Notre Dame Football: Cam McDaniel

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The most Cam McDaniel story ever involves Little League baseball, because of course it does.

The way the ever-competitive McDaniel tells it, he was playing second base as a youngster when a grounder came his way. He fielded it, only to look up and see that the first baseman was one of those kids playing just because his parents had made him.

"I had no faith in this individual whatsoever," McDaniel said, smiling at the memory.

So McDaniel held the ball, allowing the runner to reach base. One batter later, he scooped up a grounder and ran to tag the runner out instead of throwing to first.

"My Little League coach was really upset with me that I wasn't throwing it to this kid, but that's kind of the personality I've always had," McDaniel said. "Obviously I had to hone that in when I was a youngster and learn how to develop myself as a young man."

One of Notre Dame's four newly-anointed captains, McDaniel has grown up quite a bit recently. He married his girlfriend, Stephani, in May. The couple announced last week that they are expecting their first child this April. But that fire within McDaniel has hardly subsided, not with his senior season on deck, not with plenty of goals unmet.

"You know how sometimes you look at a kid in Little League and you say, 'Man, I bet his dad is just horrible. I bet his dad just treats him like [garbage],' " Cam's father, Danny, said with a laugh. "Cam looked like one of those kids, from a standpoint of how competitive he was."

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThere's a lot more to Notre Dame senior Cam McDaniel than just being "ridiculously photogenic."
You see, it is easy to view McDaniel as a nice little story — the undersized, under-recruited, Texas-tough kid making do with what he has to lead the Irish in rushing in 2013. He once ran into the wrong end of a practice gauntlet upon his coach's orders. He was even on the "Today" show, thanks to a one-in-a-million shot of him carrying the ball against USC after his helmet had fallen off.

But McDaniel has not won a championship, and further fueling matters is just how close he came to the top prize, not only two years ago but in high school. He says that remains the goal this year's Fighting Irish, and his father says he tells him the same privately.

His dad is quick to note that his son has lost just three career games as a starter, from fifth grade through high school. Ask him how many wins came during that time, and he tries to do the math aloud before determining the victory total to be somewhere around 92.

As for those losses? His dad can tell you all about McDaniel's seventh-grade defeat. Or the regional round loss in the Texas 5A Division I playoffs his junior year, a two-point loss. Or the loss one round later his senior year, a one-point defeat.

"It still haunts him today," Danny said. "He can't even talk about that game or think about it."

That old axiom about the wins never feeling as good as the losses do bad is particularly true with the McDaniels.

"That sounds pretty arrogant, but he's only lost three games his entire life he's been the starter, and two of those they lost on the last play of the game," Danny said, adding, "Losing just deteriorates him. He's just not used to it. It just hasn't happened."

McDaniel credits his father, "a phenomenal man of God," for helping him to harness that verve, and he knows he has to be a role model for his two younger brothers: Washington freshman Gavin McDaniel, who is redshirting as a running back, and eighth-grader TJ McDaniel, an aspiring quarterback.

These are the latest in a long-line of fieldhouse-tending, water-jug-toting McDaniels, the sons of a third-generation Texas high school football coach. Danny and his wife, Diane, are now distributors for AdvoCare, a marketing company that sells nutrition products. Cam himself has been an independent distributor for two years, with Danny estimating his son spends 5-10 hours per week on the job in the offseason, and two per week in-season. (McDaniel is NCAA-compliant, so long as he does not use his name, image or likeness to promote the business or business engagement.)

All of this helps with the burden that comes with being a married, 22-year-old expectant father. When asked for his reaction to the news that he would become a dad, McDaniel paused and stuttered for nearly 10 seconds before saying that he was stumped.

The season has yet to arrive, and already McDaniel says he has grown up more in the past eight months than the rest of his life combined.

"I think it sinks in little by little, each and every day, and it's just going to continue to do that until the day's here to where my child is actually on this earth, and I know it's something that I can't completely prepare for, but I'm going to do my best," McDaniel said. "I'm just extremely excited, me and my wife both. Man, that's an opportunity above opportunities."

