Notre Dame Football: ND pre spring breakdown 2013

Pre-spring breakdown: Secondary

March, 19, 2013
Our series wraps up with the defensive backs.

Starters returning: Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley
Players returning: Austin Collinsworth, Lo Wood, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Eilar Hardy, C.J. Prosise, Chris Badger, John Turner
Players departing: Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy, Chris Salvi
Newcomers: Max Redfield, Devin Butler, Cole Luke, Rashad Kinlaw

The breakdown: The secondary was the biggest concern going into 2012, and it ended up becoming the biggest surprise. Though the group had a night to forget on Jan. 7 in Miami against Alabama, three starters are back from a stingy unit that suddenly finds itself with another numbers problem -- this time a good one.

Russell, a converted freshman running back, did better than anyone could have ever imagined after rising to the No. 1 spot when Wood went down with a preseason Achilles tear. Jackson lived up to the high preseason words of the coaching staff, finishing third on the team in tackles (65) and adding four picks. Farley, another converted player who made his first appearance in the secondary on a college field (after a redshirt season), adapted well as a tackler. He put in all the necessary post-practice work with safeties coach Bob Elliott to emerge as a strong starter after Slaughter -- who is done after being denied a sixth year by the NCAA -- went down with an Achilles tear of his own. Like Russell, Farley has three years left at Notre Dame.

Wood, a projected starter last season before getting hurt, enters the mix this season as well, though how much he'll be able to do this spring remains to be seen. Collinsworth saw extensive action at safety as a sophomore but underwent both shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to sit out all of last season. He is expected to be back this spring. He will surely give Notre Dame another proven body in the defensive backfield.

Baratti saw plenty of time on defense in his first college season, and you can expect to see him on the field often in one capacity or another. He played often on special teams last season too. Shumate was essentially the Irish's nickelback after converting from safety, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up given the numbers situation back there in 2013.

Among newcomers, Redfield has received the most attention, as he was the No. 23 overall player from the Class of 2013, according to ESPN. He will not enroll until the summer.

Pre-spring breakdown: Linebackers

March, 18, 2013
Our series continues with the linebackers.

Starters returning: Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond
Players returning: Ishaq Williams, Jarrett Grace, Kendall Moore, Ben Councell, Anthony Rabasa, Justin Utupo, Joe Schmidt
Players departing: Manti Te'o
Newcomers: Michael Deeb, Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph

The breakdown: Te'o, of course, leaves the biggest void, as Notre Dame is tasked with replacing the man who came as close as any pure defensive player ever did to winning the Heisman Trophy. But he is the only linebacker departing, assuming that Fox and Calabrese have had no hold-ups with their fifth-year paperwork.

Brian Kelly said during the winter that Fox and Calabrese, along with Grace, will be the front-runners to fill Te'o's vacant spot in the middle. He added that Moore and incoming freshmen could emerge as candidates as well. Fox and Calabrese have split time as starters during the past two seasons, and it will be worth watching how much that is the case this season, as it will likely depend on how well Grace progresses. Grace received much hype during last year's spring season but ended up seeing little time, though Te'o was clearly a big reason for that.

During last fall's camp, Councell generated similar hype to what Grace generated in the spring. Councell saw plenty of time at the dog while Spond was sidelined with what turned out to be a severe migraine. Spond emerged as one of the Irish's biggest surprises last season -- he started in Week 3 at Michigan State and never looked back.

Shembo, meanwhile, made a huge jump in 2012, starting at the cat and tallied 10.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 12 hurries and one forced fumble. He was another valuable pass-rushing option for the Irish -- among the biggest disruptors on a team that finished the regular season atop the nation in scoring defense. He kept Williams from seeing lots of action during his second year, though the Brooklyn, N.Y., native did see more and more time as the season progressed and should continue to grow.

Smith was the highlight of this recruiting class, as ESPN's No. 7 overall player can probably play either outside or inside, though he will not arrive on campus until this summer.
Our series continues with the defensive line.

