Pencil them in

Monday morning's notebook reviews the (five) remaining battles for starting positions entering Notre Dame's preparations for Week One.

Only one will make national headlines, but head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish staff had a handful of depth chart decisions to consider over the weekend. Notre Dame begins preparations for Week One foe South Florida on Tuesday.

Lessening the anticipation a bit: three of the five discussed below will likely result in job-shares throughout 2011.

  1. Quarterback: I assume you know the chief combatants. For statistical information from the 2010 season, click here, and here. And for a look at Kelly's most recent comments on the competition between senior Dayne Crist and sophomore Tommy Rees, click here.

    Prediction: No clue. But since the fickle majority seems to have swung to the surprise pick of Rees, I'll employ sage wagering advice offered long ago and opt for Crist.

  2. Will Linebacker: Junior Carlo Calabrese starred early last fall before suffering a hamstring injury at Navy in Week Eight. Classmate Dan Fox is pushing the run-stuffing ‘backer thanks to across-the-board improvements in his game since moving to the inside position last fall and his knack for pass coverage.

    "Good competition there," Kelly noted with just one camp practice remaining. "Fox and Calabrese are battling it out. I'd say that we'll probably have a decision on that pretty close to Monday. Obviously Fox has improved. He wasn't ready to play last year. Now he is."

    Calabrese's 60 tackles last season were the most by a redshirt-freshman at the program since Chris Zorich recorded 70 for the 1988 national champions.

    Prediction: Calabrese

  3. Left Guard: The veteran: 5th-year senior Andrew Nuss; vs. the former top-recruit: junior Chris Watt. Nuss is also asked to fill-in as a backup tackle, the position at which he served last season. Watt brings punch to the running attack, participating in 117 snaps last fall – seventh among all offensive linemen.

    "Depends what day you ask me; I would say right now that we're not ready to decide," Kelly noted following camp practice #17 of #19. "We had some things today that we need to evaluate. But both those guys I have a lot of trust and confidence that both of them can play. I'm not ready to stay who that starter is yet.

    "When we get over the fact that one and two are so equal like Nuss and Watt, they're both going to play a lot of football. I think the good news here is Watt has improved immensely to put us in that situation."

    Prediction: Watt

  4. Free Safety: Senior Jamoris Slaughter and junior Zeke Motta will likely serve as the team's starting tandem in 2012 (Slaughter can apply for a 5th-season of eligibility following the 2011 season. Both will play major minutes at free safety in 2011 with captain Harrison Smith holding down the fort at strong safety.

    Safeties coach Chuck Martin has often referenced that both will play starter's minutes and there isn't a true No. 1 or No. 2 at the position. "Both of those guys are going to play considerable football for us," Kelly said.

    For more on the pair, click here.

    Cornerbacks Kerry Cooks noted August 17 that the team had yet to evaluate its nickel and dime packages. Prediction: Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, and Gary Gray are the defensive backs in the team's crucial nickel package for Week One.

  5. Kick-off: David Ruffer booted 10 touchbacks last season – that's seven more than Irish kickers managed in 2007-08-09 combined, but the number placed tied him for 56th among 120 kick-off (teams) last season. January enrollee Kyle Brindza pushed Ruffer for the kick-off job throughout the spring and August camp. Notre Dame's staff tracks every field goal, PAT, and kick-off, so the winner will likely be determined by the numbers.

    Successful on 23 of his first 24 career field goal attempts, it's certain Ruffer will debut as the team's field goal kicker next week. But a surprise winner over then-record holder Nick Tausch in last August's kicking competition, Ruffer approaches every practice as he's trying to take, rather than keep a job.

    "Kyle, Nick, and I are fighting it out. All three of us are in the running right now," he noted midway through August camp. I've always said Nick is just as good as I am and I'm confident he'd have done the same as I did last year. Its really good for me to have someone who I think is just as good as I am and two years younger – right there with me in practice so if I ever let up, he's right there saying, ‘If you don't do something, it's mine.'"

    (Tausch connected on 14 straight as a freshman in 2009, breaking the 27-year mark set by Mike Johnston in 1982.

    Does serving as the team's kick-off specialist help Ruffer stay in rhythm for field goals?

    "Not so much, certainly if you make a field goal there's a little adrenaline on the kick-off," he noted. "Otherwise it's just an extension of my duties."

    And of the lone missed field goal of his career, the final field goal attempt of 2010, Ruffer noted, "The way I look at it: it was going to happen eventually, so in a sense its good that its in the past and we can focus on going forward as a unit. And for me thinking proactively what I can do this season to get better and more importantly, helping the team win."

    Prediction: Ruffer

The return roles, both punt and kick-off, were won by junior wide receiver Theo Riddick. Riddick will be joined by sophomore cornerback Bennett Jackson at kick returner. Jackson averaged 22.5 yards on 29 last year, his best effort occurring on his first career return: a 43-yard burst in Week Five at Boston College.

As noted in last Friday's practice report, Kelly announced that Jake Golic would be out for approximately six weeks due to surgery.

Actually, the announcement belonged to Golic via the growing coaching headache known as social media.

"I just heard this morning that somebody had tweeted that they had surgery," Kelly said. "So I should provably announce that Jake Golic broke his arm and had surgery this morning. He'll be lost for probably six weeks. (Thursday) in a run-fit drill, he broke, I think it was his ulna, so he had a plate put in it. We weren't going to say anything until we talked to his family, but he tweeted it.

"So…that's my life. I get up and read the tweets and find out what I don't know."

Monday afternoon on Irisheyes.com: The first team stock report of the 2011 season.


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