Notre Dame Football: 10 Players to Watch in Notre Dame's Spring Game
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It feels like it just started, but spring practice is coming to a close. As we embark on the final week, we’re getting ready to see everything and everyone put into action.
We’ve been able to see snippets of most players throughout these first 13 practice sessions, but who are the players to watch in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Spring Game?
Let’s take a look.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
So much of our attention has been focused on Golson this spring. But through all of the analysis, we really haven’t seen him much in game situations, save for the occasional 11-on-11 sessions in practice.
We talked about the rust and chemistry factors last week. How will Golson look synching up with his receivers? Though it’s important to remember there’s still plenty of time for Golson to develop that chemistry, Saturday is our first game-like look at that.
It’ll also be intriguing to see the running component of the dual-threat quarterback. Golson added 15 pounds to bump up to 200, and he said at the beginning of the spring he might even be faster than he was in 2012. We’ve seen Notre Dame working on the read option in practice, and Saturday could be a good testing ground for it.
Sure, people want to see what Zaire looks like. After all, Irish head coach Brian Kelly hasn’t named a starting quarterback. But I think one of the most telltale signs will be how many reps he gets, especially reps with the first team.
It’s admittedly tough to read into who gets how many snaps, but if Zaire is anywhere close to an even split with Golson, this may be more of a quarterback competition than I’ve thought.
Zaire has drawn praise for being more concise and also for his open-field running ability. If he continues to display both of those traits, Zaire might earn playing time even if Golson becomes the starter. Kelly hasn’t shut the door on utilizing a second quarterback, and Zaire might have the skill set to help out.
It will be fun to watch Greg Bryant run the football. He has impressed in practice with his explosiveness and violent style. Oh, and did we mention he’s been described as powerful?
“Power. Power. Powerful.” Kelly on Greg Bryant’s addition to the offense. “This kid’s powerful. He’s a powerful back."— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) March 22, 2014
But we should also keep an eye on the other aspects of his game, namely his pass-catching ability and his pass protection. I think Bryant is good enough as a runner to get playing time no matter what, but if he’s not a multi-dimensional back, his use could be somewhat limited, especially with senior running back Cam McDaniel’s ability to hold up in pass protection.
Notre Dame’s early-enrollee wide receivers last year—James Onwualu and Corey Robinson—impressed during their first spring season. Brent’s spring has been somewhat quieter, but we’ve still seen flashes of his explosiveness.
He’s listed at a chiseled 6’1”, 197 pounds, and he runs with the purpose of a running back, the position he played as a senior at Speedway High School in Speedway, Ind.
We’ve talked about the possibility of a deep receiving corps, and Brent could certainly contribute to that mix, which is short on proven and productive pass-catchers.
Smythe drew praise from Kelly starting toward the end of last season. Troy Niklas left for the NFL, and Ben Koyack has ascended to the top of the depth chart at tight end.
Smythe seems to be next in line—ahead of fellow sophomore Mike Heuerman. Just how comfortable the Irish coaches are in Smythe will go a fairly long way in determining what Notre Dame’s offense looks like. The Irish trended more and more toward a two tight-end offense as the 2013 season progressed. If Smythe is ready to step up into a larger role, that trend could continue.
Smythe has been hailed for his receiving ability, but the Belton, Texas, native checks in at 242 pounds (19 fewer than Koyack), so his blocking ability is to be determined.
The 6’8”, 300-pound sophomore has been locked in at right tackle with the first-team offense throughout the spring. There’s no doubting the raw ability is there, but how will McGlinchey look going up against the likes of Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara, among others?
Mike Denbrock had good things to say about McGlinchey when we spoke to the new offensive coordinator a few weeks ago.
“When grows up, when the light comes on and he gets it, he’s gonna be an incredible football player from the standpoint that I think the physical gifts that he possesses as far as his athletic ability, obviously his size is hard to miss,” Denbrock said. “But with that, he’s got some football intelligence that can be cultivated and can grow rather quickly and that puts us in a position, obviously, to get him on the field right away.
“And we’ve kind of thrown him to the wolves here in the spring and let him kind of fight through it. And he’s done a really nice job so far.”
We’ve seen a few different versions of Jarron Jones. There was the Jarron Jones who was relegated to the scout team heading into the rivalry game against USC last season. There was the Jarron Jones who filled in admirably for star nose tackle Louis Nix against BYU, when Nix was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
Jones entered that game with seven tackles for the season and tallied seven more against the Cougars, while also blocking a fourth-quarter field goal. Now, Jones is squarely positioned to claim a starting spot along the defensive line as a tackle.
Jones has the size and would figure to have the confidence from his relief duty last season and newfound upperclassman status. It will be fun to watch Jones go head on with the Irish offensive linemen and running backs, especially the powerful Greg Bryant.
Much has been made of Turner’s spring, but how much will that carry over to game situations? It could be that Turner will factor mainly in sub packages, or he could be tough to keep off of the field in general with his mix of size, strength and quickness.
Turner is still a new commodity, but we’ve seen enough of him in practice to expect to see him work with the first team Saturday.
Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a ton of Turner in base defenses—Kendall Moore, for one, profiles better in obvious run situations—but Notre Dame very well might use sub packages more and more against spread offenses.
Redfield has been slotted next to graduate student Austin Collinsworth at safety throughout the spring, and the sophomore’s natural ability is undeniable. But safety has proven to have a longer learning curve. So how comfortable and free flowing will Redfield look?
It certainly helps to be situated next to an experienced player like Collinsworth, who has drawn praise from Irish defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks for, along with junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, being on a different level from the rest of the secondary.
If Redfield looks comfortable and prepared, that certainly bodes well for the development of Notre Dame’s defense heading into the summer.
Farley is technically listed as a cornerback now, but I’ll be interested to see where and how often he lines up on the Irish defense. He has the versatility to play safety, cornerback and nickelback.
Right now, I think nickelback will be his home, but don’t be surprised to see him bouncing around the defense. He has 19 career starts and experience at the back end of the secondary. Cooks highlighted Farley’s intelligence, which is accentuated by his experience, and that could be key on a young and relatively inexperienced defense.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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