Starters returning: Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Players returning: Sheldon Day, Tony Springmann, Kona Schwenke, Chase Hounshell, Jarron Jones
Players departing: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Stockton
Newcomers: Issac Rochell, Eddie Vanderdoes

The breakdown: The defensive front was the strength of Notre Dame's defense in 2012, and it returns the bulk of production up there. While Lewis-Moore will be tough to replace from both a production and a leadership standpoint, Nix and Tuitt are both among the best in the country at their positions. Nix recorded 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble last season. Tuitt fell just shy of Justin Tuck's school season-record for sacks, finishing with 12 (along three forced fumbles, a 77-yard fumble return for a score, and a blocked kick).

After enrolling last spring, Day managed to see the field in every game as a true freshman -- he notched 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a hurry -- and he figures to be the frontrunner to replace the open starting spot this spring. Springmann and Schwenke proved to be valuable reserves as well, while Jones redshirted during his first season and Hounshell sat out the season while recovering from shoulder surgery (after playing as a true freshman in 2011).

Vanderdoes was the last prospect to sign with Notre Dame, and quite possibly the best. The five-star tackle is ESPN's No. 10 overall player in the country, and at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, he has the frame that should give him a chance to play and contribute this fall. Rochell is another ESPN150 player coming into the mix, and the numbers will present both coordinator Bob Diaco and line coach Mike Elston with a good problem to have this offseason.
Our series continues with big guys up front.

Starters returning: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Christian Lombard
Players returning: Conor Hanratty, Nick Martin, Bruce Heggie, Matt Hegarty, Ronnie Stanley, Mark Harrell
Players departing: Braxston Cave, Mike Golic Jr., Jordan Prestwood (transfer)
Newcomers: Steve Elmer, Hunter Bivin, Mike McGlinchey, John Montelus, Colin McGovern

The breakdown: We should know next week that Zack Martin and Watt are officially back for fifth years, huge boosts for a line that will be returning three starters, including the left side. Martin's decision to return in particular gives the line -- and team in general -- a great veteran presence, as he will likely become a two-time captain in 2013.

Martin may also get the chance to start alongside his younger brother, Nick, who served as something of a utility man on the second unit this past season and figures to contend for one of the two open starting spots.

Another contender to start could be Hegarty, who was shut down late last season because of a mini-stroke but is expected to be cleared this spring. Depending on his progress on the field, he could emerge as a prime candidate to replace Cave at center.

There is plenty of depth -- albeit unproven depth -- in the backfield, but 60 percent of last year's line returns, a line that paved the way for a ground attack that averaged better than 200 yards per game during the regular season.

Throw in another likely year with Everett Golson under center -- after the two sides progressed tremendously on the communication end in 2012 -- and lots of extra bodies from this year's recruiting class, and the line should not experience much of a drop-off in 2013.
Our series continues with the wide receivers and tight ends.

Starters returning: T.J. Jones
Players returning: DaVaris Daniels, Davonte' Neal, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, Luke Massa, Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch
Players departing: Robby Toma, John Goodman, Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic
Newcomers: James Onwualu, Corey Robinson, William Fuller, Torii Hunter Jr., Mike Heuerman, Durham Smythe, Jacob Matuska

The breakdown: The biggest hole will clearly be left by Eifert, who broke a number of records at Tight End U. Watching the development of the converted linebacker Niklas, along with the growth of Koyack and recovery of Welch (ACL tear), is important to keep an eye on.

Still, Notre Dame has to feel pretty good about what they return among their pass-catchers, especially in light of the Discover BCS National Championship. Jones and Daniels were two of the few who brought their A-games on Jan. 7 against Alabama, and both look like legitimate go-to options heading into 2013. Expect to see plenty of Everett Golson-to-Daniels connections over the next three years.

Neal is an interesting prospect considering he spent the majority of his freshman season simply waving the fair catch signal. He was ESPN's No. 8 overall prospect for a reason, and he should have the chance to show off his athleticism in the slot more now with Toma out of the picture. Brown, meanwhile, made arguably the biggest offensive play of the year for the Irish and, because of his speed, is someone defenders need to keep a close eye on whenever he takes the field.

