Notre Dame Football: News from the First 5 Spring Practices

James ToljCorrespondent IIMarch 28, 2012

STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly run on to the field for their game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Stanford, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Excitement about the Notre Dame football team is always palpable in the spring, as practice is underway, but fans won't know how the Fighting Irish will ultimately look until they take the field in Dublin, Ireland on Sept. 1 against the Navy Midshipmen.

After watching the synopsis videos on the Notre Dame athletics website (I recommend watching the short practice clips and interviews), there was quite a bit revealed about the upcoming season, though.

My first article on spring practice talked about everything from what to look for to what was actually happening in practice.

Now, as five of the 15 spring practices are finished, more has come to light.

But while the quarterback competition is well underway, no revelations exists solely from spring practice tape.

I mentioned in my earlier piece how Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees took first-team snaps while Everett Golson threw to the second team, but Golson should be throwing to the first team soon enough (if he hasn't started to already). 

As of now, all four quarterbacks have a legitimate shot at starting (although it is likely that Gunner Kiel uses a red-shirt year his freshman season).

However, Brian Kelly did let the media in on his thought process regarding the quarterbacks, and I can't say it will be comforting to those fans looking for one sure player to take over.

Asked about a timetable for selecting a quarterback In the post-practice interview after the first practice in full pads, Coach Kelly said, "...are you playing more than one? Are you playing two? Are you playing three?"

Kelly was inferring that if a number of guys still have a shot to grab the starting job as fall approaches, he will have to consider playing more than one player.

Is playing multiple quarterbacks the best thing for the team? I'm not sure, but after hearing Kelly's quote, it is a real possibility.

At running back, George Atkinson III has been the biggest surprise. Most fans knew about his potential, but Atkinson III has shown the same burst through the running lanes as he did when returning kicks in 2011. Unless he seriously regresses, Atkinson III has bought himself some playing time in the backfield in 2012.

Also at running back, Robby Toma seems to be in the mix. It wasn't a surprise to see Toma practicing with the running back unit considering Tony Alford has taken over as both running back and slot receiver coach, but Alford has been chirping compliments at Toma nearly every time he takes a hand off. So, there is certainly going to be running backs who see time at the slot position in 2012, but Toma will also take snaps from the backfield for the Irish as well.

At punt return, Kelly took responsibility in a post-practice interview for not having Theo Riddick ready last season and said Riddick will be returning punts again in 2012.

To the dismay of many fans, Kelly said in the same interview, "Obviously John Goodman is going to continue to catch punts," but added "...we have a number of young guys that will be in the mix, as well, that have shown a great affinity and a comfort level returning punts. Davonte Neal, CJ Prosise just to name a couple are very accomplished at that position."

So, according to Kelly, there will be both old and new faces returning punts in 2012.

On defense, when asked about a lack of experience and depth in the secondary, Kelly mentioned that he is very comfortable with Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter at the safety spots. And Coach Kelly also said he is glad to have Austin Collinsworth available to play in dime and nickel coverage schemes (he played in both last season).

Coach Kelly said that Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson come in as the starting cornerbacks and that he thinks the team can play championship football with the current five players at the position (while admitting the lack of depth and leaving the door open for one of the freshmen to play at corner).

In other news, according to Eric Hansen of the, Mike Elston called Kona Schwenke the most improved player on the defensive line this spring, and he said that Schwenke is more explosive with much-improved technique.

Also mentioned in the same piece by Hansen, while Prince Shembo has been practicing exclusively at the cat linebacker spot, his backup, Ishaq Williams, is making significant progress and is "...learning how to prepare to compete at this level. So there’s a lot less plays where he’s loafing or not giving effort,” according to Bob Diaco.

With just 10 more practices to go before the annual Blue-Gold game, the coaches have been happy with the way the players have practiced and the intensity level in the position battles. While good spring practices mean little, there is a enthusiasm abound that fans should hope carries into summer and the fall college football season.