Notre Dame Football: Questions That Still Won't Be Answered in Spring Ball
Spring football is all about answering questions and getting things figured out before the regular season kicks off. For Notre Dame, some of these issues include addressing the secondary, finding a starting running back and making sure the quarterback position continues to show promise.
However, with only a month to practice in the spring, it is impossible to walk away completely satisfied. Some concerns will continue to linger heading into fall camp, as the coaching staff will then get extra time to figure things out.
The goal is to walk away a better football team than you were before spring ball began, but some questions will remain just that when the Irish close shop for a few more months.
Here are a few concerns that Notre Dame has heading into spring ball and will continue to have once it is all said and done.
Who's the Backup QB?
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It was just announced by Brian Kelly, reported by Matt Fortuna of ESPN, that Gunner Kiel is no longer part of Notre Dame and will in fact go through with his transfer. This shouldn't play much of a role with Everett Golson, who is expected to hold down his starting spot, but it is huge news when it comes to the backup position.
Kelly is a coach who prefers to play a two-quarterback system, and having somebody you can count on is going to be important to the team’s success, moving forward. This now leaves a battle between the most experienced signal-caller on the roster in Tommy Rees, somebody with raw potential in Andrew Hendrix and a 2013 recruit in Malik Zaire, who has already enrolled.
Who is your choice?
Zaire is widely considered to be the future of this program, but I'm sure the school would have liked to redshirt the young man to keep an extra year of eligibility open. Now, the move by Kiel kind of makes this situation an interesting one and may have opened the door for early playing time.
Quarterback is a fragile position and is one that will be waited out until the last second.
What Is the Linebacker Rotation Going to Be?
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Forget about replacing Manti Te'o.
Sure, it is going to be the talk of the town and draw much of the headlines, but you could argue that there are position battles at each linebacker position, besides the one the Heisman candidate left behind.
Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams will continue to duke it out in a heated battle at the "Cat" linebacker position. Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox provide stiff competition at the "Will" spot. Plenty of guys will be fighting for the "Dog" linebacker, and we just can't assume quite yet that Jarrett Grace is guaranteed to start at middle linebacker and replace Te'o.
Once again, Brian Kelly addressed this during his press conference, via 247Sports, and said there isn't a depth chart at linebacker, as right now it is all about finding depth at all four positions.
I think it's just going to be, again, setting depth. You saw us play last year. We're not just going to play one guy. Now, Manti was different. He never came off the field. But we need two and three deep at these positions. That's really how we're going to approach the spring.
As soon as the coaching staff discovers which group of guys can provide the depth at all of the positions, then it will come down to which unit is going to see the majority of the reps. That, however, will carry over to practices in later in the year.
How Will the Offensive Line Look?
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The Notre Dame offensive line returns three starters, which is a solid foundation to build on heading into the fall camp. But when you figure one of the two positions up for grabs is center, it can tend to throw things off and may end up having an impact on the entire group.
Matt Hegarty has been the favorite to play center for quite some time but has been dealing with health issues throughout his career. Brian Kelly said during his most recent press conference, via 247Sports, that he has been cleared to play, but that doesn't mean others won't be competing for the same spot.
"Nick Martin playing some center. As I mentioned, Harrell we feel like physically got a lot of reps during the bowl preparation. Those three guys right now will be competing at the center position." Kelly said.
If Martin is forced to slide over to center, that then leaves a hole at right guard. It seems like Kelly is just going to find out who is the best fit at center and then let the rest of the chips fall where they may, as he continued to say in his presser:
I think you find the center first, then the rest kind of takes care of itself. Lombard could kick down. Maybe Stanley is a right tackle. Maybe Elmer. There's great competition there. We've just got to sort out the center position. Once we do that, the rest kind of moves in line from there.
There aren't many questions with this unit, and the offensive line should continue to remain the strength of the offense, regardless of where people are lining up. However, when you are playing a mix and match game, it is safe to hold off any final decisions until the fall.
Who Will Start in the Secondary?
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Last year the coaching staff was left scrambling around, searching for anybody who could play in the secondary. The pieces slowly started to come together, but due to everybody returning and a few players coming back from injury, there are not enough open positions for guys to fill this season.
You figure KeiVarae Russell did a good enough job as a freshman to possibly lockup one of the starting cornerback spots. Bennett Jackson also did a solid job, leading the team in interceptions. The problem starts with the depth, as Lo Wood should throw his name in the hat once he is healthy, and according to Brian Kelly, via 247Sports, Austin Collinsworth is cleared for spring practice.
He is. Our workouts, we had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements. Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him 'cause I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw.
The depth isn’t nearly as deep at the safety position, with Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy all leaving the program. That position can't possibly be satisfied with Nicky Baratti and Matthias Farley as the front-runners. You better believe that 2013 recruit Max Redfield will make a strong push for a starting role once he steps on the field in the fall.
Notre Dame is in a much better position than it was last year in the secondary, but many questions remain to answer all of them at once.
Who Is the Starting Running Back?
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The running back position will remain up for grabs heading into the fall because of the amount of depth at the position. Whether it is George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle or Will Mahone, everybody will be given an equal shot for touches, and it wouldn't be fair to name a starter after a few practices in the spring.
As for Carlisle, who transferred from USC and missed all of last year due to injury, according to Brian Kelly, via 247Sports, he is close to being himself and should be ready to shine in the backfield this year.
"Running backs, Amir Carlisle, we're starting to see him as almost 100%. We saw some real exciting flashes from veer meal." Kelly said in a recent press conference.
Also, Kelly has really been impressed with Atkinson, as it looks like he has really bulked up and is preparing himself to take on an increased workload this year.
George Atkinson III, probably the most pleasing thing with George, he sees his opportunity and he seized. He's up 11 pounds to 217, and he's maintained that weight. A good litmus test for us is spring break, how do they come back after spring break. We had a good workout this morning. Then his strength. He went from five times of 225 to 19. He's done a great job of really taking care of himself.
With all of the excitement around this position, it doesn't even include 2013 recruits Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, guys that won't be on the field until the fall. With all of this depth and talent to choice from, naming a starter in the spring would be premature.