Notre Dame Football: Projecting the 2012 Depth Chart After National Signing Day

James ToljCorrespondent IIFebruary 10, 2012

Notre Dame Football: Projecting the 2012 Depth Chart After National Signing Day

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    With national signing day behind us, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are still waiting to hear from Davonte Neal, Anthony Standifer, and a number of fifth year candidates.

    Standifer and Neal won't change the depth chart too drastically, but the return of fifth year guys could.

    So, what will the depth chart look like in 2012? Of course, that is something every Notre Dame fan wants to know. 

    There are a plethora of depth chart questions that won't be answered until late in spring.

    Chief among those questions—which player will end up as the starting quarterback?

    That isn't the only important question though. Will anyone in this year's recruiting class end up starting for the Irish? Or will every starter from last season retain their job?


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    Jamoris Slaughter hasn't stated that he is going to return for a fifth year, but if he does, he will be penciled in immediately as the starting free safety (as he is here). 

    Eilar Hardy suffered a knee injury and missed the whole 2011 season, but he is very similar to Slaughter making him the perfect backup at free safety. Like Slaughter, Hardy can make up ground quickly to bat a ball out of the air, or he can home in on a receiver and lay a big hit on the opposition (he just needs to add a little muscle).

    Zeke Motta should get the starting nod at strong safety due to experience.

    Austin Collinsworth has shown a fantastic ability to tackle on special teams and will be Motta's backup.

    Elijah Shumate is also a hard-hitting player, and he will be another one of Motta's backups. Shumate could see a fair amount of time on the field in 2012.

    Experience will win out again at cornerback. Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson won't have a very long leash, but they should be named the starters against Navy.

    Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown both have great size and will be backups and will fight for the nickel back job.

    Dan McCarthy has yet to make a decision about a fifth year (he will be a backup to Slaughter if he does return).

    2012 Depth Chart Projection

    CB Starter-Lo Wood  Backup-Jalen Brown (Nickel Back)

    CB Starter-Bennett Jackson  Backup-Josh Atkinson or Jalen Brown

    Free Safety-Jamoris Slaughter (if he returns)  Backup-Eilar Hardy or Dan McCarthy (if he returns)

    Strong Safety-Zeke Motta  Backup-Austin Collinsworth or Elijah Shumate

Defensive Line

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    Sean Cwynar, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams and Kapron-Lewis Moore could all apply for a fifth year of eligibility in 2012.

    So far, only Sean Cwynar has announced he will not return to the team in 2012 according to the Chicago Tribune.

    On the other hand, Newman has said he is going to apply for a fifth year according to (and he will play somewhere else if not for the Irish).

    The most sure bet to return is Kapron Lewis-Moore. Stephon Tuitt will be sharing the defensive end job with Lewis-Moore, and Kona Schwenke should become a regular contributor on the defensive line.

    Aaron Lynch will continue to strike fear into the hearts of quarterbacks and offensive linemen.

    Chase Hounshell came out of nowhere last season to play defensive end (and some defensive tackle), and he should get just as much time there, if not more, this season.

    Louis Nix held down the nose guard spot last season, and fans will see him there again in 2012.

    While Newman and Williams could return to add depth, the backup nose guard role will go to Tyler Stockton and Tony Springmann.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Defensive End-Kapron Lewis-Moore (if he returns) or Stephon Tuitt  Backup-Kona Schwenke

    Defensive End-Aaron Lynch  Backup-Chase Hounshell

    Defensive Tackle (Nose Guard)-Louis Nix III  Backup-Tyler Stockton or Tony Springmann


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    Luckily for the Fighting Irish, Manti Te'o is coming back for his senior season in 2012 to play inside linebacker. There is no question that he will be the heart of the defense and a team captain.

    Kendall Moore showed some explosiveness against the run in 2011, and while he won't beat out Te'o, he should see the field more often than last year.

    Coaches love how Dan Fox developed in 2011. He might not have been perfect, but he will retain his job in 2012. Carlo Calabrese or Justin Utupo are going to see the field when Fox is taken out or injured.

