The spring roster, plus horde of local and national media, was greeted by blue skies, 70-degree air, and a breakneck tempo, both during and between every one of the 24 5-minute practice segments. The purpose? To make practice so taxing the games would be easy, with opposing defense's wilting under constant stress put on by Kelly's no huddle, read-option attack.
Fast forward to one year ago (March 23) with Kelly's second spring squad enjoying the fruits of a four-game winning streak and a nine-man staff that remained intact.
(Absent was the usual breath of fresh air that accompanies the promise and arrival of spring ball in South Bend, with dreary rain and sub-40s temperatures plaguing campus.)
Irish eyes (and a "helmet-cam") were on a recovering Dayne Crist in his battle with season-saver Tommy Rees, plus a pair of untested signal-callers including early enrollee Everett Golson, and his fellow first-semester freshman and purported phenom, Aaron Lynch.
Both spring sessions yielded uneven 8-5 fall finishes, though with polar opposite endings.
Tomorrow's opening practice, Kelly's third as the program's leader, brings three new coaches, a shift in responsibilities for each returning member, and a new annual reality:
This is the most important spring practice of Kelly's tenure at the University – unless he wins big in 2012, then that title will bestow upon a future session.
Regardless, late-March is a time for rebirth for most collegiate programs, and this spring session in South Bend should be about change for the better...and preparing to finally win on Saturdays next fall.
What We'll Be WatchingAt the top of everyone's list – and on this rare occasion, it should be – is the assumed open quarterback competition. Something tells me we'll type a few words on the subject over the next three weeks, three months, and three seasons, so I'll refrain here.
Also on my mind:
- Can junior cornerback Bennett Jackson and two of his three competitors on the perimeter be made ready for prime time?
- Is Stephon Tuitt every bit as good as Aaron Lynch, and what would that mean to the Irish defense?
- Does the Dog linebacker position have a future that does not include the crutch of a third safety taking his place more often than not?
- Can senior Theo Riddick fulfill Kelly's lofty expectations, or even those of the fans?
- Can transfer Amir Carlisle a.) catch a punt? and, b.) return it forward, thus winning the role by default?
- Will Ben Koyack and/or Alex Welch remind anyone of Tyler Eifert?
- Can DaVaris Daniels win a starting spot at wideout?
- Wither George Atkinson from scrimmage?
- Is Jamoris Slaughter – the team's key safety and nickel defender – also its best cornerback?
- With 9 roster spots available, who are the official 5th-year seniors?
- Who will fill in the right side of the offensive line, and can those battles carry into August (for the right reasons)?
- Can Zeke Motta take the necessary steps from solid to standout?
- Will the health and improvement of Kapron Lewis-Moore (assuming a 5th-year) allow for more, and more athletic, 4-3 fronts next fall?
- Is there any chance a starting quarterback is named on April 21? (Sorry, couldn't help myself)
- Where's Michael Floyd? Oh that's right…there's bad news, too
- Nick Tausch vs. Kyle Brindza: may the best field goal kicker win
- Is Big Louis Nix in even better shape? Near his ideal playing weight?
- Why are there 200 safeties on the roster and who among them will lineup elsewhere by early August?
- Can receivers T.J. Jones and Robby Toma improve enough to start for an entire season?
- Is Cierre Wood merely good, or can he be great? (Ditto Manti Te'o…with a higher ceiling)
- Where is Troy Niklas playing?
- What happened to the infamous breakneck pace?
- Ishaq Williams
- How good does a front seven have to be if its cornerbacks don't cooperate?
- Will the 2012 Irish have an offensive identity, and will it be what Kelly prefers to employ?