The grotesque memories of the annihilation it received are in the rearview mirror, a fresh page has has been flipped and the identity of a new team has begun to form.
With the first week of 2013 spring practice well underway, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have had the opportunity to get a pulse and temperature of the team thus far, as well as to address injuries, early-enrolled freshmen and vacant starting positions.
Notre Dame's secondary was bitten by the injury bug early last season, as cornerback Lo Wood, a presumptive starter, suffered a torn Achilles tendon, effectively ending his season. Nearly one month later, strong safety Jamoris Slaughter, whose career at Notre Dame has come to a close, suffered the same injury during a 20-3 victory at Michigan State.
Austin Collinsworth, a fellow safety, was lost for the season after suffering a shoulder injury during fall camp.
Both Wood and Collinsworth are back and healthy, competing for minutes, and perhaps, starting spots.
According to The Observer, the student-run newspaper at Notre Dame, Kelly is pleased with what he saw from both Wood and Collinsworth this week.
“I like the way Lo Wood looked. Obviously, competition at the cornerback position is always good for your team...I think Collinsworth moved around very well. He’s a smart player and it’s good to have a veteran player with a lot of smarts. He can play a number of positions for us.”
Having Wood back and healthy is a positive sign for the Irish, who were scarily thin at the cornerback position a season ago, though it is now a position which has sufficient depth.
Whether the 5'10", 195-pound senior will be a starter remains to be seen, though it wouldn't be a surprise if he usurped KeiVarae Russell as a starter alongside Bennett Jackson. Wood will have his hands full in the fall with former 4-star prospect (ESPN) Cole Luke arriving to campus.
The Irish defensive line won't be at full strength during spring practice for another two weeks, as 6'6" 303-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt is recovering from surgery for a sports hernia.
However, Kelly is pleased with the progress Tuitt has already showed (h/t The Observer).
“He’s already moving really well. He feels so much better. He had some restriction in that groin, hip flexor area where he was really restricted in running out, so we said, ‘You know what, let’s get it done. Let’s not wait on it.’ And it’s something that we may have managed, but we want to get him 100 percent.”
However, his absence may be a blessing in disguise, as that results in more first-team reps for the likes of Chase Hounshell and Jarron Jones in Tuitt's vacant spot.
The Irish stable of running backs looks to be at full strength with the return of Amir Carlisle, who missed all of the 2012 season with a chronic ankle injury.
Kelly had positive comments regarding the USC transfer (h/t The Observer).
“I think the guy of all the injured guys that stands out to me was Amir Carlisle. He’s got a gear. He’s got a high level where he’s really going to be able to help us...I definitely can see us playing Amir and another back at the same time because he has the ability to play. He’s a very good pass-catcher. He’s got good ball skills. I can see us getting him the football in a number of different ways with another running back on the field.”
Based on those comments, it appears as if Carlisle will fill the role of the hybrid wide receiver/running back similar to former Irish starter Theo Riddick that Kelly desires.
I'd also infer that Kelly doesn't envision Carlisle as the Irish's starting back, as that distinction is muddied at best. Redshirt freshman William Mahone or incoming freshman Greg Bryant seem to be natural fits as the Irish's starting back, though Kelly had very high praise for George Atkinson earlier in the week.
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