Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 15, 2013

Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    There may not be any other team in the country that is more excited for spring football than Notre Dame. After being reminded what success tastes like, the Irish return majority of last year’s squad, and the expectations may have never been higher. The defense should remain one of the best college football has to offer, and the offense should only continue to take steps forward.

    Although everything isn't going to be smooth sailing for head coach Brian Kelly and his boys, as there are still issues that need to be addressed before a return trip to the "big game" can be planned. This is why spring practice is so important to that team in South Bend, and like most years, it will be watched very closely by everybody in the college football world.

    The Irish will begin spring practice on March 20 (247Sports), and the spring game will be played on April 20 at 1:00 p.m. ET.

    Here is your one-stop shop when it comes to the Notre Dame 2013 spring practice.

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 15

    Chuck Martin's role continues to expand for Notre Dame. Not only was he recently promoted from safeties coach to offensive coordinator, but according to Lou Somogyi of 247Sports, he has called all of the plays this spring.

    “He’s called all the plays in the spring,” said Kelly of Martin after Saturday’s (April 13) practice that was open to the media. “My sense is that will continue.”

    Update: April 10

    According to Jason Sapp of 247Sports, former Irish wide receiver Davonte Neal has picked Arizona as his school of choice.

    Speaking of the wide receiver position, coach Mike Denbrock told Matt Fortuna of ESPN that anybody and everybody is available for playing time at this point.

    Update: April 9

    Don't count running back Amir Carlisle out when it comes to the starting job this season. Despite suffering an injury that will force him to miss the rest of the spring, he is still participating with the team and has made an incredible recovery, according to Tom Davis of the News-Sentinel.

    “He’ll still miss spring ball,” Kelly explained. “But he’s involved in everything. He’s doing everything but contact. Other than missing contact and scrimmage, this won’t be a step back for him.”

    Kelly still has confidence in the young runner who missed all of last season with an injury. He says that he is chomping at the bit and eager to prove himself.

    If it is unfortunate and he gets another injury. Kelly explained, it is what it is. But I’ve always felt like mentally, is he ready to go back in there? He was ready about five, six days after surgery. We won’t think much about (the injury) other than Amir wants to get back in there and go.

    Update: April 5

    The center position will be up for battle leading into the fall, but if the season was to start tomorrow, it looks like Nick Martin would be the one holding down the fort, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSNChicago.

    As for the middle linebacker position, Jarrett Grace has done a terrific job this spring of possibly being the one to replace Manti Te'o, according to Rachel Terlep of The Elkhart Truth. You can also see a video provided by ESPN on the progress Grace has made throughout the spring by clicking here.

    Update: April 4

    Brian Kelly was paying attention during the national championship last season, and he will be stealing a page out of the Alabama book. According to Andrew Gribble of, Kelly may have found the answer to the struggling special teams, thanks to the Crimson Tide.

    Standing on the sidelines for the national championship game, we're ready to kickoff and Alabama's got 11 starters on kickoff return. Kickoff return, which nobody wants to be on kickoff return, they've got 11 starters on there. Kelly told reporters after one of the Fighting Irish's first practices of the spring.

    The emphasis for us in the spring is to really embrace their roles. I want starters to be part of their special teams units. The spring is really for us to integrate front-line guys into (special teams). That kind of decision has to come from me and so I've made that and we're going about it in spring to really put our best players on (special teams).

    Update: March 27

    According to Jason Sapp of 247Sports, wide receiver Davonte' Neal has decided to transfer from Notre Dame. For more information on the latest Irish player leaving school, click here. Wide receiver Justin Ferguson has also transferred.

    According to Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, defensive end Chase Hounshell is out for the remainder of the year. Also, Hamilton reported that running back Amir Carlisle will only miss four weeks with his broken collarbone.

    Update: March 25

    Keith Arnold of NBC Sports reports that both Chase Hounshell and Amir Carlisle have been bitten by the injury bug. According to the report, Hounshell has suffered a shoulder injury, while Carlisle appears to have a broken collarbone.

