Notre Dame Football: Irish's Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into Spring

Ian BergCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Irish's Strengths and Weaknesses Heading into Spring

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    Notre Dame is entering spring with a lot to build on from the 2012 season. The Irish maneuvered through a difficult schedule and finished the year in the BCS National Title Game, but fell short of walking away with the crystal football.

    There are 15 practices during spring to build on a team’s strengths, and for it to fix its weaknesses. This is a look at three of each for the Irish as they try and rebuild a title contender for 2013.

    Making it back to the national title game won’t be easy and without a strong spring the ride will end before it gets started. 

Weakness: Center

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    The Irish offensive line returns a number of experienced players heading into the new year, but two positions have come open along the line heading into spring.

    The center position is one of them and it is gathering a lot of attention as spring gets ready to start.

    Matt Hegarty was considered to be the starter-in-waiting after last season, but he suffered a mild stroke in 2012 and will miss spring practice. Reports (Daily Times) have him returning to the lineup for fall camp, but at this point it is a hazy situation considering the injury.

    Until Hegarty returns Bruce Heggie should take the first string snaps with Mark Harrell battling for an opportunity as well.

    Don’t be surprised if the Irish also look to cross-train another interior lineman this spring. 

Strength: Linebacker

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    The linebacker position will once again be the heart of the Irish defense heading into the new season.

    Notre Dame returns three of its four starters from a year ago, with reserve linebacker Carlo Calabrese bringing a ton of experience to the fold as well this spring.

    The Irish will have to replace a leader in Manti Te’o in the middle, but the surrounding talent should be enough to ease the Irish past the loss of the star defender this spring.

    Dan Fox, Danny Spond and Prince Shembo will anchor one of the nation’s toughest defenses in 2013. 

Weakness: Running Back

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    The Irish offense was fueled by a tandem of experienced running backs last season in Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick. Both have since departed the Irish program leaving Notre Dame to find a new group of backs that can carry this offense.

    Talent is all over the place for the Irish, but experience is lacking.

    The one back that has significant playing time is George Atkinson III. Atkinson III is expected to earn the start and should solidify that this spring. Who plays behind him is anyone’s guess.

    Will Mahone and Amir Carlisle are names to watch as they try and crack the lineup, but with incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Foster the lineup is likely very fluid heading into the fall.

    Notre Dame has to place a hard focus on finding quality backs this spring behind Atkinson III or the offense will struggle to find a rhythm heading into the summer. 

Strength: Coaching

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    Heading into spring Notre Dame has one of the best coaches in the country roaming the sideline and guiding its program.

    Brian Kelly has been extremely successful in his career, and the way that his Irish team performed a year ago solidified the notion that Kelly is one of the best coaches in the country.

    This program has scattered talent that could produce another national title run, but without a strong coaching presence a run for the crystal wouldn’t happen.

    Kelly and his staff have to replace the best tight end in college football for 2012, a ton of skill players and fill a void left by a Heisman contending linebacker. This spring won’t be easy.

    The 2012 AFCA Coach of the Year will have this program exiting spring ready to take on another tough schedule in 2013.

    Without Kelly this program is still fighting mediocrity. 

Weakness: Receiver

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    The Fighting Irish head into spring with four of its six leading pass catchers gone from a year ago. The departure of Robby Toma and John Goodman will open the door for a host of young talent to take the field, but the lack of experience is a concern.

    The Irish will look to rising stars Davonte’ Neal and DaVaris Daniels to carry the load this spring with rising senior T.J. Jones leading the group.

    Without Jones and Daniels, this squad would be lost.

    Add in the loss of Tyler Eifert—the Irish’s leading receiver in 2012—and this offense is taking a major hit in production in the passing game heading into the new year.

    Finding replacements for that missing production in the first few weeks of practice is a must.

Strength: Quarterback

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    Heading into spring, the quarterback position for Notre Dame appears to be sealed up.

    Everett Golson is the returning starter for the Irish, and he is heading into spring with a ton of confidence after a strong showing against Alabama in Miami to end the year.

    Behind Golson will be the experienced Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees, as well as early enrollee Malik Zaire.

    There is a lot of talent at the position, but this is Golson’s job to lose.

    Look for Golson to enter spring as a leader for the Irish and to use these 15 practices to solidify his starting position.

    Having a veteran signal-caller with BCS experience is huge for Notre Dame and the biggest strength of the spring for this program.