Elijah Shumate courtesy of Rivals.com
With the freshmen talent arriving in South Bend in 2012, at least four first-year guys will see the field.
At safety, Elijah Shumate should play this season. Although the 6'1" New Jersey product only weighs in at 205 pounds, he is already physically imposing and could see time at his natural position of linebacker as well. Look for him to take over Jamoris Slaughter's role of hybrid linebacker/safety against option or run-based offenses and be a major contributor on kickoff coverage.
Davonte Neal has the opportunity to start at slot receiver. Robby Toma has earned playing time in most fans' eyes, but Neal's ability is too vast to keep him off the field. While Toma likely gets the starting nod, at the very least Neal will be one of the many players used at the position. Neal might just end up playing in all facets of the game.
Neal is a viable option for kickoffs and punt returns because of his speed and shiftiness (George Atkinson III will be one kick returner) . Also, don't be surprised to see him try his hand at cornerback due to a recent development.
Tee Shepard would have been ready for the big time at cornerback even though he didn't play his senior year in high school, but reports have surfaced that he is no longer with the team. Coach Kelly talked about Shepard's departure in a statement to the Chicago Tribune.
If Neal doesn't end up playing cornerback, Eliar Hardy will likely move from safety to battle Jalen Brown, Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood and Josh Atkinson for playing time.
With the departure of Hafis Williams, Brandon Newman, Sean Cwynar and Ethan Johnson (although Newman got almost no playing time), Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day are likely to help give Brian Kelly the deep rotation he wants along the defensive line (especially at nose tackle or defensive tackle).
A number of other players could end up seeing time this season too.
Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown may get to play wide receiver depending on how frequently Brian Kelly wants to rotate his players (Coach Kelly said he was to play fast and use a deep bench at wideout).
Chris Badger's persistence and physicality may lead to him playing in kickoff coverage, and KeiVarre Russell has the talent to play either at running back or wideout (although the latter is more likely this season).
However, due to depth, I don't see Russell or William Mahone playing this season at running back, even though Mahone would fit in well as a power back (Cam Roberson may get that role).