Viewer's Guide

Notre Dame's proven starters are unlikely to see extended playing time in Saturday's Blue Gold game, but there are still a Baker's Dozen of key players we've targeted for fans to follow in the spring's final scrimmage.

Wondering who to watch while Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood and Zack Martin enjoy most of Saturday's proceedings from the comfort of the Stadium's west sideline? We've got you covered with two handfuls of emerging competitors, key position battles, and potentially a few future stars likely to play major roles in the 83rd annual Blue Gold game.

  1. DaVaris Daniels: The redshirt-freshman was lauded for his athleticism early in the spring, then praised late for his ability to bounce back from injury (hamstring) at spring's conclusion. Head coach Brian Kelly gave him the stamp of approval as a player the staff trusts will help the offense next fall. If Notre Dame has a game-breaker at wide receiver in 2012, it's the 6'2" 190-pound Daniels, who told Irisheyes.com he expects to add 8-10 pounds of good weight in the summer.

  2. Everett Golson: With due respect to juniors Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix, both of whom Irish fans have seen in game action, Golson's performance will be monitored, critiqued, and possibly praised most over the entire off-season. He noted a connection with DaVaris Daniels from their time together on the Scout Team last fall – Saturday would be a good time to rekindle that spark in front of a national audience.

  3. Ishaq Williams: Authored a non-descript freshman season as a part time linebacker and special teamer. Now the 6'5" 255-pound Cat linebacker will be expected to bring his strength, speed, range, and explosive first step to a pass rush that lost its classmate Aaron Lynch, the best pocket destroyer at the program since Justin Tuck in 2004. Williams, along with a trio of others, will play a major role in picking up the slack.

  4. Gunner Kiel: The wild-card and only 5-star prospect in the four-man quarterback competition, Kiel is also the least likely to start the season opener in 2012. That won't be the case at this time next year especially if he's not relegated to Scout Team duties immediately next September. Irish fans will get a chance to see a future starter for the first time, likely with a few snaps that include first team offensive personnel and against a live pass rush.

  5. Jarrett Grace: Manti Te'o's backup is being groomed by the coaching staff to finish his college career as the team's starting Mike (middle) linebacker. The good news for Grace, the staff, and Irish fans? He's a redshirt-freshman, eligible through 2015. Grace has received plaudits for his play and approach since his last August.

  6. George Atkinson: Cierre Wood shouldn't receive more than a series; his classmate Theo Riddick no more than a quarter. That leaves ample carries for Atkinson who continues to fight for meaningful scrimmage time in addition to his role as one of the nation's best kick returners entering his sophomore year. More competition awaits in August with the return of USC transfer Amir Carlisle (broken foot). Carlisle is eligible to play next fall. Atkinson is the fastest player on the team and at 6'1" 210, the biggest back on the 2012 roster.

  7. Alex Welch: The Irish offense will feature two tight end sets as often as it does 3-and-4 receiver packages. Welch and freshman Ben Koyack continue to vie for a relative starting spot in what offensive coordinator Chuck Martin refers to as the team's "12" personnel. Kelly noted Wednesday that Welch, a junior eligible through 2014, had pulled ahead in the competition but Koyack will press him through August camp.

  8. Josh Atkinson: Flipped from the boundary competition to the field side late in the spring, Atkinson will likely backup both early in 2012. Among the team's fastest players (as is boundary cornerback Bennett Jackson), Atkinson made his field debut at mid-season last year, though played primarily on special teams. He'll be no worse than the No. 3 cornerback next fall and his purported press coverage skills could allow for more in certain defensive packages.

  9. Kona Schwenke: The team's most improved defensive lineman and a candidate for most improved overall since a lost 2012 season, Schwenke surged ahead of 2012 starter Louis Nix at nose guard over the last 14 practices. Nix will likely take back that mantle by September 1, but Schwenke would then be the first defensive lineman off the bench, at both nose guard and defensive end. The junior has added more than 60 pounds to his frame since hitting campus in summer 2010.

  10. Ben Councell: In a Dogfight (pun intended) with junior Danny Spond for the field side (Dog/Drop) outside linebacker spot. Both should play; both will have a hard time keeping defensive coordinator Bob Diaco going to his trusted nickel defensive package more than the 3-4 base – a development that removes the Dog and/or the Will linebacker from the field. At 6'5" 240, Councell might be the future at the position, but he's yet to see the field after red-shirting last fall.

  11. Lo Wood: One of three likely starters to conclude our list, the junior finished the spring strong and is expected to hold down the field cornerback spot in 2012. Not as fast as Jackson or Atkinson, Wood is technically advanced and a willing hitter. The Irish secondary needs both on the perimeter. Eligible through 2013 following two years on special teams, Wood noted at the end of last season his chief goal was to improve playing the ball in the air. Position coach Kerry Cooks seconded that notion. Irish fans will get a first look at his progress on Saturday.

  12. Christian Lombard: Has apparently secured the starting right tackle spot as the team exits spring ball. He'll receive an August push from massive classmate Tate Nichols, but Lombard, a former Scout.com 4-star and its No. 2 rated OT in 2010, has three seasons of eligibility remaining and could secure the right side for the duration if he's not unseated this summer.

  13. Stephon Tuitt: If the Irish are to win more than eight games for the first time in the Kelly era, the massive, multi-talented and explosive Tuitt must evolve from freshman phenom to one of the best underclassmen at his position in the country this season.

Note: Injuries are expected to keep the following players from competing: 5th-year seniors John Goodman (ankle/doubtful) and Braxston Cave (foot/out), senior Dan Fox, junior Luke Massa (knee/out), junior Prince Shembo (toe/out), sophomore Troy Niklas (undisclosed/doubtful), sophomore Amir Carlisle (foot/out), and redshirt freshman Tony Springmann (back/out).

Juniors Bennett Jackson (shoulder/questionable) and T.J. Jones (undisclosed/questionable) are unlikely to see much playing time, either. Sophomore Chase Hounshell (September shoulder surgery) might be limited as a precaution. Hounshell participated in full pads in a pair of media viewings late in the spring session.


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