Notre Dame Spring Game 2013: Highlighting Critical Individual Matchups
Manti Te'o will be hard to replace, and he's not the only player Notre Dame lost to the NFL in 2013.
The Notre Dame football program will hold its annual Blue-Gold spring game at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, April 20. It will be the first chance fans will have to see players like Jarrett Grace and George Atkinson III compete for starting roster spots.
After finishing with a record of 12-1 last season, expectations are sky high for this program going forward.
Brian Kelly has done a masterful job of bringing in top talent and then maximizing said talent, and there are some key players vying for starting roles this spring.
These are the top individual matchups to keep an eye on during Saturday's spring game.
Starting Running Back
Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are both gone, and they accounted for 1,659 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns last year.
If Everett Golson is going to continue to grow as a passer, he'll need a strong rushing attack behind him, meaning there is a big need for someone to step up as the team's featured back in 2013.
At this time, there are three main running backs that will be competing for the majority of the carries on Saturday: Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel and redshirt freshman William Mahone.
Atkinson III was phenomenal for the Irish in a limited role last year, rushing for 361 yards and five touchdowns on just 51 carries (7.1 yards per carry). At 6'1" and 210 pounds, he has the size and speed to become a dynamic player, but he'll need to be on his game to secure the starting spot.
McDaniel and Mahone aren't as athletic as Atkinson III, but both can be counted on to produce consistently when called into duty.
The real dark horse for the starting running back spot is USC transfer Amir Carlisle, but he won't be participating in the team's spring game (h/t ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna).
Starting Inside Linebacker
One of the most decorated defenders in college football history, Te'o is now hoping to be picked up in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.
His departure leaves a huge void in the middle of Notre Dame's defense.
In addition to Grace, there are two other linebackers vying for Te'o's old spot: Kendall Moore and Joe Schmidt.
At this time, it appears Grace has a leg up on the competition. In a recent interview with IrishIllustrated.com, Kelly praised Grace, saying, "We really like Jarrett Grace, there’s no question."
According to J.J. Stakevitz of CSN Chicago, he's put on 13 pounds of muscle since the BCS title game and has been a regular in the film room.
He hasn't been handed the starting job, however, and Moore and Schmidt are right on his heels in terms should he fail to impress on Saturday.
Starting Tight End
Golson's security blanket last year was tight end Tyler Eifert, whose sure hands hauled in nearly every catchable pass thrown his way. He's a player many expect to be picked up in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, and he'll be sorely missed by the Fighting Irish this year.
There are three young men fighting for the right to start in his stead this upcoming season: Alex Welch, Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas.
Between them, these three players have a combined total of 10 career receptions.
One of them, or a combination of the three, must make a significant leap to account for Eifert's 50 receptions of a year ago.
At this time, there isn't a clear leader, and what these young men do at the team's spring game on Saturday could do a lot to clarify this situation.
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