    Prince Shembo wasn't perfect last year either, and while his job is less secure than Fox's, Shembo is the favorite to start in 2012. Troy Niklas, who got to start a few times in Shembo's absence, will back him up.

    Although Ishaq Williams didn't seize the starting job in 2011, he is going to in 2012. He has many of the same qualities that make Shembo so intriguing. Williams is lengthy and great at pass rushing. Fans should expect a lot out of Willams in 2012, and with his immense, natural talent, he won't let them down. 

    Danny Spond will play behind Williams. He is a superb athlete that should see the field a lot in 2012.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Inside Linebacker-Manti Te'o  Backup-Kendall Moore

    Inside Linebacker-Dan Fox  Backup-Carlo Calabrese or Justin Utupo

    Outside Linebacker-Prince Shembo  Backup-Troy Niklas

    Outside linebacker-Ishaq Williams  Backup-Danny Spond

Running Back

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    As was the way last season ended, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick will be sharing time at running back in 2012.

    I fully expect Riddick to play wide receiver some as well. This will give the younger players like Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III a chance to contribute.

    Tony Alford is moving from focusing solely on wide receivers to coach the running backs and slot wideouts (as stated by That may be an indication of some crossover. McDaniel, Riddick and Atkinson III could all see time at receiver.

    Even though Riddick doesn't provide the team with a power back at the position, Brian Kelly will primarily use two speedsters in the backfield.

    On occasion, William Mahone or Cam Roberson are going to see the field on short yardage plays.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Running Back-Cierre Wood or Theo Riddick  Backup-George Atkinson III or Cam McDaniel

Wide Receivers

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    The wide receiver group has a lot to prove due to the departure of Michael Floyd. 

    Floyd's shoes won't be filled easily, and no one expects a single player to do so. If Floyd's production is going to be made up, it will take the whole team.

    Those shoes probably won't be filled by Deion Walker. He could never seem to make an impact during his time at Notre Dame, and his return for a fifth year is doubtful (which pains me to say because my older brother played football for the same high school as Walker, and we both had high hopes for the speedy youngster).

    According to, John Goodman informed his high school football coach that he is returning to Notre Dame for a fifth year. Goodman has the upper hand due to experience, but DaVaris Daniels is going to challenge him for the starting job and will share time at the very least. 

    Daniel Smith will provide Brian Kelly with a steady backup behind Goodman and Daniels.

    On the other side of the field will be TJ Jones. 

    Jones struggled to find his way at times in 2011, but he has started since his freshman year (started seven game in 2010). The job is his to lose in 2012. When Theo Riddick isn't playing running back, he will fill likely in for Jones. 

    At 6'4", Luke Massa gives Brian Kelly a different look behind both Riddick and Jones. If Kelly wants to attack opposing secondaries with taller wideouts, then it will be Massa who comes in.

    Robby Toma has earned a shot to start in the slot receiver role. He has solid hands, good quickness and will be an asset at the position. Matthias Farley, a player who Kelly was impressed with out of high school, is going to fall behind Toma at the slot position.

    If things are going poorly on the wide receiver front, fans can expect Kelly to try Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson or KeiVarae Russell at wideout, but they won't play to start the season.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Wide Receiver-DaVaris Daniels or John Goodman (if he returns)  Backup-Daniel Smith

    Wide Receiver-TJ Jones or Theo Riddick  Backup-Luke Massa

    Wide Receiver (Slot)-Robby Toma  Backup-Matthias Farley

Offensive Line

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    Whether Lane Clelland, Braxton Cave and Mike Golic Jr. will return for a fifth year is still a mystery, but Cave is very likely to come back and fill his starting center role.

    There will be two new starters on the offensive line even if all three players return, unless Golic Jr., who started in Cave's absence, returns to play a position other than backup center.

    Tate Nichols physique impressed coaches last spring, but will probably sit behind Notre Dame's best lineman, Zack Martin, at left tackle. Martin's younger brother, Nick, may move to right guard and battle Conor Hanratty for the starting job.

    However, Hanratty's size, strength and ability to get push in the run game give him a decisive advantage. Hanratty finished last season backing up Trevor Robinson at right guard.

