Notre Dame Football: Players Who Will Rise Up the Depth Chart in Spring Practice
Notre Dame has plenty of position battles to watch once the 2013 spring practice takes place. With openings in the secondary, linebacker and tight end positions, there is a lot to pay attention to in the next couple of months. There are even spots available at the running back position, offensive line and there could be a quarterback controversy just when you thought there was nothing to see.
Spring practice is just a solid month or two of football to give the coaching staff a chance to see what the team has to work with and what needs to improve. It also gives players a chance to make an impact and prove themselves, slowly making progress up the depth chart and earning more reps during the regular season.
Notre Dame will continue to have one of the most fascinating practices with a bunch of storylines that deserve your attention.
Here are a few Irish players that will make a move up the depth chart in spring practice.
Ben Koyack, TE
Notre Dame has become a school that has really produced quality tight ends over the years. With guys such as Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Fasano having success in the NFL and Tyler Eifert expected to be a first-round pick in April, this is a position that Notre Dame hasn't had to worry about for quite some time.
With Eifert entering the draft, the position will remain a battle between Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack. Regardless of who earns the title as a starter, both are likely going to see the field quite often in the upcoming year because of the value at the position. Most in South Bend are in love with the potential that Niklas brings to the table, but Koyack's receiving skills were raved about when he came out of high school back in 2011.
He was the guy who had the size at 6'5", great hands and above-average body control for somebody as big as he is. Instead, four receptions in the first two seasons has been a disappointment to say the least and it is safe to say Irish fans are soon giving up hope on the junior tight end.
I believe with more opportunities and a little less pressure to succeed, the potential will finally begin to show for Koyack and he begins to make a true name for himself this spring.
Romeo Okwara, LB
Everybody is wondering what the linebacker position is going to look like now that Manti Te'o is no longer around to anchor the defense.
Who is going to play middle linebacker and can anybody make the same impact that last year’s Heisman candidate brought to the table? Forget all of that, I'm focused on Romeo Okwara and what he is going to bring to the table.
A true-freshman last year, Okwara was one of the youngest players ever to see playing time for Notre Dame. Playing inside and outside linebacker at certain times during the season, Okwara added depth to the position and was able to hold his own on special teams as well.
The interesting part of it all is that he is truly a defensive end and can provide the Irish with a legitimate pass-rusher coming off the edge.
With his ability to drop back in coverage and get after the opposing quarterback, Okwara is somebody who will make an impact in the spring and will force the coaching staff to give him increased playing time in the upcoming season.
Amir Carlisle, RB
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Amir Carlisle was a USC transfer who was going to contribute in a big way last season, but a broken ankle ruined those plans. Now he is rehabbing to get back on the field and looks like he is ready to break free of a log jam at the running back position, where many talented guys will be fighting for playing time.
Carlisle feels so good that he told Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com a couple of months ago that the coaching staff will also see how he can perform as a slot receiver. The more you can help out the team, the better chance of you have of seeing the field and moving up the depth chart.
Not a big runner at 5'10" and 185 pounds, Carlisle is somebody who has quick feet and is more than capable of hitting the home run. With above-average speed and quick ins-and-outs of his cuts, this is a runner who sees the field well and doesn't mind lowering his shoulder every now and then to pick up those extra yards.
Notre Dame doesn't have a true answer at running back right now with guys like George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel spending their careers as backup runners. However, Carlisle will have the chance to separate himself early from the pack and will do just that with a productive showing in the spring.
Austin Collinsworth, S
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With a secondary that may have more questions than answers and more bodies than vacant positions to fill, the defensive backfield is going to be an interesting area to watch this spring. One of the players that has nowhere to go but up is safety Austin Collinsworth.
Suffering a torn labrum last year in spring practice and then having that followed by back surgery, Collinsworth will be looking to provide a boost to the secondary. He is expected to be ready once spring practice takes place and will only benefit from fellow teammates Bennett Jackson and Dan Fox missing the majority of the events.
When healthy, Collinsworth is a productive player who gives it his all on every play. He is one of those hustle guys that coaches easily fall in love with and he covers a lot of ground for his position. A solid tackler in the open field, Collinsworth also displays great instincts and has above-average ball skills for a safety.
As long as he can prove he is healthy with a productive spring practice, Collinsworth is somebody who can either lock down a safety spot or earn significant minutes as a backup. Either way, he provides experience and will continue to climb up the depth chart as the practices take place.
Gunner Kiel, QB
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No matter how hard I try to give quarterback Everett Golson the benefit of the doubt, the fact remains that he is playing behind the deepest quarterback depth chart in college football. It doesn't matter what he accomplished last year or how promising his future is, Gunner Kiel will have a chance to take away the starting job once the spring kicks off.
We are talking about the top quarterback recruit of the 2012 class and somebody who has all of the traits that a scout would drool over. The strong arm is there, he throws the ball with great accuracy and while not nearly as athletic as Golson, he can move well for a guy his size and buy himself extra time in the pocket.
Kiel may not be the traditional quarterback for the spread offense, but players with this much upside don't exactly grow on trees. And when it comes to signal-callers, the guy that gives the team the best chance to win is eventually going to win the starting job.
There is no doubt that Golson enters the spring as the favorite to remain the starting quarterback and even if Kiel impresses, it would take until fall camp for an official decision to be announced. I have high hopes for Golson, but the upside is starring at you in the face and this is a quarterback competition that will likely come down to the very end.
At the very least Kiel ends up the backup with a great chance to see the field early.