On the heels of another disappointing March for the men’s basketball team, there’s nothing better to cure the blues than the beginning football spring practice. Brian Kelly begins his second spring practice as Irish head coach in a much better place than when he took over last year. For one Notre Dame comes off of a four-game winning streak to end the season including a 33-17 beatdown of Miami in the Sun Bowl. Secondly, the Irish are in a much position as far as depth goes. Of course, a black cloud hangs over the program right now with the suspension of All-America caliber receiver Michael Floyd. The question remains as to whether Floyd will ever play again for ND, but at least for now he’s gone and not even considered part of the team. Even with the Floyd situation, there’s much to be excited about this spring. Here’s a look at some things to watch out for over the next month.
- The biggest story for Kelly and the Irish continues to be the quarterback situation. Whereas last spring, the Irish had little to no experience under center, this year there’s plenty of experience to go around. Incumbant starter Dayne Crist is back, but again will be limited in his activities this spring after rupturing his left patellar tendon last fall. He’ll be available for everything but live drills. Sophomore-to-be Tommy Rees will most likely work mostly with the first team, a spot he earned after taking over for Crist and leading the Irish to four wins to end the season. Even backing those two are sophomore Andrew Hendrix who many consider to have the best tools of the four QBs, and freshman early enrollee Everett Golson thought to be the perfect quarterback for Kelly’s system. It’ll be interesting to see how these four look during practice, and who may jump whom on the depth chart.
- After the quarterback situation, the most interesting/exciting story this year is the impact of the early enrolees, particularly the two stud defensive prospects Ishaq Williams and Aaron Lynch. Both of the those guys are expected to crack the lineup at some point next season and could even push the upperclassmen for a starting role. Lynch may be the best defensive recruit Notre Dame signed since Manti T’eo, and possibly even since the heyday of the Lou Holtz era. Williams should be a beast at one of the outside linebacker spots. Many Irish fans are salivating at the opportunity to see those two in action.
- Depth at defensive back might be the most interesting development of the spring. At corner, the Irish return two talented and experienced players in seniors Gary Gray and Robert Blanton. However, behind them there’s not much there. Sophomore Lo Wood played mostly on special teams last year and only saw mop up duty at actually playing corner. To round of the depth chart is former receiver Bennett Jackson. Jackson, like Wood, played mostly special teams but did make an impact collecting 10 solo tackles and earning the Special Teams Player of the Year Award during the end of the season banquet. But, obviously, other than the two starters, there’s not much there. Wood and Jackson need to improve and show their capable of taking over on the field since there’s no telling on whether Gray or Blanton will stay healthy all season.
- There have been some position and coaching responsibility changes. Other than Jackson moving from receiver to corner, sophomore Austin Collinsworth moves from receiver to safety. Luke Massa begins working with the receivers after coming in as a quarterback. Early enrollee freshman Brad Carrico signed as a defensive end, but has been moved to offensive line, and linebackers Danny Spond and Justin Utopo switched spots with Spond moving from inside to outside and Utopo going from the outside to an inside position.
- The coaching changes seem fairly minor. Kerry Crooks will coach cornerbacks this year after tutoring the outside linebackers last year. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco now coaches all of the linebackers, and Chuck Martin will now focus solely on the safeties as opposed to all defensive backs.
- Finally, some minor injury news. Junior linebacker Manti T’eo underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee and will be limited in what drills he can participate. Defensive lineman Sean Cwynar also will miss spring practice after undergoing offseason back and foot surgery. He is still sporting a protective boot on his foot.
There’s the skinny so far. Check back throughout the next month as we will break down the Notre Dame roster position-by-position.