Players to watch in the spring: No. 2

Our series looking at players to watch this spring moves on to a senior who has a final shot to make his mark with the Irish.

2) Senior OLB Ishaq Williams

In some ways, it seems as though Williams just got to Notre Dame. In other ways, it seems as if he has been with the Irish forever. Part of that is likely because the narrative has never really shifted with Williams, as the same question has lingered in each of his three seasons in South Bend, Ind.:

Is this the season Williams finally breaks out?

It is a fair question, even if the opportunities weren't always there behind starter Prince Shembo at the Cat linebacker position the last three seasons. Still, while Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt await their NFL paydays, Williams, the other huge haul from that 2011 recruiting class, is just looking to start and make a major impact for the Irish as he heads into his final season.

Williams was slowed by an ACL sprain late last season that forced him to miss two games. As a result, the 6-foot-5.5, 261-pounder suffered a drop-off in production, tallying 17 total tackles, one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. But the front seven of the Irish takes a major hit going into 2014, and it is now or never for the senior to step up and become a big player on the Irish defense.

First things first: figuring out where he plays. There's a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, though Brian Kelly says that the Irish will run a 3-4 base while going to a 4-3 about half the time. Williams was ESPN's No. 43 overall prospect from the Class of 2011 and its No. 7 defensive end. He played on the line often in 2013 when the Irish played with four linemen.

Wherever Williams plays, he has the talent to become the Irish's most effective pass-rusher, a skill the Irish will miss dearly with Tuitt gone. Seeing how Williams develops under VanGorder this spring is worth keeping an eye on for that reason alone.