SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Though snow still lines the Notre Dame campus, spring practice is just a few short weeks away.
After an 8-5 campaign in 2014 filled with ups and downs, Notre Dame football will be able to officially commence its preparations for 2015.
With that said, there are still questions to be answered here in South Bend heading toward the start of spring practice in March.
There wasn’t much drama in Notre Dame’s offseason in the aftermath of the 31-28 win over LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day and offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley will return for their senior seasons, and the Irish didn’t have any recruiting surprises on national signing day.
The coaching carousel, however, has continued to cycle. Former Irish assistant coaches Kerry Cooks (Oklahoma), Tony Alford (Ohio State) and Matt LaFleur (Atlanta Falcons) have all left Notre Dame in the past few weeks for other opportunities.
Notre Dame hasn’t officially announced any new hires, though plenty of names and reports have circulated.
Most recently, 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong and Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported Wednesday that Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford is expected to join the staff at Notre Dame:
It still remains to be seen just exactly how Irish head coach Brian Kelly fills out his staff. Kelly declined to discuss the status of his various assistants on national signing day.
“We’ve got nine coaches today,” Kelly said. “We’re going to talk recruiting today. So any changes that we have on the staff, we will definitely get you up to date on it, but I’m not going to get into today talking about coaches and who is coming, who’s staying.”
We’ll see how the coaching staff shakes out.
Whatever happens, Notre Dame must replace its recruiting coordinator and running backs coach (Alford), defensive backs coach (Cooks) and quarterbacks coach (LaFleur).
Notre Dame was shredded by injuries down the stretch in 2014, and the Irish will be looking to get back to full health for spring ball heading into 2015.
Two of the most intriguing injury questions are in the linebacking corps.
Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace, who suffered a serious leg injury during the 2013 season, is “really close to being back to where he was,” Kelly said on signing day.
Fellow middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, whose November ankle injury hampered the Irish defense at the end of the regular season, has had his boot off for multiple weeks.
Another key cog in the center of the Notre Dame defense, tackle Jarron Jones, is expected to miss spring practice coming off his foot injury. Jones was slated to have his boot removed this week.
Irish safety Drue Tranquill is ahead of schedule in returning from his torn ACL and will do some drill work in the spring.
Kelly said safety Nicky Baratti will likely be no-contact in the spring but should be cleared for everything else.
Spring practice certainly isn’t the end-all when it comes to setting the tone for the 2015 season, but reps are crucial and Notre Dame’s defense will be looking to bounce back this season.
More Roster Moves?
Though signing day is in the books, Notre Dame’s roster could still be in flux over the next few weeks.
After highlighting all 24 signees last week, Kelly said there’s still work to be done.
“There will be some more tweaking of this roster,” Kelly said. “There’s a little bit more work to be done at a couple of positions that we will work on post-signing day. We had to do that last year as well and we will do that with this, so we are not done.”
Kelly said Notre Dame has a few promising things “in the works” that will be done within a few weeks. The head coach later added that the Irish “are not done” at the safety position.
So it stands to reason that there could still be position changes and graduate student additions in the works.
Moreover, Notre Dame’s fifth-year seniors are yet to be officially announced. As Kelly noted on signing day, Notre Dame’s athletic faculty board must approve those fifth-year players.
“Here is what I would tell you,” Kelly said. “We really have until the first day of classes to get to 85. And we’re going to need every one of those days.”
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.