    Chris Watt and Braxton Cave's jobs are secure. They both played well in 2011 and that should continue. Golic Jr. or Matt Hegarty will play behind Cave, and Bruce Heggie or Lane Clelland will be behind Watt.

    Christian Lombard is the favorite to start at right tackle in Dublin. He has the power and athleticism to play the position, and last season, Lombard backed up Taylor Dever at right tackle.

    Look out for Jordan Prestwood and Ronnie Stanley, though. Both players are extremely talented and either one could end up starting at right tackle.

    2012 Depth Chart Projection

    Left Tackle-Zack Martin  Backup-Tate Nichols

    Left Guard-Chris Watt  Backup-Bruce Heggie or Lane Clelland (if he returns)

    Center-Braxton Cave (if he returns)  Backup-Mike Golic Jr. (if he returns) or Matt Hegarty

    Right Tackle-Christian Lombard  Backup-Jordan Prestwood or Ronnie Stanley

    Right Guard-Conor Hanratty  Backup-Nick Martin

Tight End

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    There is no question who will be atop the two deep before the Fighting Irish's first game inn 2012—Tyler EIfert. The star tight end was second on the team in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

    Mike Ragone may apply for a rare sixth year of eligibility due to a slew of injuries suffered over his career, but he would be fighting for a backup role with numerous young, talented players. 

    And while Ragone has shown promise over his time at Notre Dame, I see both Ben Koyak and Alex Welch beating him out.

    Brian Kelly needs an heir apparent to Eifert for 2013, but using both Welch and Koyak may be the best possible solution.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Tight End-Tyler Eifert  Backup-Ben Koyak or Alex Welch


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    There is no issue more pressing for Irish faithful than which player will start at quarterback.

    Obviously, Tommy Rees has the most experience, but Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix have had ample time to learn the playbook.

    Gunner Kiel is at a disadvantage, but his early enrollment will give him enough time to familiarize himself with the playbook and compete this spring.

    As much as Irish fans want a player cemented at the position, that may not happen in 2012 (at least not at the start of the season).

    Rees, who has exhausted his fan support, will likely be a backup behind Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson (given that the two outperform him in the spring).

    Hendrix has shown Brian Kelly enough to garner more time on the field, and Golson's potential is unlimited.

    Golson and Hendrix will be able to run the full playbook in 2012, and whoever is hotter will get the lion's share of the snaps during any given game. However, unless one player clearly separates himself or is injured, neither player will get the vast majority of the snaps over the duration of the season.

    Being named the starter would be a formality, and I could see Kelly switching or rotating week-to-week.

    With Golson and Hendrix as the guys in 2012, Kiel is going to have to wait in the wings for his chance.

    2012 Depth Chart Projection

    Quarterback-Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix  Backup-Tommy Rees

Special Teams

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    Cam McDaniel will have a chance to showcase his punt return skills this season, and Austin Collinsworth will back him up.

    George Atkinson III won't even have to compete for one kick returner spot after last year's performance, and Collinsworth has proven he runs hard enough to grab the other.

    The competition for place kicker could be fierce (well, as fierce as a kicking competition can be). While Nick Tausch has the edge, Kyle Brindza could end up kicking field goals for the Irish.

    Tausch will likely be kicking field goals, but Brindza will remain on kickoffs (although his leg wasn't quite as strong as advertised).

    Ben Turk had a tough start to the year but finished off 2011 strong, and Jordan Cowart will have to look over his shoulder so that freshman Scott Daly doesn't take his job.

    2012 Depth Chart Projections

    Punt Returner-Cam McDaniel  Backup-Austin Collinsworth

    Kick Returners- George Atkinson III and Austin Collinsworth  Backup-Cam McDaniel and Theo Riddick

    Kickoffs-Kyle Brindza  Backup-Nick Tausch

    Placekicker-Nick Tausch  Backup-Kyle Brindza

    Punter-Ben Turk  Backup-Kyle Brindza

    Holder-Ben Turk  Backup-Kyle Brindza

    Long Snapper-Jordan Cowart  Backup-Scott Daly

    Short Snapper-Jordan Cowart  Backup Scott Daly