    Notre Dame recently held it first spring practice that was full contact. According to Lou Somogyi of 247Sports, head coach Brian Kelly likes what he saw from the team, as he expects big things from this group of guys.

    After the third practice it’s pretty apparent that this is going to be a very locked in, focused, disciplined group of guys. They pay attention to detail, they follow up very well. We don’t have a lot of sloppy ball-on-the-ground [plays], guys falling around …

    For more news and notes such as Amir Carlisle receiving high praise and Sheldon Day earning his stripes early on, click here.

    Update: March 20

    If you weren't sure if Gunner Kiel was officially out of South Bend, Matt Fortuna of ESPN reported that head coach Brian Kelly announced he is no longer on the team. Now everybody gets to sit back and see where he ends up.

    As for the rest of the news, our friends over at 247Sports provided a transcript of the Kelly press conference. Click here to see the latest updates on the quarterback battle, health updates of players such as Austin Collinsworth and what the linebacker rotation may look like. 

    Update: March 15

    Although spring practice hasn't kicked off just yet, a few Notre Dame players decided to take it upon themselves to put in a little extra work. According to Dan Murphy of 247Sports, Louis Nix, Davonte Neal, Kendall Moore and Malik Zaire all decided to travel to Arizona for a grueling three-day workout that is like no other.

    It includes waking up before the sun and running a two-and-a-half mile hill upwards, which happens to be covered in gravel and sand. The goal is to get faster and become more effective on the football field, according to Neal's father, Luke Neal:

    Speed is the one thing we’re going to always focus on with our guys down here. It’s teaching the dynamics of the body: How the hips respond to the obliques, how the arms help the hips through to run faster. They have a great foundation at Notre Dame. Nothing I’m doing is different, I just have a little more time to do it and reiterate everything with them.

    This is the type of stuff you love to see. A little bit of hard work and extra sweating never hurt anybody.

    Also, if you weren't confident in 2013 recruit Zaire before, checkout this brief interview provided by Dallas Jackson of Rivals. He seems extremely confident, poised and is saying all of the right things to the point any Irish fan should be impressed.

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    Running Back

    Notre Dame is in an interesting spot at the running back position. It isn't very often when you lose both of your most productive runners and actually return deeper than you were a year ago. That is what is happening with the Irish right now. Despite losing both Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, Notre Dame has options in the backfield.

    George Atkinson is the speedy runner who has held a utility role throughout his career, but most in South Bend believe he is capable of so much more. Cam McDaniel is another experienced player that saw limited action last season and is versatile considering he can play receiver.

    Amir Carlisle is the sleeper in the conversation, as he was a USC transfer but missed all of last season due to injury. With his playmaking ability, he is someone who can quickly make a move up the depth chart.

    This is a position that should be watched closely because there will be more competition in the fall when Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston join the mix.

    Predicted Starter: Amir Carlisle

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Wide Receiver

    Much like the running back spot, the Irish do have guys capable of stepping up at wide receiver. Much of the problem is selecting the few out of the bunch who are going to become impact players this year and help out the quarterback.

    T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels are the two popular names to remain in the starting rotation, but slot and the backup roles are up for grabs during the offseason. Davonte Neal will be given his shot in the slot position, as his true-freshman season was wasted on special teams. Daniel Smith was inconsistent throughout last year and will be looking for an expanded role with improved play.

    Chris Brown is one of the faster receivers on the team and should also be worked into the rotation.

    There are also 2013 recruits in James Onwualu and Corey Robinson who enrolled early in hopes of making an impact early on. This group isn't flashy, but is more than capable of getting the job done. It is going to be interesting to see who emerges and helps provide more depth at this spot.

    Predicted Starter:  T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Davonte Neal

    Actual Winners: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    Last season the secondary was often criticized for being the weak area of the defense. With a combination of youth and injuries, there was plenty of inexperience to go around in the defensive backfield. The good thing is that the playing time picked up last season will only help, especially with every corner on the roster coming back.