Irish morning links

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
8:00
AM ET
Congrats to Austin Collinsworth, Sheldon Day, Nick Martin and Cam McDaniel on being named captains.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish:

Key returners: QB Everett Golson, RB Tarean Folston, RB Cam McDaniel, RB Greg Bryant, TE Ben Koyack, LT Ronnie Stanley, C Nick Martin, RG Christian Lombard, DT Sheldon Day, LB Jaylon Smith, LB Joe Schmidt, S Matthias Farley, S Max Redfield, S Austin Collinsworth

Key losses: QB Tommy Rees, RB George Atkinson III, WR TJ Jones, TE Troy Niklas, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, DT Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, CB Bennett Jackson

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 6 vs. Michigan, Oct. 4 vs. Stanford, Oct. 18 at Florida State, Nov. 8 at Arizona State, Nov. 29 at USC

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
AP Photo/Joe RaymondEverett Golson returns as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame after missing all of the past season due to issues related to academics.
Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 0.538 (pre-suspensions)

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 (pre-suspensions)

Instant impact newcomer: Redshirt senior cornerback Cody Riggs did enough this summer and in fall camp to earn a starting job after transferring from Florida. But Riggs' role has become even more important after KeiVarae Russell (and three others) were suspended amid an academic probe. Riggs is a physical, versatile corner who brings along plenty of SEC experience and has proven to be a stabilizing force in light of Russell's suspension. He will likely prove to be one of the bigger fifth-year pickups in college football this season.

High point from 2013: It certainly didn't look like it at the time, but a 17-13 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 21 proved to be a huge win for the Irish and one that might have ended up changing the landscape of the national title race. The game was ugly, with poor offensive play all afternoon. Little did anyone know the Spartans would win the rest of their games, finish 13-1 and win the Rose Bowl. How much MSU learned from that defeat is anyone's guess, but it's not a stretch to think a 13-0 Spartans squad could have been No. 2 at the end of the regular season and facing Florida State in the BCS title game. Instead, one-loss SEC champion Auburn earned the shot.

Low point from 2013: A Nov. 9 loss at Pitt was a huge letdown, as the Irish entered the game with just two defeats and BCS bowl hopes still alive. Turnovers and mental mistakes in the Steel City did them in, though -- characteristics unbecoming of a Brian Kelly team in November. When Kelly said after the season that 2013 was a good year that could've been great, it is safe to assume the Panthers game was the one at the top of his mind. A Week 2 loss at Michigan also hurt -- because a loss to Michigan always hurts. But the ramifications of the Pitt defeat were bigger.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The optimistic view sees a young Notre Dame team that does not play a true road game until Oct. 18 at Florida State. Until then, Golson and the Irish take care of business early and race to a 4-0 start before stumbling into Stanford. A back-loaded schedule makes even a confident team trip into a few road blocks, but Notre Dame manages to finish 9-3 and heads to one of the better ACC bowl games. All in all, it's a very strong season for a team facing so much uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball, especially given the camp suspensions. (We could see 10-2 and an access bowl as a best-case scenario with all of the currently suspended players on board.)

Worst-case scenario for 2014: This is a tough one to project, given the uncertainty surrounding the currently suspended Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore, but the weight of those players' losses might actually be more than the sum of their parts. Yes, three are starters, and Notre Dame will struggle to replace them, but if the academic probe lingers far into the season, it creates one more obstacle for a young team that faces a very difficult schedule. Notre Dame is favored in most of its games, but it has zero cakewalks. A worst-case scenario has the Irish scrapping for bowl eligibility.

They said it: "You never want to lose any of your players, so that's always difficult. To lose any of your players, especially given the circumstances, that's always difficult. But I'm responsible for not just four players [but] 105-plus [and] over 30 support staff [members]. I've got to get going. I've got to move immediately to getting better as a program and as a football team. I don't spend much time on the past [and] don't mortgage the future. I try to stay in the present." — Kelly, on moving forward as four players serve an indefinite suspension amid Notre Dame's academic probe

Irish lunch links

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
12:00
PM ET
LeBron predictions?
College football guru Phil Steele last week released his combined 2014 experience chart, which uses a formula that breaks down returning two-deep players in order to rank teams by their returning experience.

