Scaled back to move forward

Notre Dame kicked off its 125th anniversary on the gridiron with the first press conference of spring football 2012.

A jovial Brian Kelly and six new (permanent) banners espousing inspirational wisdom and Irish team credos greeted the media today at the Isban Auditorium for the opening press conference of the spring. (More on the banners in a later column.)

Questions regarding Notre Dame's open quarterback competition dominated the proceedings, with Kelly noting that each of the four prospective signal callers would start out on equal footing this spring.

"I think that it's important that if they're all going to get an equal opportunity to compete for the position, that they all have to start with a very similar knowledge base," said Kelly. "So we're going to take a step back and really look at our offensive structure. We're going to make it so all four of the guys can compete at a fair level, because Tommy (Rees) as you know, has the best knowledge base.

"If we started the spring at page 50 of the playbook, Tommy would be ahead of everybody. Not to put him at a disadvantage, but to give equal footing to all, we've kind of scaled it back. So the spring will give all four quarterbacks the opportunity to compete for the position."

Rees will be challenged by junior (redshirt-sophomore) Andrew Hendrix, redshirt-freshman Everett Golson, and newcomer Gunner Kiel in a competition that likely won't be decided until the dog days of summer.

"I don't have a timetable or timeline other than its important for all four of them to No. 1, understand the offense and run it effectively and then No. 2, to have that opportunity to get first team reps."

Back for More

Kelly made official what most have speculated since the 2011 season concluded: S Jamoris Slaughter, S Dan McCarthy, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, C Braxston Cave, C Mike Golic, and WR John Goodman will return for the 2012 season for a 5th-year of eligibility. Though not announced by the head coach, former walk-on Chris Salvi is expected to continue with the Irish for his 5th and final season of collegiate eligibility next fall, this time with a scholarship in tow.

Each is listed on the team's official spring roster, one that shows a position change for three sophomore competitors, Troy Niklas, Matthias Farley, and Cam McDaniel, who moves from running back cornerback to help bolster the position's depth (now five scholarship players in total).

Niklas shifts from outside linebacker to tight end (donning #85) while Farley moves from slot receiver to safety, the position for which he was largely recruited in the 2011 cycle. Niklas lettered last season as a linebacker and kick coverage specialist while Farley was withheld from action.

"I think it says more about what we're looking for in terms of the depth of the position," said Kelly of Niklas move from defense to offense. "I think we're pretty good at the outside linebacker position that we had the ability to make that move…and as you know we've increased that depth by playing another safety at that position (Dog/field linebacker).

"It gives us a lot more flexibility with Tyler Eifert," Kelly offered. "Now we can see him moving to a number of different positions (along the offensive perimeter)."

Said Kelly of Farley, "We thought initially that he was going to be at the safety position, but our numbers were so low at wide receiver last year that we had to take a load, and we had an idea that we were going to red-shirt him, excuse me, that he was not going to play this year, that we weren't going to get him on the field this year.

"So we needed some help at the wide receiver position, just to keep the reps off of some of the front line guys."

Injuries, Updates, and Clarification…somewhat

Joining early enrollees Kiel and (DE) Sheldon Day on the roster this spring is USC transfer Amir Carlisle. The running back/slot receiver/return man was recently cleared to play in 2012, but Irish fans will have to wait until August camp to catch a glimpse of their new weapon in action – Carlisle suffered a broken ankle and is out for the spring session.

"Amir suffered a broken ankle in a non contact drill last week," Kelly offered. "Actually it was in our voluntary 7-on7, so he'll be out for the spring. But nothing structurally major to the point where we're concerned about him. He'll be ready to go for June when we come back for our summer conditioning program."

Several Irish players endured late-season or off-season surgery with the headliners the aforementioned pair of 5th-year returnees, Lewis-Moore and Cave; the former injured in the Game Seven loss to USC, the latter in a Game Nine win at Wake Forest.

"Kap is cleared to go, he has no restrictions, and he'll be able to compete in all the drills," Kelly said of the three-year starter along the defensive line. "And again, we'll be careful with him.

"And Braxston Cave is doing very well, to the point where, what we want to be careful with him is that we don't put him in a position where he really has to stress that foot early on, but he's moving well. He'll be out there doing a lot of non contact drills with the hope and the possibility that maybe he even plays in the spring game."

Also on the mend:

  • Linebacker Anthony Rabasa and offensive tackle Tate Nichols from September shoulder surgery. Both have been cleared.

  • Fellow shoulder victim and freshman defensive end Chase Hounshell (not yet cleared) is, according to Kelly, "way ahead of schedule, and he'll be involved in some form of spring practice, certainly not at the level of those two that have been cleared."

  • Running Back Cameron Roberson suffered a torn ACL last March and is still progressing. "He'll play a little bit in the spring; he'll get to do some things," Kelly said of the 2010 Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year. "He's still not at 100 percent, but he'll be involved in the spring drills."

  • Redshirt-freshman defensive tackle Tony Springmann had a discectomy (back surgery for a disc issue) in the off-season but is progressing well. "He's feeling really good. He's going to be limited in the spring but we have big hopes for him," Kelly offered of the Fort Wayne product.

Finally, rampant speculation that former Notre Dame freshman cornerback Tee Shepard left the University due to early academic issues appears to be off-base. Asked about Shepard's departure, Kelly noted: "There are specifics about Buckley and HIPAA and things of that nature that I really can't get into…From our standpoint we love Tee Shepard, and it's unfortunate but he's no longer with us, and we have to move on." Top Stories