Notre Dame Football: 5 Biggest Holes in the Roster Irish Must Fill for 2013
Roster turnover is an inevitable cycle in college football. Holes in the roster are left by graduated seniors or players who have left school early to pursue their NFL dreams.
How those holes are filled is a complicated, time-consuming yet critical task facing all coaching staffs around the country each offseason.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are no different, as a number of holes in the roster will appear following the conclusion of their national championship date with the Alabama Crimson Tide in Miami on Jan. 7.
Who will fill those holes?
5. Tight End
Tyler Eifert, the nation's best tight end, will be dearly missed by Notre Dame fans in 2013.
Eifert has been outstanding once again this season, though his numbers are down from a season ago. With Michael Floyd having gone to the NFL, opposing defenses keyed in on Eifert, as the 6'6", 260-pound tight end was the Irish's top receiving threat.
Through 12 games of the current season, Eifert has reeled in 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns. Those 44 receptions have given the Fort Wayne, Ind., native the team lead in that department.
Beneath the John Mackey Award winner on the depth chart at tight end are three formidable players in Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas and Alex Welch. And should he sign his national letter of intent, Mike Heuerman will join that group next fall.
Niklas, at 6'7" and 260 pounds, will likely be the starter next season, though head coach Brian Kelly will likely get Koyack on the field in two-tight end sets.
4. Wide Receiver (X, Slot)
While John Goodman only recorded seven receptions this season, he was listed as the starting "X" wide receiver throughout the season.
DaVaris Daniels often replaced him as the Irish's deep threat in place of Goodman, but missed the final two regular-season games against Wake Forest and USC with a shoulder injury. Daniels will be active for the Irish in the national championship game, though.
The Vernon Hills, Ill., native will likely be the starter next season, with Daniel Smith and Justin Ferguson behind him.
At slot receiver, the Irish have had the luxury of Robby Toma's consistency, who will graduate in the spring along with childhood friend and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.
Davonte' Neal is the logical choice to fill Toma's shoes, but who provides depth behind him remains to be seen. Current Irish receiver commits Torii Hunter Jr. and Will Fuller are potential candidates.
3. Free Safety
Last season, current Minnesota Viking Harrison Smith began what is shaping up to be a run of excellent free safeties in South Bend.
Zeke Motta, a Charlie Weis recruit, was invaluable in the secondary this season considering the youth and inexperience within the unit to begin the season. His leadership was a key aspect of the Irish secondary growing and maturing throughout the season.
Motta will be missed just as Smith was expected to be, but fear not, for Nick Baratti is set to fill Motta's shoes.
Depth will be an issue at his free safety position. Candidates to provide that depth remain to be seen, though freshman Elijah Shumate could slide over from cornerback, as he was recruited as a safety.
2. Left Inside Linebacker
Some may disagree with me here, but Manti Te'o will go down as the best linebacker in Notre Dame history (just a small step ahead of Bob Crable).
Who he is replaced by will be tasked with filling Te'o's enormous shoes, which is an extremely unenviable position. Jarrett Grace is currently listed as his backup, but rumor has it that current 2013 commit Alex Anzalone may slide in as the starter at Te'o's former position.
Depth will not be an issue at the position, with Grace, Kendall Moore and Anzalone as the three players likely to compete for playing time.
For the last three seasons, Braxston Cave has been a familiar name as Notre Dame's starting center.
Cave's eligibility expires following the Irish's game against Alabama in the national championship, and who replaces him may be the least clear position battle on the roster.
Bruce Heggie and Matthew Hegarty are the first two names that pop up in my mind.
Neither Heggie nor Hegarty have starting experience, making center the most significant position of concern entering the offseason.