In what is probably a surprising number to many, Notre Dame comes in at No. 120 out of 128.

Now, we all know that the Irish have a lot to replace on the defensive side of the ball, where, depending on your formula, they are breaking in roughly six new starters. Offensively, too, there will be new faces in the receiving corps and, technically, under center, as Everett Golson returns after a one-season absence.

It is important to take a closer look at this formula in order to understand Notre Dame's ranking. Steele takes into account seniors who are starters and in the two-deep. The Irish do not have many of those. (And the ones that they do have are mostly redshirt juniors with another year of eligibility remaining in 2015.)

As starters, there's Golson, Cam McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, Ben Koyack, Nick Martin and Christian Lombard on offense. And there's Ishaq Williams, Joe Schmidt and Austin Collinsworth on defense.

Four of those aforementioned players -- Golson, Daniels, Martin and Schmidt -- have eligibility remaining beyond this season. The other five don't, and Steele goes with that number in listing five senior starters for the Irish.

Other factors that Steele weighs include percentage of lettermen returning, percentage of returning offensive yards, percentage of tackles returning and returning starts on the offensive line. He goes further in-depth with these categories in his magazine.

For comparison's sake, Notre Dame ranked 65th going into the 2013 season, 65th going into 2012, 27th going into 2011, 105th going into 2010 and 17th going into 2009, which was the first year Steele used this formula.

Of course, experience does not always tell the story. Looking for promise down the list in recent years?
  • Stanford entered 2012 at 109th and won the Rose Bowl, while Northern Illinois entered at 113th and made the Orange Bowl.
  • USC entered 2011 at 102nd and went 10-2. (The Trojans were serving a bowl ban.)
  • Georgia Tech entered 2009 at 112th and made the Orange Bowl, while Boise State entered at 119th (out of 120) and ran the table, winning the Fiesta Bowl.

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Notre Dame has one transfer on the way this summer in former Florida cornerback Cody Riggs. The Irish are not opposed to adding another one, either.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCould the Fighting Irish be interested in former USC tailback Ty Isaac?
With USC on Wednesday releasing running back Ty Isaac from his scholarship, and with the Joliet, Illinois, native expected to transfer closer to home, Notre Dame could be a destination for the former four-star prospect. Kelly, speaking in general terms Thursday, said he is looking at transfers as he is open to accepting players who make sense for his program.

"I always have an interest in adding transfers if they fit academically," Kelly said Thursday. "They've got to fit academically. We've got, obviously the young man coming in from Florida, fit into our accelerated one-year MBA program, was a great fit for us. Went for him. And he fit for us in terms of a veteran presence in the back end of our defense. It's unusual that you take a one-for-one guy, but it was the right time and it was the right place, so that worked.

"For a traditional transfer, my preference is that they have three years of eligibility and they're the right academic fit, and then of course, positionally it makes sense. You know what I mean? That there's not a backlog of players at that particular position. So I've always got my ear to the ground about transfers. There's transfers right now that we're looking at. So we're on top of what's going on."

Kelly said that there is not a backlog on running backs, if things time out the right way.

Riggs announced in February that he would attend Notre Dame as a graduate student following his graduation from Florida. The former Gators defensive back is expected to compete for playing time at cornerback.

With Notre Dame dismissing sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw from the program in April, the Irish are expected to be at 83 scholarship players when all of their incoming freshmen arrive, leaving them two short of the NCAA maximum.

Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries as a freshman last season with the Trojans, fits the mold of a traditional Notre Dame transfer, as he would have three years of eligibility remaining. The Irish were in the hunt for Isaac during the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect's recruitment, and there will be plenty of room on their running back depth chart when Cam McDaniel graduates following this season, as second-year players Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are the only running backs on the roster behind McDaniel. The Irish also lost out on North Carolina's Elijah Hood during this past recruiting cycle. The four-star running back decommitted from Notre Dame last summer before going to the home-state Tar Heels.

