Now that the fervor around Aaron Lynch's departure from the Notre Dame football team has begun to subside, it's time to focus on the players who will be taking the field this fall and the ongoing position battles they're in.
In Brian Kelly's April 14th post-practice press conference, the head coach unveiled his thoughts on where a few positions stand.
At defensive tackle, Kelly said that Kona Schwenke would play much of the same role that Sean Cwynar had last year. He stated that Schwenke will see time at both defensive end and nose tackle, but as of right now, Kelly called him "...the starter."
Kelly could have meant that Schwenke will be the fourth starter along the defensive line (that normally plays in a three-linemen set) playing a hybrid defensive end-nose tackle position, especially considering how well Louis Nix played last season. But Coach Kelly was disappointed with Nix's performance at the start of the spring, so Schwenke could have jumped Nix.
Kelly did mention at the presser that Nix "provided the consistency that he didn't provide earlier in the spring." However, Nix will need to string together more than just a few good practices to secure starting status.
Either way, both Nix and Schwenke will get ample minutes at nose tackle. Tony Springmann, who has yet to practice this spring, is also expected to get some minutes at nose tackle (and possibly Tyler Stockton).
Kapron Lewis-Moore moves from backing up Stephon Tuitt to a starting role at the other end of the defensive line in Lynch's absence.
The boundary cornerback has Bennett Jackson's name all over it, but the field corner seems to be down to Josh Atkinson and Lo Wood (with Jalen Brown backing up Jackson and Cam McDaniel still being evaluated).
Kelly said that both players will get an opportunity to show what they can do in the spring game, offering his analysis that if Atkinson had Wood's technique and Wood had Atkinson's speed, "...you'd have the guy right there."
At the cat linebacker spot, Ishaq Williams has been taking snaps with the first-team squad because Prince Shembo went through toe surgery and will be out six weeks. The coaches like Shembo at the position, but Williams has been practicing hard and will see much more time on the field than he did last season.
Along the right side of the offensive line, if the season started today, Christian Lombard would be the right tackle.
However, two candidates have stood out at right guard in Kelly's eyes—Nick Martin and Mike Golic, Jr. Kelly said, "I'd say right now you're probably looking at Lombard at right tackle and Martin and Golic fighting it out for right guard right now. It could change.”
The wide receiver battle will continue until fall, but Luke Massa, who has had a solid spring, hurt his ACL and likely will require surgery.
The most intriguing position battle for fans is the quarterback spot. While the starter won't be named for some time, Brian Kelly's comments were revealing.
In the same April 14th press conference that shed light on the positions mentioned above, Kelly noted that he wants Rees to know "...'you've got more experience than anybody else here, go out and act like that.' I think he did today (Saturday)."
But Kelly also critiqued Rees saying, "...once he gets into a little bit of trouble, trouble starts for us. They brought some pressure; he didn't see it and threw the ball into the wrong side of coverage. I think the thing we need to get from Tom, he's confident in himself but we've got to make sure he's making good decisions under duress."
Kelly briefly touched on how coachable Gunner Kiel is, but he focused more on Everett Golson.
On Golson, Kelly said, "When Everett got here it was the unconscious incompetence. He didn't know he didn't know. He's grown to a conscious competence. But it's so hard for him every day to be that guy. He's trying so hard. He wants to do it. He will do it. We just wish it was sooner but it's going to come."
Andrew Hendrix didn't come up, but he has had a decent spring and, alongside Rees, has a great chance of becoming the starter.
Rees and Hendrix both have a lot to work on, too, and the players' ability to run will also factor in. So, with Golson's speed and ability to throw the deep ball (which has been evident in every practice video), he can't be counted out yet, either.
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