Onwualu and Robinson enrolled in January and should have a leg up on the other newcomers when fall camp commences.
Spring ball is one week from today. Our series continues with the running backs.

Starters returning: None
Players returning: George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone
Players departing: Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood
Newcomers: Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston (both enroll this summer)

The breakdown: This is likely the most interesting position battle, one that should produce some intriguing competition through the spring, fall camp and likely even into the 2013 season. Atkinson and McDaniel are the only two with experience at Notre Dame, though whether either can assume the No. 1, 15-to-20-carry-a-game role is a question mark. Atkinson carried it 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, while adding two catches for 4 yards. McDaniel made the most of limited action, netting 125 yards and a score on 23 carries, adding two catches for 41 yards. Both players figure to be split to the slot as well, as that is what running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford looks for in a back, something Riddick provided last season. We'll see if either's kick-returning duties interfere with their action in the backfield as well. After notching two touchdowns in 2011, Atkinson averaged 20 yards on 22 kick returns in 2012, while McDaniel averaged 19.3 on seven returns.

Carlisle is one to watch as well. As a true freshman at USC in 2011, he carried the ball 19 times for 118 yards and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately last season, but a broken ankle suffered before spring ball ultimately forced the staff to use the redshirt option on him. Mahone also redshirted last season, his true freshman year. The 5-foot-10, 211-pound Mahone was an ESPN four-star prospect coming out of Austintown Fitch (Ohio) High School in 2012.

Then there are the summer enrollees, Bryant and Folston. Bryant, a one-time Oklahoma commit, would appear to possess all the tools necessary to become an every-down No. 1 back, but he will have a lot of ground to make up early. ESPN ranks the 5-foot-11, 197-pound American Heritage (Fla.) High School back as the nation's No. 2 prospect at the position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Folston is a four-star back, and ESPN's No. 66 player overall, out of Cocoa (Fla.) High School.
With spring practice just more than a week away, we'll go down the depth chart this week and size up what to watch for at each position.

We start today with the quarterbacks.

Starters returning: Everett Golson, Tommy Rees
Players returning: Golson, Rees, Andrew Hendrix
Players departing: Gunner Kiel (transfer)
Newcomers: Malik Zaire

The breakdown: The Kiel departure remains unofficial, though that should change in the very near future. Golson has the leg up on all entering spring and looks like Notre Dame's quarterback of the future after guiding the Irish to a 10-1 record as a starter last season. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Golson completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He rushed it 94 times for 298 yards with six more touchdowns but lost four fumbles, though all came over the season's first six games.

Rees is taken for granted by most but remains an invaluable piece to the program as he enters his senior season. Sixteen starts preceded a May 2012 arrest that ultimately cost him a shot to open the campaign as a starter, but he more than made up for it by saving the Irish late three times over their first six games and starting two others. He completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 436 yards with two touchdowns (one rushing) and two picks.

Hendrix remains the wild card. While the departure of Kiel will only help him in his battle for playing time, he trails Golson and Rees in the experience department but has the arm strength, speed and size that any coach would desire. He appeared in three games last season and completed 5 of 7 throws for 55 yards while rushing it eight times for 41 yards. The pre-med major is entering his fourth year at the school and has a fifth-year option available after not playing during his first fall on campus. Given his tools, the crowded position battle and the undergraduate degree likely coming his way in the near future, Hendrix would surprise no one if he followed Dayne Crist's steps for his fifth year and played at another school. Then again, Kiel is out of the picture, Brian Kelly is never shy about pulling his quarterbacks and far crazier things have happened than watching a guy jump from No. 3 to No. 1. Especially at Notre Dame.

Zaire, an ESPN300 prospect, enrolled in January. The southpaw is a four-star dual-threat signal-caller from Archbishop Alter High School (Kettering, Ohio).


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