    KeiVarae Russell really stepped up making the transition to the defensive side of the ball and surprised many with his contributions as a young player. If not already, he could soon become a favorite for a starting role at one of the corner positions. Bennett Jackson should continue to develop into a playmaker with his ball skills and athleticism, as he finally started to piece things together last year.

    Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown are the two other guys who will be fighting for positioning and will have to turn heads quickly with 2013 recruit Cole Luke enrolling in the fall. Even with all of this depth already, we can't forget about Lo Wood, who could enter the conversation as well depending on how recovered he is from last year’s injury.

    Cornerback looks like it is becoming a strength for this team. Now it is time to see who steps up.

    Predicted Starter: KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Defensive End

    You could make a case that linebacker is the biggest position battle, but it should be in good hands with experienced players such as Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Danny Spond. The success of this Irish defense starts up front and there is an open position at defensive end with Kapron Lewis-Moore leaving the squad.

    Sheldon Day is going to be the front-runner for the position, but he will have company pushing him this spring. Senior Kona Schwenke saw playing time last season and although he wasn't much of a difference maker, he wasn't a liability either. Tony Springmann is a strong and high energy player who could also be a valuable part of the line.

    The wild card for this position will remain Ishaq Williams. Yes, the coaching staff would love to see him play outside linebacker, but this is somebody who is great with his hands and could have a much greater impact right now on the line. With his pass-rushing ability and disruptive nature, don't be surprised if he forces the coaching staff to have a change of heart.

    Notre Dame should once again have a remarkable defensive line with Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt leading the way. Now we just need to find tha right piece to help create the nucleus to another top-25 defense

    Predicted Starter: Sheldon Day

    Actual Winners: TBD

Early Enrollees Report Card

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    Steve Elmer, 4-Star OT - Elmer is a massive offensive lineman at 6'5", 300 pounds, with great footwork. The starting offensive line appears to be pretty much set for the most part, but there is a reasonable chance he could see playing time as a backup his first season.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Mike Heuerman, 4-Star TE - Heuerman may be one of the more underrated recruits from this class, as he is a tight end that actually enjoys blocking. He still needs to fill out his frame a bit, but he does have good upper body strength and solid hands.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Malik Zaire, 4-Star QB - Zaire is already being considered the future of Notre Dame at the quarterback position. If this is the case, I would expect the coaching staff to redshirt the young man this season. However, with Gunner Kiel expected to transfer, anything is possible at this point.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    James Onwualu, 4-Star WR - Onwualu is just an athletic player that can help out anywhere along the offense and even make the transition to the defensive side of the ball. With great ball skills and having a physical side to his game, he could eventually end up in the secondary.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD


    Corey Robinson, 3-Star WR - Robinson is still extremely raw at the wide receiver position. He isn't the most athletic and needs to improve his route running. Still, there is potential with him being 6'4" and having above-average hands.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: TBD

Sleepers to Watch

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    Offensive Sleeper

    Chris Brown, WR - One way for Notre Dame to improve an offense that wasn't exactly quick striking is to add more playmakers onto the field. The team needs to find speed and guys who are capable of not only spreading out the defense, but taking it the distance. Brown brings the speed to the table and showed in the game against Oklahoma what he can do in a short amount of time. Quick off the line, breakaway speed and solid route running, Brown should earn a lot more playing time in 2013 to add a boost to this offense.


    Defensive Sleeper

    Anthony Rabasa, LB - Rabassa has spent the first two seasons in South Bend dealing with injuries. Considering he is healthy and finally ready to contribute, he could bring a lot to the table at middle linebacker. Recruited mostly as a defensive end coming out of high school, Rabassa does have the quickness you like to see from the position, but he is also comfortable at dropping back into coverage. A high energy player, Rabassa is one of the sleepers to quietly make a name for himself at a linebacker position that has plenty of faces competing for playing time.