RB George Atkinson III
The Notre Dame football team opens camp Monday, and though the team played for the national title last year, there are several key questions the team must answer before the season starts.
The team will return four starters on offense and eight on defense, according to YardBarker.com, giving the Fighting Irish a solid core, yet one that will be buffered by a number of new faces.
Many of the starting spots that were up for grabs have already been claimed, but there are a number of position battles that will determine who starts the season opener against Temple.
Here’s a look at three key position battles to watch during Notre Dame’s fall camp.
The competition to be the lead running back for the Fighting Irish is between George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel.
USA Today reported that Atkinson’s “big-play ability jumped out at [head coach Brian] Kelly” during offseason film study, but Kelly also said to the Post Tribune that McDaniel “can be a very good back,” so it’s still unclear who has the edge in that competition.
Atkinson ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns on 51 carries last season, while McDaniel played in just three games and had only 23 carries for 125 yards and one touchdown.
Atkinson’s lofty 7.1 yards-per-carry average has some predicting that he will be the starter.
No matter who takes over, replacing last year’s leading rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood won’t be easy.
With quarterback Everett Golson suspended and set to miss the entire 2013 season, both backs will be expected to make large contributions no matter which one wins the starting job.
After losing one of last year’s starting safeties, Zeke Motta, to the NFL, Notre Dame is looking for a new starter to slot opposite Matthias Farley.
The main competition in fall camp for that spot will be between sophomore Elijah Shumate and true freshman Max Redfield.
Shumate was a big-time contributor as a nickel cornerback on last season’s team and UHND.com considers him to be the favorite to start at safety.
Redfield won’t go quietly though, as ESPN’s No. 88-ranked recruit boasts superior athletic ability.
Though neither of these players have much experience to speak of, both posses the frame and athleticism to be instant contributors for the Notre Dame defense.
Look for the winner of this competition to have a strong year for the Fighting Irish.
Last year’s starter at center was third-team All-American Braxston Cave, so whoever takes over his spot will have big shoes to fill.
As of now, it looks like the primary competition for the starting nod will come between sophomores Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty.
Hegarty looked to have the edge in taking over for Cave this season, but suffered a stroke in November of last year.
In recovering, he lost key time in the weight room, and now it appears he will have to make up ground if he’s to start the opener.
In talking to UHND.com, Head coach Kelly singled out Martin as having a “great spring”, and it appears he will start the opener even though Kelly also noted that Hegarty was “healthy”.
Hegarty winning the starting center job would be a real feel-good story, but Kelly will choose the most capable option before the start of the season, and right now, that looks like it will be Martin.