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Notre Dame mailbag: Special teams, freshmen and more

It's been some time, hasn't it? You guys have plenty of Notre Dame questions with camp just a few weeks away. And I (might) have some answers. Here we go.

Matt Fortuna: Dan, of all the predicting we do around this time of the year, nothing holds less weight than forecasting how special teams will play out -- especially in the case of Notre Dame in recent years. After all, who would have thought that receiver/holder Luke Massa's decision to pass up on a fifth year would come back to bite the Irish in 2014? Yet holding on field goal attempts became a huge issue down the stretch, playing a large role in both the Northwestern and Louisville losses. In theory, the Irish should have had little to worry about with a senior kicker in Kyle Brindza, but that was not the case. Incoming freshman kicker Justin Yoon may be a three-star prospect and the No. 2 kicker recruit in the country -- and redshirt freshman punter Tyler Newsome may have been a three-star prospect and the No. 8 kicker recruit in the country -- but ask anyone who has played the position before and you'll hear the same thing: More than any other spot, kicking is where no one knows how a player will react once he lines up before 80,000-plus people and millions more on TV. As for the return game ...

Matt Fortuna: Matt, from an offensive standpoint, I think the Greg Bryant suspension is one of those losses that makes a much bigger impact in the headlines and in fan reactions than it does on the field. Tarean Folston is the No. 1 back, and he showed down the stretch last year that he is capable of fulfilling that role. Converted receiver C.J. Prosise's emergence in the backfield this spring meant it was likely going to be hard enough for Bryant to become the featured back this season and, consequently, I think the Irish will be fine with what they have in the season's first month. Now, to go back to the previous question, the Bryant suspension does leave a hole on special teams, as he was the Irish's leading returning punt returner from 2014 (eight returns, 94 yards). Where the Irish look to replace that production could come from a number of places, as special teams coordinator Scott Booker said during the spring that junior receiver Will Fuller and freshman receiver C.J. Sanders could factor into the return game as well. Redshirt senior Amir Carlisle returns as the main kickoff returner, although the Irish must replace Cam McDaniel as the off-man. Booker mentioned Prosise and Folston this spring in that off-role.

Matt Fortuna: You mentioned the big one, Jacob. Tillery found himself running with the first-team throughout much of the spring, and it seemed as if Brian Kelly and the rest of the Irish coaching staff couldn't help but praise him every time they were in front of reporters. I mentioned Sanders above (in the return game) and obviously Yoon at kicker, but one other guy to keep an eye on early could be Te'Von Coney, who enrolled in the spring and saw time at the Will linebacker spot, where he could factor into what is expected to be a deep rotation in the middle of the defense. I also wonder whether Dexter Williams or Josh Adams could steal some early carries given the backfield's lack of depth -- especially with Bryant out for the first four games.

Matt Fortuna: That really remains to be seen. I would be surprised if he could make some of the throws that Everett Golson could make, if only because some of the throws Golson was able to make -- especially given his size -- were simply jaw-dropping at times. Of course, so much more goes into the position than simple arm strength, as we all saw last season. Much of it is decision-making. And Malik Zaire has really only seen extended time in two games, the last two of last season, so how he adjusts to defensive coordinators with more time to gameplan for him (and eventually with more film on him) will be part of his growing process as a passer. The bigger question may be just how much the Irish run him, given his size, and how that opens things for him in the passing game.