Kelly said that Riggs, who has just one season of eligibility remaining, fit a special case for Notre Dame and was more of the exception to the rule.

"I would only do it after your program is on good, solid ground, you know what I mean?" Kelly said. "That you're not going to upset the locker room. That your locker room is in a good position. Our locker room is in a very good position where you can bring in a guy and not feel like, you know, he's going to upset what's already developed in your locker room. The first couple years I would not have gone that route, but where we are right now, we can bring in a guy for a year and do that."

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
6:30
PM ET
One more time before the spring game ...

Derrick from Warsaw, Ill., writes: Matt, first off, thanks for doing such a great job covering the Irish! I always look forward to reading everything you write! My question is, with all the great options the Irish have at running back heading into the season, how do you see everything going at the running back position? Will one guy get the lion's share of the carries? Do they go with the hot hand? Or will each guy get a fairly equal share of touches? Thanks! And keep up the great work!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I think everyone will get a fair share early. Cam McDaniel is obviously the veteran of the group and will probably "start" the season with the first unit, but I don't see it being a traditional 1-2-3 pecking order. I said it last year (and was wrong) and will say it again now: I do think the bulk of the workload will go to Greg Bryant if he's playing near the top of his game. After all of his talk this spring about being "hungry and humbled," I think the light will click on for him in 2014.


Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: During the practices leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl, we heard a lot about how Torii Hunter was looking very good. There was some good hype around this kid before and after his injury. Spring practices are now nearly over and I haven't heard his name mentioned one time. How is he doing/progressing? It's just strange for his name to completely disappear lately.

Matt Fortuna: Brian, I was actually wondering the same thing recently, as he rebounded from his leg injury last year to win offensive scout team player of the year: Here's what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said when I asked him Monday: "He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road. Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet, but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."


[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees' legacy at Notre Dame will likely grow with time.
Jeremy from Bethlehem, Ga., writes: Hey Matt, great job on the blog! I was curious on your take of Tommy Rees' legacy. He has been on the losing side of some games that they should have won, like Stanford. But he has won some big games in his career, such as against No. 14 Utah in 2010, being the closer in 2012 to go on to the BCS championship game, and against Michigan State this past year.

Matt Fortuna: Jeremy, like most things, I think it will only grow with time. Sure, a lot of the turnovers are what stick out in most fans' minds right now, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Notre Dame had flat-out awful quarterback luck in three of Rees' four seasons there. And yet, the Irish were lucky beyond relief to have a guy like Rees who not only knew, but embraced his role, stepping in unfazed every step of the way. And in the one year they had good quarterback luck, in 2012? That 12-0 regular season doesn't happen without Rees being the great teammate he was, relieving the guy who took his job and leading the Irish to some crucial wins. Speaking of which, that locker room absolutely loved him, which speaks louder to anything the rest of us could say.


Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey Matt! I've been looking at the offensive line for this year and it seems like there is a lot of talent overall. I've seen on various sites that they have Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey playing tackle, but do you think Steve Elmer could get a chance, too? Also, I was excited last year when they got Hunter Bivin because he seemed like a great player. How do you see him factoring into the mix in the coming years/this year? Lastly, it seems that the talent of the offensive line has increased a lot. Do you think the offensive line could change from good to great in the coming years or even this year? As always, I love reading your blog!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Thomas. Brian Kelly actually addressed this topic Wednesday, saying that the left guard spot could very well be affected by the right tackle spot, which would be between Elmer and McGlinchey. That could provide an opening at left guard for Matt Hegarty, who has plenty of experience across the line and has filled in at center for Nick Martin this spring. As for the depth question, we'e seen Notre Dame sign nine offensive linemen across the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. So while the numbers are down this spring -- especially on days such as Wednesday, when Elmer had a stomach ailment and the Irish were down to eight healthy offensive linemen -- the addition of four more come fall camp should be a big boost to this group's daily progress.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just because the relationship between Notre Dame's top quarterbacks is different this time around doesn't necessarily mean Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are stealing each other's playbooks.

