Depth Chart and Rotation

A look at Notre Dame's likely competitors on offense, defense, and special teams for tonight's game in Ann Arbor.

Quarterback

Tommy Rees will start with Dayne Crist his official backup. Though no official word was given, I don't believe Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix will make his college football debut in the oft-discussed "special situation" (goal line, wildcat, etc.) in such a hostile environment.

Rees has thrown eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in four career starts. Three of those interception occurred vs. USC, a game in which Rees suffered a lost fumble as well. Rees is, of course, 4-0 as Notre Dame' starting quarterback.

Running Backs

No change with Cierre Wood starting and Jonas Gray serving as his backup. Gray earned just four carries last week, due partly to his opening series fumble but also to the deficit the Irish faced (16-0, 23-7) and possibility of weather cancellation.

Wood will get the lion's share of work again; don't expect freshmen Cam McDaniel or George Atkinson to debut from scrimmage.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

It remains a quintet: Michael Floyd, T.J. Jones, Theo Riddick, John Goodman, and Robby Toma, though head coach Brian Kelly noted freshman DaVaris Daniels is "getting close."

Toma didn't enter until the 11:00 mark of the fourth quarter last week – a surprise considering the starter at his slot position, Theo Riddick, struggled throughout.

Kelly mentioned Thursday following practice that there will be a set time for Toma to hit the field tonight, possibly as early as the second series. Goodman appears fifth in the pecking order: the backup for both Floyd and Jones.

Starting junior Tyler Eifert is backed up by 5th-year Mike Ragone at tight end. Ragone will continue to appear in power formations and as a second tight end. Freshman Ben Koyack ascends from 3B to #3 at the position for at least the next two weeks as Alex Welch is out for 10 days after surgery for a foot infection.

Offensive Line

The starters (from left to right) remain: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Braxston Cave, Trevor Robinson, and Taylor Dever. Versatile 5th-year senior backup Andrew Nuss played left guard in the second quarter last week (and committed a false start penalty upon entry).

Redshirt-sophomore right tackle Christian Lombard is expected to see time as well – he's one of Ben Turk's trio of punt protectors, aligned seven yards off the snap. Its doubtful senior center Mike Golic will rotate in at scrimmage, making Nuss the only regular rotation backup.

Defensive Line

Six played last week; a seventh – sophomore Kona Schwenke – is knocking at the rotation's door. The first unit is comprised of seniors: LDE Ethan Johnson, NG Sean Cwynar, RDE Kapron Lewis-Moore. The second group is a trio that made their field debuts last Saturday: LDE Aaron Lynch, NG Louis Nix, RDE Stephon Tuitt.

The goal for Nix is to play nearly half of the team's snaps in tandem with Cwynar (he was close to that end vs. South Florida).

Linebackers

Seven played last week with freshmen Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas making their debuts outside: Williams as the backup Cat; Niklas as the Dog (drop).

Outside starters remain senior Darius Fleming (Cat) and sophomore Prince Shembo (Dog); with junior Manti Te'o (Mike) and classmates Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese splitting time next to him inside (Will). Senior Steve Filer also saw time as an edge rusher in Notre Dame's dime defense and at fullback on the game's opening goal line package.

No other ‘backers are listed as rotation members though sophomore Danny Spond could see time at the Dog position. Don't expect a healthy Te'o to leave the field in favor of backup Anthony McDonald.

Defensive Backfield

The team's five veterans earned the bulk of Week One snaps, with senior Robert Blanton and 5th-year Gary Gray manning the corners. Sophomore Lo Wood earned limited first half rotation time as well.

5th-year Harrison Smith rarely left the field as the team's strong safety while senior Jamoris Slaughter and junior Zeke Motta played nearly equal snaps opposite the team captain. Slaughter manned the technical "nickel" role as the cornerback opposite the offense's slot receiver.

Sophomore safety Austin Collinsworth played briefly last week as a Dime package linebacker.

Special Teams

Theo Riddick and Bennett Jackson will again serve as the main kick returns with Collinsworth in a backup role (he returned on kick last week for 24 yards).

Riddick is expected to remain the punt returner after a shaky debut last week. John Goodman and Robby Toma represent the "safe" (fair-catch) punt return options, though Toma has make-the-miss potential.

Ben Turk remains the punter while David Ruffer will handle field goals with freshman Kyle Brindza the kick-off specialist. Junior Jordan Cowart is both the long and short snapper; walk-on senior Ryan Kavanagh remains Ruffer's holder.

Punt coverage defenders include Nuss and Ragone (joining Lombard as Turk's protective trio) with Bennett Jackson, Danny Spond, Dan Fox, Austin Collinsworth, and Steve Filer in coverage. Injured Alex Welch was also on the coverage unit last week – the lone spot that must be filled.

Irish kick coverage group includes 10 of the following 11 cover men: Lo Wood, Austin Collinsworth, Zeke Motta, Bennett Jackson, walk-on Patrick Coughlin, walk-on Chris Salvi, Steve Filer, George Atkinson, Gary Gray, Troy Niklas, and Danny Spond.

The punt return team includes Riddick (PR), Robert Blanton, George Atkinson, Danny Smith, Dan McCarthy, Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson, Gary Gray, Kendall Moore, Danny Spond, and Steve Filer.

Joining the return tandem of Riddick and Jackson are Jonas Gray, Ishaq Williams, Austin Collinsworth and Robby Toma (front line); Danny Spond and Dan McCarthy aligned behind them, followed by Steve Filer, Mike Ragone, and whomever takes over for Alex Welch – this could be freshman tight end Ben Koyack's field debut, as No. 5 tight end Jake Golic is out with a broken arm.


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