The Notre Dame spring game is coming up quickly, with many players fighting for their jobs in positional battles.
The talented roster has plenty of holes to fill, but also retains many solid players who helped lead this team to a national championship berth last season.
After the disappointing end to last season, the Fighting Irish have some questions to answer and must prove they belong among college football's elite. Getting some of these players to step up and fill holes at various positions will go a long way towards silencing the critics.
The Fighting Irish play their spring game on Apr. 20 at 1:00 p.m. ET. Here are a few positional battles to watch during the event.
Interior/ Right Side of Offensive Line
The departures of Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr. leave some big question marks on the Irish offensive line. The left side of the line seems set with reliable seniors Zack Martin and Chris Watt. Christian Lombard will likely start the year as the right tackle, leaving center and right guard open and needing to be filled.
The center position likely comes down to Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty. Should Hegarty win the competition at center, Nick Martin will likely slide over to play guard. Should Martin win the center job, Conor Hanratty seems the likely choice at right guard.
Notre Dame needs to tighten up the pieces, but overall, they should have a very solid offensive line heading into next year.
Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt form a strong core on the defensive line, but the Irish need to replace Kapron Lewis-Moore. The battle for the starting gig likely comes down to Sheldon Day and Kona Schwenke, despite the latter being a better fit at backup defensive tackle. Both players saw limited time last season as part of the rotation.
Day seems to be the favorite to start, despite not having the size that Schwenke does. Day stands 6'2", 286 pounds, while Schwenke is 6'4", 290 pounds. The more powerful Day would fit better at defensive end. He proved his value at the position, recording two sacks in 13 games last year.
Jarron Jones is another player to watch in the battle at defensive end. At 6'5", 295 pounds, Jones has even better size, but still possesses the speed and power necessary to have an impact.
While the offensive line is the more pressing need, the Fighting Irish also have a number of questions at the wide receiver position following big turnover.
Of the team's six leading receiving options last year, including Tyler Eifert and Theo Riddick, four will need to be replaced. T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels are the only returning receivers who had over 100 yards on the season.
It's safe to say the Irish need players to step up and have an impact in the offense.
Assistant coach Mike Denbrock spoke about just how open the competition is at wide receiver (via ESPN):
I'd say the jobs open for anybody, all comers. Anybody who proves they've got the ability to go in there and do something positive for our offense is going play in there. We don't obviously have as much depth as we'd like to have, so that's a great opportunity for a lot of guys to do a lot of different things and not pigeonhole themselves into one specific position, but get out there and perform and earn your reps.
Jones and Daniels should be expected to contribute following success last season. Davonte' Neal looked like he would get a chance, but is transferring to Arizona (via Blue and Gold Illustrated). Freshmen James Onwualu and Corey Robinson enrolled early and will have a say in the wide receiver battle.
It seems safe to say that Jones and Daniels are the only sure bets heading into the spring game.
Anything after that is anybody's guess.
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