While the definition of "contributor" is open to interpretation, Notre Dame fielded 35 different starters from scrimmage and featured an additional 18 regular players as part of its six main specialty units.
Nine more served as regular rotation members from scrimmage in at least one contest – in other words, head coach Brian Kelly found a role for most. You can expect his second squad to exceed said number of consistent game contributors (62 by my count) in 2011 – but that's a column for a later month.
Contained below is a breakdown of last year's starters, key contributors and occasional competitors by position group. Including walk-ons, 74 players saw action at some point last fall, 69 appeared in multiple contests (not including QB kneel down efforts by Mike Mulvey and Brian Castello).
Kelly withheld 10 freshmen from game action and the Irish also lost center competitor Dan Wenger and inside linebacker Steve Paskorz for the entire season due to injury. Senior kicker Brandon Walker also failed to see action, due largely to a balky back that plagued him for the last two years.
Offensive LinemenTen saw regular action with six earning at least three starting nods. The bulk of junior Mike Golic's 12 games played was earned as a special teams regular though he did increase his role from scrimmage as the season progressed, even reporting as an eligible receiver (tight end) in short-yardage situations.
Starters (6): Zack Martin (13), Chris Stewart (13), Braxston Cave (13), Trevor Robinson (13), Taylor Dever (10), Matt Romine (3).
Rotation regulars (3): Chris Watt (13), Andrew Nuss (12), and Mike Golic (12)
Also saw action in competitive situations (1): Alex Bullard (3)
Wide ReceiversSix players earned starts, due largely to three major injuries at the position (each Game One starter missed at least one contest throughout the season). Bennett Jackson's greatest contributions were on special teams though he did see brief scrimmage time.
Running BacksArmando Allen started seven of the first eight games, first showing signs of his hip injury when Wood took over the lead role in Week Seven vs. Western Michigan. Allen returned to start at Navy before undergoing season-ending hip surgery. Wood started from Week Nine (Tulsa) through the season finale at USC before senior Robert Hughes earned the nod in the Sun Bowl. Junior Jonas Gray appeared in seven games.
Starters (3): Armando Allen (7), Cierre Wood (5), Robert Hughes (1)
Also saw action in competitive situations (1): Jonas Gray
Tight EndThree earned starts while Bobby Burger was a special teams regular. Look for junior Jake Golic to step into a key ST role in 2011.
QuarterbackThe 13 starting assignments were divided between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees. Nate Montana saw competitive field time while walk-ons Brian Castello and Mike Mulvey took snaps for the Irish in winning November efforts.
Starters (2): Dayne Crist (9) Tommy Rees (4)
Saw competitive action (1): Nate Montana
Appeared from scrimmage (2): Brian Castello and Mike Mulvey
Defensive LinemenFour starters held down the fort and Hafis Williams played a major role, especially down the stretch. Senior Emeka Nwankwo contributed early but ceded his spot in the 6-man rotation to freshman Kona Schwenke in Week 9.
Starters (4): Ethan Johnson (13), Kapron Lewis-Moore (13), Ian Williams (9), Sean Cwynar (4)
Rotation Regular (1): Hafis Williams
Also saw action in competitive situations (2): Emeka Nwankwo, Kona Schwenke
Appeared from scrimmage (1): Tyler Stockton
Outside LinebackersKerry Neal and Darius Fleming owned the DOG and CAT starting spots, respectively, but senior Brian Smith and freshman Prince Shembo played significant backup roles. Junior Steve Filer also appeared from scrimmage, though less as the season progressed. (Filer led the Irish special teams in tackles.)
Starters (3): Darius Fleming (13) and Kerry Neal (12). Cornerback Robert Blanton started for Neal vs. Army at the DROP linebacker position.
Rotation Regulars (2): Brian Smith, Prince Shembo
Appeared from scrimmage (1): Steve Filer
Inside LinebackersManti Te'o starred at the MIKE (middle) linebacker spot while sophomore Carlo Calabrese started the season's first eight games at WILL next to Te'o. Senior Brian Smith replaced Calabrese after the latter injured his hamstring in a Week Eight loss to Navy. Smith held down the role through the conclusion of the regular season and Sun Bowl.
SafetiesThe scholarship skeleton trio of Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta, and Jamoris Slaughter accounted for every starter. Slaughter battled an ankle injury for the majority of the season. Walk-on Chris Salvi was a special teams stalwart and also earned field time in an emergent backup role.
Starters (3): Harrison Smith (13), Zeke Motta (8), Jamoris Slaughter (5)
Appeared from scrimmage (2): Walk-on Chris Salvi, Dan McCarthy
CornerbacksThe trio of Gary Gray, Darrin Walls and Robert Blanton earned the vast majority of the playing time. Blanton earned the "starting" nickel role in late September and as noted above, made an official start at outside linebacker vs. Army. Freshman Lo Wood saw limited time from scrimmage but was a special teams starter for the season's first 11 games.
Starters (3): Gary Gray (13), Darrin Walls (13), Robert Blanton (1)
Appeared from scrimmage (1): Lo Wood
Special TeamsFreshman Austin Collinsworth, Danny Spond, and Daniel Smith as well as walk-ons Patrick Coughlin and Michael Garcia were key players (not noted among the position groups above). The quintet of specialty starters listed below started every game with the exception of walk-on Bill Flavin, who missed November due to a wrist injury.
Starters (5): David Ruffer (K), Jordan Cowart (Long-snapper), Bill Flavin (Short-snapper), Ryan Kavanagh (Holder), Ben Turk (P)
Backups (2): Braxston Cave (Short-snapper), Nick Tausch (K)
Coverage Regulars (2): Steve Filer, *Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, Dan Fox, Brian Smith, Robert Blanton, Zeke Motta, Prince Shembo, *Patrick Coughlin, Lo Wood, Chris Salvi, Bobby Burger
Coverage Contributors (4): *Danny Spond, *Daniel Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Kerry Neal, Dan McCarthy, *Michael Garcia, *David Posluszny
Additional special teams regulars (1): Zack Martin, Matt Romine, Chris Stewart, Chris Watt, Mike Golic, Andrew Nuss, *Lane Clelland
(*Not listed with scrimmage appearances).
Walk-ons Dan Franco (vs. Utah), Jonathan Frantz (vs. Pittsburgh) and Andrew Plaska (vs. Stanford) also took the field for the Irish in 2011.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco noted often that his unit "would need them all" when asked about the status of perceived backups throughout the season.
As a team, the Irish came incredibly close, with just two healthy scholarship players failing to see action in Year One of the new regime.