Transition Team

Our fourth in a series of columns examining each of Notre Dame's classes entering the season reviews the class of 2010. Many were recruited by the former regime, though every member of the group has developed solely under head coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.

The class originally included 24 members with three, Spencer Boyd, Derek Roback, and Alex Bullard, since transferring out, each preceded by the tragic death of offensive lineman Matt James in April 2010.

Nine of the remaining 20 played as true freshmen in '10, though just five from that group played crucial roles on the 2011 squad as sophomores. Three, for disparate reasons, have yet to make their collegiate debuts.

To date, none could be considered a standout college football player though a couple have already etched their names in the Notre Dame record books.

Top of the Heap

Each played a key role last season and with the exception of Nix, each hit the field as true freshmen in 2010 as well.

QB Tommy Rees: Has been the main signal-caller in 18 of a potential 26 games since arriving on campus as an early enrollee in January 2010 and already ranks among the program top 10 in 13 major passing categories. Enters 2012 with the best career completion percentage (and, of not, among the program's top 10 in lowest interception percentage) in the history of the school, but also in a dead heat with at least two competitors for the starting quarterback job. A May arrest on four misdemeanors clouds his immediate future.

NG Louis Nix: Sat out his true freshman season then won the starting nose guard role last September, earning 11 starts while appearing in all 13 games. Technically lost his starting spot to classmate Kona Schwenke after the latter starred in the spring, but most observers expect Nix to be the lead nose guard again this fall.

WR T.J. Jones: Started with a bang, becoming the first wide receiver to score a touchdown in both of his first two college games and was also just the third wide receiver in the last 30 years to debut in as a starter (Milt Jackson and technically, Joey Getherall). Jones has 61 career receptions and six touchdowns (three in both 2010-11) entering his junior season with 19 starts and 25 games under his belt. He appeared to endure a nondescript spring practice session and will enter August camp in competition for his starting perimeter receiver spot.

LB Prince Shembo: Assuming full recovery from spring foot surgery, Shembo enters 2012 camp in competition with sophomore Ishaq Williams for the Cat linebacker spot, though both will play extensively in both 3-and 4-man defensive fronts this fall. Shembo has 6.5 career sacks entering the season, 5.5 of which were accrued as a freshman when he was used primarily as a pass rush specialist. Spent the 2011 season struggling to adapt to the myriad coverage roles and responsibilities of the Dog Linebacker spot.

S Austin Collinsworth: The 2011 Special Teams PLayer of the Year is out for 2012 after shoulder (labrum) surgery. Collinsworth will have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013. His loss leaves a hole in the team's nickel secondary and two-deep depth chart.

CB Bennett Jackson: The 2010 Special Teams Player of the Year as a true freshman enters 2012 as the unquestioned starter at the Boundary cornerback position. Nonetheless, his junior season represents Jackson's first lead role as a scrimmage starter -- he's thus as unproven as many newcomers in the starting lineup. Jackson was lauded by head coach Brian Kelly and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks for his play throughout the spring, the latter referring to Jackson as a "Level 2" player with the remaining corners and young, backup safeties still at Level 1.

The Next Wave

Three if not more will start the season opener in Dublin, but the key to this group's development: that each starts regularly in 2012, as younger talent is in place competing with each.

QB Andrew Hendrix: Famously enters camp 2010 in a three (or four)-way battle for the starting quarterback job after playing the second half of the season finale and various parts of the Irish bowl loss to conclude the season. Finished with pedestrian passing numbers in limited action last year (16-37, 1 TD, 2 INT) but also ran for a TD and showed the ability to run through arm tackles en route to xx yards on just x carries -- a 78-yarder vs. Air Force doing the bulk of the damage. Unlike his classmate Rees, Hendrix has a 5th-season of eligibility available in 2014.

CB Lo Wood: Won the field cornerback spot with a solid spring, now Wood must lock it down in August -- and prepare to be tested throughout September when the squad returns stateside. Wood has two seasons of eligibility remaining after earning special teams roles as a true freshman and last season.

TE Alex Welch: He and sophomore Ben Koyack will both be regular rotation members next fall. Like Koyack, Welch caught just one pass last year, his first as a competitor after sitting out 2010.

LB Danny Spond: In a battle with redshirt-freshman Ben Councell for the Dog linebacker spot. Spond burned two seasons of eligibility on special teams but illness (2010) and injury (hamstring last September) have delayed his progress with the varsity.

NG/DE Kona Schwenke: Has added 70 pounds to his frame since National Signing Day 2010 and enters August as the leader at the nose guard position after minimal appearances last fall. Schwenke debuted as a freshman in 2010 in Week Nine vs. Tulsa, recording a fumble recovery. The staff appeared prepared to red-shirt him as a true sophomore last fall but Stephon Tuitt's one-game suspension facilitated a curious appearance from scrimmage in Week Five at Purdue, thus costing Schwenke a 5th-year option for 2014.

RT Christian Lombard: Emerged as the leader for the starting right tackle spot at the conclusion of spring practice. Lombard played sparingly in a reserve role last year after sitting out 2010.

Uphill Battles

The history of Notre Dame football is rife with late-bloomers turned star or solid contributor. Still, each of the players listed below enter a critical stage of their development.

WR Daniel Smith: Played sparingly -- and only at mid-season -- in both 2010 and 2011 as a member of the team's kick coverage unit. Did not miss a practice this spring after sitting for much of the 2011 session and is in position to challenge for a role in the game day rotation with a solid August camp. Smith plays a position of great need for the Irish, but must step to the fore as an upperclassmen with talent joining the ranks below.

OT Tate Nichols: Withheld from action in 2010 then missed all of last season with a dislocated kneecap followed by shoulder surgery. Nichols exited spring backing up classmate Christian Lombard at right tackle after the pair appeared to be waging a close battle early in the session.

LB Justin Utupo: Shined as a blocker on kick return last fall, the highlight a de-cleating block vs. USC's George Farmer to help spring George Atkinson for a 96-yard touchdown return. Utupo is listed as an inside 'backer but his best chance at a scrimmage role is as an edge rusher in the team's Dime packages. Utupo is eligible through 2014.

LB Kendall Moore: Appears to be behind red-shirt freshman Jarrett Grace for the backup middle linebacker role in 2012. Moore sat out 2011 as a true freshman, earning Scout Team Defensive PLayer of the Year honors. He'll likely enter spring 2013 as Grace's biggest competition for the starting middle linebacker role following Manti Te'o's graduation.

S Chris Badger: Participated in spring practice 2010 as an early enrollee freshmen but spent the next two years in Ecuador serving a religious mission. Hit campus this summer with four seasons of eligibility remaining.

WR Luke Massa: Earned special teams work last fall but is out for 2012 with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice. Massa sat out 2010 as a true freshman as well, converting from quarterback to wide receiver after his freshman year.

C Bruce Heggie: Made his scrimmage debut in Week Six vs. Air Force last season and will serve as a third-team guard and center in 2012.

RB Cameron Roberson: Withheld from action in 2010 then missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in spring practice 2011. Roberson could be asked to remain at the University on scholarship but with a medical exception as his knee has been slow to heal. The junior-to-be did not appear in the 2012 Blue Gold Game in April.

Click here for a look at incoming freshmen and their chances for 2012 playing time. Click here for a review of the 10 sophomores on the Irish roster that saw collegiate action in 2011.

Notre Dame's 14 redshirt freshmen (sophomores in class) are reviewed here. Top Stories