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time."

Golson-Tommy Rees, this is not, as coach Brian Kelly made pretty clear earlier this spring. And the frontrunner to be the Irish's starter will likely have to wait four-plus months to be officially declared the No. 1 guy.

LaFleur, the first-year Irish assistant, said he has been more focused this spring on getting everyone on the same page before drawing any comparisons between the two signal callers, be it through stats or other tangible measurements.

"Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference right now," LaFleur said of knowing a starter this early. "I think each guy, whether you're an offensive lineman, receiver, running back -- you're kind of focused on your job. And No. 1, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You've got to do your job before you can even worry about anyone else or any other situation. I think from an offensive standpoint, I think everybody's just focused on improving their own skills and improving each day."

Both quarterbacks have heeded that advice, stressing that their concerns have lied inward, not on what the other was doing.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," Zaire said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's gotten better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year."

Notes: LaFleur, a Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, said he will recruit Michigan locally while having responsibilities on the West Coast, from the Los Angeles area up through Washington. He has Hawaii, as well. … Notre Dame was finally able to practice outside Monday and Wednesday, making conditions more ideal for the always-intriguing punt return unit. Running backs coach Tony Alford mentioned Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr. and Josh Atkinson as players who have gotten looks in the return game.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The word used to describe Greg Bryant every step of the way this spring, from players and coaches alike, has been "powerful." Given a chance to finally address his status for the first time since arriving at Notre Dame last summer, Bryant chose other adjectives.

"Real hungry," the ballyhooed running back said. "It's like, I'm so hungry that I got so humble that I don't even want to talk about it."

[+] EnlargeGreg Bryant
Robin Alam/Icon SMIGreg Bryant only tallied 14 yards last season before a knee injury cut short his season.
Bryant had been doing little but talking about just that for the preceding 20 minutes or so, so he can be forgiven for his fatigue after mentioning a variation of "hungry" or "humble" 14 different times. He's hungry after sitting out the final nine games of his rookie campaign; he's humble after seeing little go right for him in those previous four games, tallying 14 yards on just three carries before being shut down for the season because of tendinitis in his right knee.

Now the former ESPN four-star recruit and No. 2 running back from the Class of 2013 is turning heads this spring, the first step toward erasing the bad taste of last season and building toward a breakout fall. He understood the attention surrounding his every move (and non-move) last season, from fan speculation on a potential transfer to questions back home about where things went wrong.

But Bryant, who admitted to reading about himself online last season -- and who is as clueless as everyone else about how such transfer rumors surfaced -- has come to rely on an improved knowledge base to no longer question himself, or concern himself with those who do.

"I went back home in the spring and they're like, 'Oh man, what happened? You're not the same player that you were before,'" the Delray Beach, Fla., native said. "And like I said, all that stuff, all of that negativity just gave me the hunger now not to go back that way and just to come and make a big impact and show people what I can do, because honestly people are sleeping on me right now, so I'm just hungry."

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Bryant said he rounded into form on and off the field as the Irish prepared for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl last December. The knee soreness that had flared up after Week 3 at Purdue, and that had required a minor procedure finally subsided, and Bryant had better acclimated himself with the life of a college student and with the less-than-ideal weather at his new home.

Knowing he could not play against Rutgers because of his redshirt status only stoked the eagerness that he now speaks so frequently of. So, too, did watching fellow Florida-born freshman Tarean Folston make a name for himself down the stretch last season, rushing for 470 yards and three touchdowns.

The early departure of George Atkinson III has left Bryant in a healthy three-man race in the backfield, headed by senior and leading returning rusher Cam McDaniel.

"All of us are competitors," Bryant said. "If I see Tarean get the ball, get a 10-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 20-yard gain. If Cam get a 20-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 30-yard gain. So it's like we're just so competitive amongst each other."

