Brian Kelly is now entering his third year as head coach of Notre Dame, and many are considering this to be the year he finally gets this team on track. After a 16-10 combined start his first two seasons, he hasn't quite lived up to the expectations.
He does have talented pieces to get the job done this season, as he returns a total of 15 starters. The defense is loaded with talented players, but the quarterback position remains an issue. Kelly also has an absolutely brutal schedule ahead of him as well. This could be the year the Irish could turn things around, but there are questions that need answers.
That's what spring practice is for, and it will take place on March 21 for Notre Dame as they prepare for the spring game on April 21. Here, they will use the next month to try and come up with a few solutions so a successful season is within reach.
Here's the breakdown for Notre Dame's spring ball.
The most watched position throughout the spring has been quarterback and it'll continue to be the main focus until a decision is made. There are four quarterbacks who are in the running for the starting job and the one that shows the most confidence may have the better chance at the position.
If you’re confident and you walk up there and you know what you want to do and you’re making the check, you’re commanding your presence - that obviously goes a long way to the unit. That was the thing that we wanted to see today. Head coach Brian Kelly said via the Washington Post. Who commands that respect? Who goes up there and as I told them, even if you’re wrong, go up there with a certainty that you know what you’re doing.
While many Irish fans don't want Tommy Rees to remain the starter, Kelly said he was the one that has shown the most confidence and has stepped up to the plate.
“As we go longer into this, our expectations are ‘listen, you’ve got more experience than anybody else here. Go out and act like that.’ I think he did today,” Kelly said.
This will be a battle that lasts well into the fall, but if confidence is key, it may be the last year's starter's job to lose.
Notre Dame will kick off spring practice on March 21, and they will hold their spring game on April 21.
Quarterback: Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson
Running Back: Cierre Wood, Theo Reddick
Wide Receiver: TJ Jones, Luke Massa
Wide Receiver: John Goodman, DaVaris Daniels
Wide Receiver: Robby Toma, Matthias Farley
Tight End: Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyak
Offensive Tackle: Zack Martin, Jordan Prestwood
Offensive Guard: Chris Watt, Bruce Heggie
Center: Braxton Cave, Mike Golic Jr.
Offensive Guard: Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty
Offensive Tackle: Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols
Defensive End: Aaron Lynch, Chase Hounshell
Nose Guard: Louis Nix, Tony Springmann
Defensive End: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Stephon Tuitt
Outside Linebacker: Troy Niklas, Ishaq Williams
Middle Linebacker: Manti Te'o, Kendall Moore
Middle Linebacker: Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
Outside Linebacker: Prince Shembo, Danny Spond
Cornerback: Lo Wood, Tee Shepard
Cornerback: Bennett Jackson, Josh Atkinson
Strong Safety: Zeke Motta, Austin Collinsworth
Free Safety: Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy
Kicker: Nick Tausch
Punter: Ben Turk
There is no question that the position every Irish fan will be paying the most attention to is the quarterback position. Of course, there are other concerns to pay attention to as well, such as the secondary, but none bigger than quarterback.
The quarterbacks that will be competing for the Fighting Irish's starting job are Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel.
Rees has more experience over every other quarterback on the roster, as he's played quite a bit the last two seasons and started last year.
He completed 65 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns in 2011, but the turnovers haunt Rees and this Irish team the most. Rees has thrown a combined 22 interceptions in two seasons.
Still, the experience alone makes him a strong candidate to once again become the starting option.
Hendrix is a big body at 6'2" and 220 pounds. He is more of a dual-threat quarterback, as he's capable of scrambling to move the chains. Hendrix also has the best arm out of this group, which is probably his best trait.
Although, much like Rees, Hendrix does tend to force the ball sometimes, as you saw a little bit last season when he threw two interceptions on only 37 pass attempts.
Still, the sophomore quarterback will get a strong look.
Golson is the dual-threat quarterback out of this bunch, and that's what makes him such an exciting prospect the fans want to see. In Brian Kelly's spread offense, Golson would likely be the best fit overall because of his legs.
However, other than his running ability, we don't know much about Golson since he has yet to step foot on the football field at the collegiate level.
Kiel has the longest odds to win this competition, but he will likely be given an outside shot to win the starting job. He was one of the top prospects in this year's class, and he's considered the future star for this program.
We know Kiel has great accuracy and makes great decisions on the football field. It's the lack of experience that will force the 5-star recruit to wait a year or so before taking over.
I think the starting position will either be given to Golson or Hendrix. Both are young players who have a ton of upside. While Rees may have the experience, Kelly and Irish fans simply can't put up with another season of 20-plus turnovers. At the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if Kelly goes with a two-quarterback system and uses Golson's feet at times and Hendricks arm.
Linebacker Manti Te'o is not just the big man on campus, he's also the leader of the defense that returns eight starters. Anytime you're able to leave school early and still would have been one of the first linebackers taken in the NFL draft, you're kind of a big deal.
But Te'o decided to return for his senior season, and the Irish can't thank him enough, because he has been the leading tackler for this team the last two seasons. Last year, he finished with 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and added five sacks on top of that for good measure.
Te'o is a difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball, one of the top linebackers in the country and the biggest man on campus for the Irish.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd finished his four-year career with 271 receptions for 3,686 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns. Now, a bunch of upperclassman will have to produce more than they ever have for the Irish to have a successful season with such a brutal schedule.
Tight end Tyler Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the country, but he won't be able to do it all by himself. John Goodman is a 2008 recruit that had a ton of hype coming out of high school, but he has yet to fulfill those expectations, as he only has 28 catches in three seasons.
Theo Riddick and TJ Jones have been consistent players over the last two seasons and will have to continue the solid production. One player to keep an eye on is 2010 recruit DaVaris Daniels, who has great size at 6'2", 185 pounds and is very strong when going up for the football.
The talent is there to replace Floyd; players just need to play to their potential.
Besides the quarterback issue that will receive majority of the attention until a decision is made, the Irish also have a few other issues to figure out as well.
For example, what's up with the secondary that lost three starters from last year? There's talent in the defensive backfield, but not much experience. How quickly will we see talented cornerback Tee Shepard, who was a 5-star recruit?
Another issue to focus on is all of the coaching changes that Brian Kelly made during the offseason. There isn't one offensive coach who has the same title they had last season, which could be a good thing for a team that struggled or could end up blowing up in their faces.