Key questions heading into camp

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
3:30
PM ET
Notre Dame officially starts fall camp this Monday at the Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center in Marion, Ind. But head coach Brian Kelly will unofficially kick things off Friday at noon ET when he holds a press conference previewing camp and the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGeorge Atkinson III rushed for 361 yards and five TDs last season.
Here's a look at some pressing questions heading into camp, most of which will have no real answer until more than a handful of practices are in the books.

1. How will the backfield shape up? This has been among the most popular questions I've received in the offseason mailbag, at least among those still on the team. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have the most experience as they enter their junior years, with Atkinson figuring to be the guy to get the initial start. Amir Carlisle looked ready to break out in the spring before breaking his collarbone, and he could serve as a dual threat in the slot. Four-star freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are talented enough to make immediate impacts, and William Mahone is now in the mix after redshirting during his first season in South Bend.

2. How will the O-line holes be filled? Nick Martin appeared to have the edge over Matt Hegarty at center during spring, with Conor Hanratty taking most of the No. 1 reps at right guard. Will things hold steady, or is it possible Ronnie Stanley becomes too good to ignore, perhaps forcing returning starting right tackle Christian Lombard into the right guard spot to make room for Stanley to his right?

3. Who starts in the secondary? Notre Dame has a good numbers problem among its defensive backs, as it returns three starters and a handful of other contributors who are now healthy. Bennett Jackson figures to start again, likely at the boundary, but returning starter KeiVarae Russell will likely have a big battle on his hands from Lo Wood, who is back after tearing his Achilles during last year's camp. Safety Elijah Shumate ran mostly with the first-team during the spring and should compete with Nicky Baratti and Austin Collinsworth, who is back from shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to miss all of last season. Collinsworth could play a role on the punt return unit, too.

4. What can we expect from Malik Zaire? With Everett Golson and three other scholarship quarterbacks in the fold when Zaire enrolled, it seemed unlikely that the lefty could forge a path to the field this fall. Then Gunner Kiel transferred to Cincinnati, and Golson got suspended from school for the fall shortly after. Zaire's growth was likely accelerated after a strong spring and the ensuing position losses, as there remains a chance he could gain some valuable playing time this fall with only Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix ahead of him.

Matt Fortuna | email

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