Bryant says he has gotten faster, adding that he has surprised even himself with the renewed "power" that everyone speaks of. He hopes to be better at catching balls out of the backfield, and he is itching to reach the end zone, saying that he can't remember going an entire year without a touchdown.

"Greg's a tough runner," McDaniel said. "He's very violent when he runs, that's for sure. I think anybody would say that. It's good for him. He's going to be explosive when he gets the ball in his hands."

Having re-adjusted to a game that had no longer come so easy to him, Bryant feels up to speed now, crediting his father, Greg Sr., a former Northern Illinois lineman, along with running backs coach Tony Alford, whom he says is like a father on campus.

As for why he was rudely awakened, and why that won't be a problem moving forward, Bryant turns to familiar terms to describe his mind set heading into his redshirt freshman season.

"It was because when I first got here, like basically Notre Dame humbled me," Bryant said. "Because when I first got here, I thought I was going to come in because Cierre [Wood] and Theo [Riddick], both of them left, [so] I thought I was going to come in and just jump right in the mix right away, but it didn't happen like that. So like my dad told me, when adversity hits you got to basically just -- I don't know, you just got to -- I'm just so hungry right now, it's crazy."

Notre Dame mailblog

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
9:00
AM ET
As always, submissions are welcome here or on Twitter.

Will Salvi from Chicago writes: Matt, you're the man. Chris and I are big fans. Coach [Brian] Kelly has been known to use multiple quarterbacks in the past, how likely do you think that situation is given the potential of Malik Zaire and the return of Everett Golson? Their styles seem similar, but they also have a lot of different qualities. Thoughts? Also, the safety situation is delicate, but also exciting. We have multiple safeties with plenty of experience, who do you see coming out with the most playing time. Special teams standout for next year? (I say Connor Cavalaris).Thanks, Matt. --Will

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsEven if he doesn't win the starting QB job, expect to see Malik Zaire on the field this fall.
Matt Fortuna: Is this our first mailbag submission from a former player? I believe so! Good to hear from you, Will, and thanks for the kind words. While I expect Everett Golson to be the starter come Week 1, I'd be surprised if the staff didn't find an in-game use for Zaire in some capacity; he's too talented to stand on the sideline for a second straight year. He actually has displayed a level of shiftiness that we haven't exactly seen out of Golson. And given the Irish's red zone issues in recent years, it would not surprise me at all if Zaire received some meaningful action down there in some specific packages inside the 20. As for safeties, I'd be surprised if we saw any two play significantly more than others, if only for the fact that there are so many bodies back there right now and it seems like all are going to get package-specific chances to see meaningful action. (Though I'd expect Austin Collinsworth to be the leader of that unit.) As for Connor Cavalaris, I'll be keeping a close eye on him this season and hold you to that prediction.


Kevin from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Besides the QB battle, what is the biggest position battle to watch during spring and summer practice?

Matt Fortuna: Hey Kevin, I'd keep an eye defensively on linebacker and the secondary. Notre Dame has moved plenty of players around the field so far this spring, and we have seen much more of a 4-3 front so far. The Irish are very thin inside at linebacker but will get some re-enforcements from a healthy Jarrett Grace and the freshmen who arrive this summer. Speaking of re-enforcements, Cody Riggs will arrive from Florida this summer as well, adding further depth to a secondary that is not lacking for bodies. I don't think the eventual Week 1 depth chart will really tell the story with the Irish's defensive backs, as they have been mixing and matching their safeties (Austin Collinsworth, Elijah Shumate, Max Redfield, Nicky Baratti, to name a few) and corners (KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke, Matthias Farley), all of whom are expected to see significant time this fall.


Kenny Moore from Bluefield, W. Va., writes: As fans we have heard Coach Kelly talk about improving special team play especially on punt returns. Please tell me this is the year it gets fixed?

Matt Fortuna: OK: This is the year it gets fixed.

