Notre Dame Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp
Uncertainty still abounds at many positions for the Notre Dame football team with fall camp rapidly approaching.
Let’s take a look at our projected depth chart, predicting how things stand right now before camp begins. The focus here will be on identifying the starters and listing the key backups, not necessarily guessing at which specific side a defensive end profiles, for example.
One overriding theme from this exercise is just how unproven yet talented the Irish are in many spots. The development from the summer and into the fall will determine how quickly the Irish adjust to their relative inexperience.
For players still recovering from injuries, we’ll decide their place on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, it may not be reasonable to expect an injured player to be ready for first-team reps during fall camp.
Also, it’s worth noting these are our predictions as we head into fall camp. Even if we expect, say, a freshman to shine in August, that won’t be reflected in the ordering.
Starter: Everett Golson
Top Backup: Malik Zaire
This is the most noteworthy and, probably, most important position battle on the entire Notre Dame roster. Bleacher Report’s Keith Arnold recently devoted an entire article to breaking down the quarterback depth chart.
It really is that important.
The expectation here is still that Everett Golson will be the starting quarterback when Notre Dame runs out of the north tunnel on Aug. 30 in South Bend, Ind. But Malik Zaire has certainly made this a discussion worth having, even if we only look at his impressive Blue-Gold Game performance.
With Golson as a starter and Zaire as the No. 2 signal-caller, Notre Dame would be in great shape at the position. Irish head coach Brian Kelly will boast two quarterbacks with dynamic playmaking ability.
Starters: Cam McDaniel or Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston
While the question everyone wants answered at the quarterback position is who will start, the distinction of starter won’t matter much at running back.
Expect all three spines of the three-pronged attack to be utilized in 2014. Cam McDaniel profiles as a reliable, steady senior who can be counted on in a variety of situations. Tarean Folston will look to build on a strong freshman season, while classmate Greg Bryant drew most of the spring attention.
This should be one of the strongest positions for the Irish.
Starters: DaVaris Daniels, Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle (slot)
Top Backups: Chris Brown, Will Fuller, Torii Hunter Jr., Justin Brent and C.J. Prosise
DaVaris Daniels is the only surefire starter of this deep group, and the senior will be counted on to be the top target of whichever quarterback is slinging passes.
Corey Robinson stands out in the next tier of outside receivers on the roster. Coaches and players alike laud his “catch radius,” and Robinson earned recognition in the spring for quickly learning from the coaching.
Still, it seems likely that some sort of rotation will develop, with Chris Brown and Will Fuller the next-likeliest outside targets.
In the slot, we’ll give the veteran Amir Carlisle the slight edge over C.J. Prosise, though that was a close competition throughout the spring, according to Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.
Starter: Ben Koyack
Top Backups: Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman
The question here isn’t who starts—Ben Koyack is set in stone—but rather who is the second tight end.
Durham Smythe appears to have a slight edge over Mike Heuerman heading into the spring, but that can change quickly.
Also, it’s worth remembering that Koyack didn’t make a major impact as the No. 2 tight end behind Troy Niklas in 2013 until the middle of the season. Koyack’s first reception was the 19-yard touchdown grab against Arizona State—the sixth game of the campaign. He followed that up with nine more catches and two touchdowns over the next seven games.
Starters (left to right): Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey
Top Backups: Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Mark Harrell, Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin, John Montelus and Quenton Nelson
As we’ve discussed all spring and summer, there seems to be one starting spot remaining on the offensive line.
Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Nick Martin should be solid, and the final starting role could come down to either Mike McGlinchey, Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty or a ready-made freshman such as Quenton Nelson.
McGlinchey likely enters fall camp as the first-team right tackle, but he’ll have the rest of a deep offensive-line group chomping at his heels.
It’s that very depth of the position that stands out most here. It’s no secret the Irish have recruited on the offensive line perhaps as well as any team in the country. It has already begun to show.
Starters: Ishaq Williams and Romeo Okwara (ends); Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones (tackles)
Top Backups: Isaac Rochell, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Justin Utupo, Anthony Rabasa Andrew Trumbetti, Daniel Cage and Grant Blankenship
The defensive line is littered with question marks, but the quartet of Ishaq Williams, Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones seems fairly likely to be the starting unit heading into fall camp.
Still, Day is the only proven entity of this group, so there will assuredly be competition for the remaining spots.
While Isaac Rochell, Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell have some of the most experience of the top backups, keep an eye on the incoming freshmen. Maybe more so than any other position, there’s a prime opportunity for a freshman to jump right in and compete for playing time.
Andrew Trumbetti has the extra semester, and Grant Blankenship and Daniel Cage may be two of the most physically ready freshmen on the defensive line.
Starters: Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, John Turner
Top Backups: Jarrett Grace, Ben Councell, Nyles Morgan, Kendall Moore and Michael Deeb
Injuries make linebacker one of the toughest positions to predict, so let’s start with the certainties. Jaylon Smith is the stud of the group. Joe Schmidt had an impressive spring and will be a factor.
Beyond that, linebacker is fairly foggy. A healthy Jarrett Grace is a starting linebacker, but who knows what his status will be throughout the fall?
Ben Councell was utilized in the first nine games of the season in 2013 before his knee injury and, while he’s further along in the recovery process than Grace, that doesn’t automatically grant him a starting spot. Councell will have to get comfortable with Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme and terminology. On top of that, Councell could help out on the inside if Notre Dame needs him.
Speaking of the inside, Nyles Morgan is the No. 3 inside linebacker in the class of 2014 and Notre Dame’s highest-rated incoming freshman. He could rise quickly.
Starters: KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke
Top Backups: Cody Riggs, Matthias Farley, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins
Heading into fall camp, we’ll give Cole Luke the slight edge as the starter opposite KeiVarae Russell. Luke had the entire spring semester to get comfortable with the first-team defense under VanGorder.
Still, Cody Riggs should make it a legitimate competition, and either way the Irish will likely use a variety of cornerbacks. Matthias Farley—a 19-game starter in his career at safety—has the ability to help out as the nickelback.
With Devin Butler and Nick Watkins in the fold as well, Notre Dame has impressive depth at cornerback.
Starters: Austin Collinsworth and Max Redfield
Top Backups: Elijah Shumate, Eilar Hardy and Nicky Baratti
Austin Collinsworth and Max Redfield were the regulars with the first-team defense during the spring, and they’ll likely start out atop the depth chart.
But Elijah Shumate, Eilar Hardy and Nicky Baratti have all played significant snaps in their careers, and a great summer and/or fall could change the landscape of the position.
Shumate, in particular, is an intriguing option. He brings a unique blend of size and athleticism that many of the other safeties can’t match.
Starters: Kyle Brindza (kickoff, place-kicking and punting), Scott Daly (long-snapping), Amir Carlisle (kick returns) and Greg Bryant (punt returns)
Top Backups: Tyler Newsome, Cam McDaniel and Torii Hunter Jr.
Other than Kyle Brindza and Scott Daly, there aren’t many assurances among the key specialists. Specifically, the return game is an unknown, as Notre Dame must replace George Atkinson and TJ Jones.
Greg Bryant earned the first shot at returning punts in the Blue-Gold Game, and he appears to be a dynamic option back deep. Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel at least held their own as kick returners in 2013 on the nine occasions Atkinson wasn’t toting the ball.
Beyond Brindza, Notre Dame doesn’t have the veteran security blankets it had last year with Nick Tausch (kicker) and Alex Wulfeck (punter). Freshman Tyler Newsome would likely be called upon if needed.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.