With game week here, Notre Dame released their official two-deep depth chart on Tuesday afternoon. While Brian Kelly did his best to downplay the exercise, joking that sports information director Michael Bertsch made most of the tough decisions, it's still worth a closer look.
As the Irish get prepared to play Rice on Saturday, the glaring lack of three key starters— receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams—confirmed that Notre Dame has no choice but to move forward until the school's academic investigation is complete.
With a ridiculous amount of youth shuffled into the lineup to cover up the holes, here are five big takeaways from the Irish's final preseason depth chart.
|Notre Dame's Offensive Two-Deep Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String|
|QB||Everett Golson||Malik Zaire|
|RB||Cam McDaniel||or Tarean Folston||or Greg Bryant|
|WR||Chris Brown||Will Fuller|
|WR||Amir Carlisle||C.J. Prosise|
|LT||Ronnie Stanley||Mike McGlinchey|
|LG||Matt Hegarty||Mark Harrell|
|C||Nick Martin||Mark Harrell|
|RG||Christian Lombard||Conor Hanratty|
|RT||Steve Elmer||Hunter Bivin|
|TE||Ben Koyack||Durham Smythe||or Tyler Luatua|
|WR||Corey Robinson||Justin Brent|
|Notre Dame's Defensive Two-Deep Depth Chart|
|Position||1st String||2nd String|
|DL||Sheldon Day||Justin Utupo|
|DL||Jarron Jones||Daniel Cage|
|DL||Isaac Rochell||Grant Blankenship|
|DL||Romeo Okwara||Andrew Trumbetti|
|LB||Joe Schmidt||Nyles Morgan|
|LB||Jaylon Smith||Greer Martini|
|LB||James Onwualu||John Turner|
|CB||Cole Luke||Devin Butler|
|S||Austin Collinsworth||Matthias Farley|
|S||Max Redfield||Elijah Shumate|
|CB||Cody Riggs||Nick Watkins|
Not All Backups Are Created Equal
After rarely hearing some names during fall camp, a few surprises popped up on the two-deep. Namely along the offensive line, where junior Mark Harrell is listed as the team's backup at both center and left guard and sophomore Hunter Bivin backs up Steve Elmer at right tackle.
If a starter goes down, neither Harrell nor Bivin will be the first guy into the game, with a few different scenarios likely to happen. If either Ronnie Stanley or Elmer go down at tackle, sophomore Mike McGlinchey will be the first tackle in. McGlinchey worked as the starter at right tackle during spring but is now the key backup at tackle.
At guard, senior Conor Hanratty fills that role. He'll likely be the first man in if Matt Hegarty or Christian Lombard get hurt. If center Nick Martin needs to come out of the game, expect a few moves by Harry Hiestand, but Hanratty should be the man entering the game.
Just as he did last year when Martin was hurt against BYU, Hegarty will move inside to center, a position he worked from during media day observation. Then Hanratty would slide into Hegarty's left guard spot, and the line would be set.
That's not to say the future isn't bright for a young player like Bivin, but realistically a few more things would have to go wrong before he or Harrell enters the game.
While Most Wrote Him Off, Senior Running Back Cam McDaniel Isn't Going Anywhere
McDaniel was named a captain yesterday by Brian Kelly, which is not all that surprising considering the leadership role he's shown this offseason and during training camp. But what was surprising was seeing McDaniel's name atop the running back position, listed before sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.
Kelly hedged that bet a bit by adding the "or" before his two prized youngsters, but any idea that McDaniel would shift into a third-down back or situational role doesn't seem to be all that close to happening.
After emerging as the team's leading rusher last year, McDaniel still has the trust of the coaching staff, likely a big reason why the starting job will be his.
Freshman Andrew Trumbetti May or May Not Be a Starter. But He's Definitely Splitting Time with Romeo Okwara
After emerging as the starter at defensive end, more than a few eyebrows were raised when freshman Andrew Trumbetti was listed behind junior Romeo Okwara at defensive end. Kelly backtracked from the switch but acknowledged that Okwara was going to play a lot of football.
More than anything, the defensive end spot will be cobbled together, with Kelly naming fellow freshmen Jhonny Williams and Grant Blankenship getting action. Add into the mix little-used senior Anthony Rabasa, who profiles as a pass-rusher, and it's clear that the Irish don't have the depth at defensive end that they want, especially with the suspension of Williams.
Notre Dame is after some big fish at defensive end in the 2015 recruiting class. While it doesn't appear that they have any momentum right now at the position, it'll be clear to prospects that a job and a very favorable system await them in South Bend.
A Broken Thumb Won't Be Enough to Keep Corey Robinson Out of the Mix at Wide Receiver
Kelly revealed that sophomore wide receiver Corey Robinson had a procedure on his thumb last week, but it doesn't sound like it'll be enough to keep the lanky sophomore out of the starting lineup.
"He had a fracture. He had a pin placed in there Friday," Kelly acknowledged on Tuesday. "He was back at practice yesterday catching the football. So he's a go for Saturday."
With Daniels out right now, Robinson is a key receiver for the Irish, especially with his ability to give the Irish a size mismatch. But you've got to think that a pin and a bone fracture will make it a little bit more difficult for Robinson out there.
The Irish are also without sophomore Torii Hunter Jr., who Kelly said was ahead of schedule as he recovers from a groin tear. But with freshmen Justin Brent in the two-deep and Corey Holmes standing by, Notre Dame is going to need to get a lot out of junior Chris Brown and sophomore Will Fuller, the only outside receivers with any true experience.
Also look for Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise to pick up some slack, as both inside receivers are offensive weapons Kelly can utilize.
The Future is Bright for Notre Dame
Take a quick run through the Irish depth chart and you'll see a remarkable amount of youth represented. Looking at both sides of the ball, Notre Dame only loses five starters to graduation after this season. While those veteran starters will play large roles this season, their replacements are already nipping at their heels.
Along the offensive line, Lombard has Hanratty and sophomores Colin McGovern and John Montelus ready to move into the rotation.
Koyack leads a tight end position with plenty of talented youth in sophomores Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman (who both redshirted last year) and true freshmen Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar.
At running back, McDaniel will graduate, but don't expect the running back position to miss a beat. Two more backs are likely to join in the 2015 recruiting class as well.
Defensively, the group is even younger. Outside of graduate school transfer Cody Riggs, only Austin Collinsworth needs to be replaced. Even looking at the entire two-deep, only fifth-year senior Justin Utupo is in the mix.
Kelly has talked about the 17 fourth-year juniors that are on the team, stacking up the roster to be a truly veteran group next season. If competition for playing time looks rugged to open 2014, next year's starting lineup might be even harder to crack.