As for what Kelly has had to say about it recently, here are his comments from March 19, after he said they had practiced it every day this spring: "To me, where some of our shortcomings have been is the allocation of personnel in specific roles. We're spending time in breaking out specific players in specific roles right away. We're working on those fundamentals so they can carry those fundamentals into the summer and work on those fundamentals, so when we get here in August it's not the first time that they're working on specific fundamentals. We're allocating specific players to those fundamentals."


Matt Bortuna from Philadelphia writes: Hey Matt, first off, this is my real name. Difference is Bortuna is pronounced "BORT-eh-NA", a little different than Fortuna. I have a few questions regarding the depth chart. Should us Irish fans expect Cam McDaniel to eventually ride the pine by midseason or sooner if Bryant and Folston live up to the hype? Also, who are the favorites to return kickoffs and punts? Thanks for everything, Matt. Go Irish!

Matt Fortuna: This is incredible. Too bad I don't have any relatives in Philly. Anyway, to get to your question, I don't think we'll see McDaniel riding the pine this season. While I expect Greg Bryant to make a leap and Tarean Folston to continue to build off his strong finish to last season, it would be asking an awful lot of them to become so good that they completely cast aside the team's leading returning rusher last season, especially one who's a senior. As for kickoffs and punts, I'd imagine the two second-year running backs, C.J. Prosise and a couple of other receivers will get chances in the return game, but it's important to remember that the Irish didn't announce their punt returner for last season until late August.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The light is not just clicking on for Cam McDaniel because he's entering his senior season. No, the way the Notre Dame fan favorite sees it, those seeds have been planted for three years running now, and not just with him assuming the role of elder statesman in a crowded Irish backfield.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame senior tailback Cam McDaniel, who rushed for 705 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, has big goals for next season.
"To be completely honest, I have had to have that before, and leadership doesn't start when you're a senior, it starts when you're a freshman," McDaniel said. "It starts with the ability to recognize, 'Hey,' and even like the ability to jump in and follow when you need to follow and observe like, who's doing what right and who's doing what wrong, and how you can compound and build off of that going into the next year.

"And so to just I guess jump into a leadership role isn't really possible -- you've got to have the tangibles of being a leader, and I feel like that's something that I carry. And for me leadership is natural. It's stepping into a position to be a standard-bearer for the team."

While that quote is sure to tug at the heartstrings of Notre Dame Nation, McDaniel is eager to push forward a ground game that he feels could be as complete as any in the nation, as a backfield that was uneven at times in 2013 returns everyone but George Atkinson III (draft defection) and welcomes back a mobile signal-caller in Everett Golson, who rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

As for his goals this season, McDaniel, the team's leading returning rusher (705 yards in 2013), delivered another gem.

"Winning a national championship, that's the end goal for this team," the Coppell, Texas, native said. "And [with] the talent that we have, I feel like we're very capable of doing that. That's our team goal, and if anybody else says anything otherwise then they shouldn't be here."

Coming just within the vicinity of that goal will likely depend in large part on the development of the sophomores behind McDaniel: Tarean Folston (470 yards) and Greg Bryant (14), a pair of former ESPN four-star prospects from Florida.

Coach Brian Kelly likes the bruising mentality of Bryant, who's looking to put behind a forgettable rookie campaign that was plagued by injury. But the fifth-year coach knows he'll need more than a single major backfield contributor this season if the Irish want to return to 2012 form.

"I think he's probably what we've always thought about him -- his workouts, top of the line in everything that he does," Kelly said of Bryant. "I know our guys don't like to tackle him. He's physical. He's got all the tools to be a premier running back, and so you add him to the mix with Cam and Tarean, we feel really fortunate to have three great running backs."

Notre Dame mailblog

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
3:30
PM ET
What's happening?

@NJNDBlogger writes: Who do you project to start at D-line?

