Notre Dame Football: Things You Want to Know About the 2012 Fighting Irish
As Notre Dame football fans are sorting through the information made available since the start of spring practice, there's a ravenous need for more news.
Who will start where? What players look the best? And is there going to be any new wrinkles in the offense or defense?
While those questions won't be fully answered until the team reaches Dublin, there has been some light shed on the subjects.
Bennett Jackson has locked down one cornerback spot.
Austin Collinsworth is getting a ton of attention and will be the first defensive back off the bench.
Christian Lombard has emerged as a starter, and now coaches just need to figure out where to put him.
The slot receiver has merged with the running back position, and the battle for the starting quarterback spot is still in its beginning stages. There's a long way to go before it is over too.
Bennett Jackson Will Be a Stud
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Former wide receiver turned cornerback Bennett Jackson has had such a great spring that he has already locked down the boundary cornerback position for the 2012 season.
Kelly said about the converted cornerback in the March 30th post-practice press conference, "Well, I can tell you that Bennett Jackson is going to be a heck of a football player for us today."
Jackson will play on the shorter side of the field, but he will also be tasked with man-to-man coverage more often and guarding the opposing offense's best player on the regular.
Kelly went on to say that he feels "...really, really good about that position (boundary cornerback)," but that "...the wide corner position, the field corner, is still one that will be competitive, though Lo Wood has had a nice spring."
While the other cornerbacks (Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson and Cam McDaniel) will be battling Wood for the field cornerback spot, like at the boundary cornerback spot, Coach Kelly is already sure who will fill the nickel-back role.
Austin Collinsworth Is the Safety in Waiting
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Austin Collinsworth made a name for himself last year on special teams (on the return and coverage unit), and the former NFL wide receiver's son also showed off his toughness in dime-and-nickle coverages as a defensive back.
While the field corner and dime-back roles are still be up for grabs, the nickle-back spot is taken. Collinsworth will fill that roll again in 2012.
Also, if Jamoris Slaughter moves down to the outside linebacker spot (which Brian Kelly said he will), then Collinsworth will be the first off the bench to take over for him at safety.
With a number of impressive freshmen safeties on their way to South Bend and decent depth at the position including fifth-year player Dan McCarthy and the youngster Eilar Hardy, Kelly and the coaching staff must have overwhelming confidence in Collinsworth's ability to cover.
Watching practice tape on Collinsworth, one sees that not many players go harder than he does. Apparently, it has paid dividends.
When asked at the March 30th post-practice press conference if Collinsworth was close to breaking into the starting lineup, Kelly responded with "Oh yeah. Oh yeah."
Slot Receiver and Running Back Have United and John Goodman Will Play a Ton
John Gress/Getty Images
With Tony Alford moving back to running back coach while still assuming the role of coaching the slot receivers, the two positions have merged into a single unit during spring practice.
With a fast-paced offense being one of Brian Kelly's goals, he wants the group to have some versatility, and making the position interchangeable is one way to do so.
Fans can expect the running backs to take snaps in the slot position, but they can also bank on slot receiver Robby Toma taking some repetitions at running back as well.
When asked about the hybrid slot receiver-running back role in the March 30th post-practice press conference, Kelly mentioned that the role could be used to move defenses or to open up the field for other players (like tight end Tyler Eifert).
Kelly said that Toma isn't necessarily in the mix to be a running back, but if he is in the game when a certain play comes in, "...sometimes he will find himself in that position (running back)."
Also, John Goodman continues to impress the coaching staff (many have declared that he has never had problems with looking good practice), but all signs point to him being a major contributor to the offense this season.
Coach Kelly stated in the same March 30th press conference that he needs to continue to improve and become consistent but said that "...from a wide receiver position, he's been our go-to guy."
So expect to see a heavy dose of Goodman all season long.
Christian Lombard May Be the Most Versatile Player on the Offensive Line
A few players are in the mix to grab the right-tackle and right-guard spots, but only one thing is certain, Christian Lombard will be starting at one of those positions
So far, Lombard has stayed on the first team whether he was playing at the guard or tackle position, and he has earned the acclaim of head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.
In Samson's article, Hiestand stated, "Christian’s got the length to play tackle but he’s got the ability to bend his knees and play guard," and he goes on to say, "His versatility is really good for us."
In the March 30th post-practice press conference, Coach Kelly said "We were very confident in his (Lombard) ability last year, but mentioned that with two returning starters on the right side of the line Lombard had little opportunity to start.
Alongside Lombard, Mike Golic, Jr., Tate Nicholas, Nick Martin and Connor Hanratty have a chance to end up starting at either position. Because Lombard is talented enough to play either tackle or guard, where he starts will depend on which one of the other three players really step up.
The Quarterback Battle Won't Be Decided Anytime Soon
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
For those fans who think there will be a starting quarterback named relatively soon, don't hold your breath.
In the March 30th post-practice press conference, Brian Kelly went into detail to assure the media that deciding on a quarterback will be a long process.
When asked at the press conference if one candidate is stepping up or if that changes each day, Kelly responded with, "We have not even got to the checks in our offense yet."
Kelly explained that in practice No. 6, the quarterbacks were facing a defense that dropped eight into coverage, and the quarterbacks simply had to extend the play until there was room to run or an open receiver.
To say that the decision process is going in baby steps is an understatement.
Over the next few weeks, the quarterbacks will have to start reading defenses and going through their progressions, but until then, the process is truly moving at a snail's pace.