-star WR Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) chose Houston over Notre Dame, the school he initially committed to on May 27.

Greenberry's cousin is Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union), the four-star cornerback who had already enrolled at Notre Dame in January. It appeared for some time that the two would commit to a school as a package deal.

Four-star offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) and three-star running back KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner) faxed in their letters of intent within the past hour and are likely the final pieces to Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class, barring anything unforeseen.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Greenberry is ESPNU's No. 17 wide receiver and its 106th overall prospect.

The Irish's 2012 class currently stands at 16 players, 13 of whom committed today. Gunner Kiel, Shepard and Sheldon Day have already enrolled.

Notre Dame held ESPNU's No. 9 2012 recruiting class before Greenberry's switch to Houston.
John Turner kicked things off for Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class shortly after 7 a.m. today, becoming the first of what is expected to be 14 high schoolers to fax in his signed letter of intent.

The names trickled in after — Romeo Okwara, Mark Harrell, Justin Ferguson, C.J. Prosise, Chris Brown, William Mahone, Scott Daly, Jarron Jones, Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate.


Gunner Kiel, Tee Shepard and Sheldon Day have already enrolled.

We'll speak to coach Brian Kelly in less than two hours, by which time the Irish hope their three verbal pledges from the West Coast -- Deontay Greenberry, Ronnie Stanleyand KeiVarae Russell -- make their new homes official.

Where ND stands on signing day

February, 1, 2012
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Happy New Year?! Well, not quite. But it is national signing day, a chance for fans of every team to celebrate the promise of the future.

For Notre Dame, that future is brighter than most. The Irish are expected to sign the No. 9 recruiting class for the Class of 2012, according to ESPNU. And barring anything unforeseen, the class might just stand at 17 prospects when the day is done.

Brian Kelly will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. today, but until then, here's a recap of who you should expect to see in a Notre Dame uniform next season. (*indicates early enrollee already on campus)

OFFENSE
*Four-star QB Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East)
  • 6'3", 215, No. 3 QB, No. 52 overall, 82 Scout Grade, Signed Jan. 17, 2012

Four-star WR Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pikes, Fla./Flanagan)
  • 6'1", 205, No. 14 WR, No. 85 overall, 81 Scout Grade, Committed May 2, 2011

Four-star OT Jarron Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas)
  • 6'6", 295, No. 11 OT, No. 102 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed April 12, 2011

Four-star WR Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'2", 185, No. 17 WR, No. 106 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Four-star OT Ronnie Stanley (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman)
  • 6'6", 285, No. 34 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 15, 2011

Four-star RB William Mahone (Youngstown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch)
  • 5'10", 206, No. 16 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 30, 2011

Four-star OT Mark Harrell (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)
  • 6'5", 260, No. 41 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 19, 2011

Three-star RB KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner)
  • 6'0", 175, No. 26 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 29, 2011

Three-star WR Chris Brown (Hanahan, S.C./Hanahan)
  • 6'2", 170, No. 66 WR, 78 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 18, 2011

Two-star LS Scott Daly (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South)
  • 6'3", 228, No. 3 LS, 73 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011
DEFENSE
*Four-star CB Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'0", 180, No. 9 CB, No. 90 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed March 2, 2011

*Four-star DT Sheldon Day (Indianapolis/Warren Central)
  • 6'2", 280, No. 14 DT, No. 143 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Aug. 3, 2011

Four-star S Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco)
  • 6'0", 205, No. 14 S, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Jan. 7, 2012

Three-star S C.J. Prosise (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 22 S, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Three-star DE Romeo Okwara (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell)
  • 6'4", 223, No. 96 DE, 77 Scout Grade, Committed July 10, 2011

Three-star ATH Nicky Baratti (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 87 ATH, 77 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011

Three-star S John Turner (Indianapolis/Cathedral)
  • 6'0", 194, No. 62 S, 76 Scout Grade, Committed June 28, 2011
Note: Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, Calif./Kings Academy) has also enrolled this spring after a semester at USC. He was a four-star recruit, ESPNU's No. 17 athlete, and the 114th-best player overall in the Class of 2011. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown with the Trojans in 2011.

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