[+] EnlargeSheldon Day
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSheldon Day occupied one of the defensive tackle spots when Notre Dame showed it's 4-3 alignment in practice this week.
Matt Fortuna: When we got to see the first 30 minutes of the Irish's first spring practice on Monday, the first-team defense used a four-man front, with Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams on the edge and Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones inside. Brian Kelly has said that a 3-4 base will remain with new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, but the defense will still split between four-man and three-man fronts on about a 50-50 basis. In 3-4 situations, I would not be surprised to see Jones in the middle, with Day and Isaac Rochell on the edge. Keep in mind, too, that Tony Springmann remains out this spring as he recovers from a torn ACL and ensuing infection that cost him the 2013 season. He played signifcantly in 2012 and likely will again in 2014 if he makes a full recovery.


Kiel O'Connor writes: Matt, two years ago Kelly made Everett have to earn his visor. Will he make him do it again?

Matt Fortuna: Haven't seen the name Kiel in this space in quite some time. And of course your question centers around a quarterback. But I believe Everett Golson was wearing a visor when we saw him in the early part of practice on Monday. I'm not sure if he had to do anything extra to get that on his helmet for Day 1 of spring.


Jordan from Okinawa, Japan, writes: Matt, to say that ND's special-teams play (outside of the amazing Kyle Brindza) has been abysmal under the Kelly era in South Bend would be putting it nicely. What, if anything, is BK doing to address having one of the worst KO coverages, KO returns and punt returns in the nation? We, as fans, sarcastically cheer because the KO coverage actually tackles someone before they hit the 30, or a punt returner does the unthinkable ... gains 10 whole yards on a return. Any news on the staff addressing this issue, or is mediocrity going to continue to be the standard? Great work as always, Matt!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Jordan. And a reader from Japan? Wow. The different locations of Notre Dame fans I hear from never ceases to amaze me. As for your question, there's no doubt that special teams has been a failure so far in the Brian Kelly era. Here was his exact answer last Friday when asked: "Well, we went out and 'cliniced.' I won't tell you where we went, but we went with some NFL and some college programs and we took our film, with our hat in our hand and said, 'What are we doing here, what are we missing?' And primarily, it was, you know, it wasn't scheme as much as it was some coaching points and moving some personnel around, some speed players vs. some power players. And you know, I think we've got a better feel for the positioning of the players in the right positions.

"So we're going to make some adjustments to some of the looks that we have in our punt return. We think we've answered some questions in our coverage teams, and like I said, you know, it's unacceptable to be where we are. We went out with that sense of being very open to all things as it relates to special teams, because we've got to get better there. And I think we picked up some things that I think can really help us."


Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey, Matt! I was just wondering with our running backs situation, how many carries do you think that Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant are going to get each? I really like all three of them, although I haven't seen Greg Bryant play all that much. Who do you think will emerge as the top back next year?

Matt Fortuna: Thomas, it's tough to handicap the carries at this point, but I do think you'll see more maturity from Folston and Bryant, who took some hits early in their rookie campaigns but certainly are talented enough to make an impact in the Irish backfield. Folston was running with the first-team during tempo drills on Monday, and his emergence down the stretch last season makes me believe he could take the next step this season.

Irish lunch links

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
12:00
PM ET
Enjoy the weekend, gang.

Irish lunch links

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
12:00
PM ET
Let's go!
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Spring football is under way at Notre Dame. And if the snowbanks at every turn of campus weren't an indication, the sight of a No. 5 throwing footballs in a red jersey again sure was.

Yes, all eyes were on Everett Golson during his first Irish practice in nearly a year, with Avicii's "Levels" blasting once stretching was done and the tempo drill was under way. The media was able to view the first 30 minutes of practice from a balcony in the Loftus Sports Complex, with Golson and the offense running tempo on the far end of the field and the defense getting into gear right below us.

Golson is set to meet the media after practice for the first time since his return to school so we will have more on him later on Monday. As for what could be gathered about his weapons with the 2014 season still far away …
We'll have more later on Monday, as Golson will be joined by seven other players, plus coach Brian Kelly, following the completion of spring practice No. 1.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Jimbo Fisher Tells Winston To 'Calm Down'
"SportsNation" discusses Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and the advice that he gave QB Jameis Winston after the Seminoles' 31-27 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video