When Kelly chose to place a line of demarcation between his recruits on last year's Irish squad and Charlie Weis' leftovers, a number of the upperclassmen understandably took umbrage. Of course, when six members of the 2008 recruiting class were presented with an opportunity to return for a 5th-season of eligibility, each jumped at the chance.
With the exception of newly-minted scholarship safety Chris Salvi, each played a season under Weis and each also toiled for a season on Weis' scout team as a true freshman in 2008.
Now all have a final chance to cement their legacy alongside their head coach with the best season of their extended careers.
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore: Ranks as the second most productive defensive player on the team entering 2012, trailing only senior Manti Te'o in tackles, tackles-for-loss, and sacks and leading all Irish in forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Lewis-Moore entered the spring as part of an enviable trio of defensive ends in a rotation sure-to-waylay most offensive tackle tandems in its path. Following Aaron Lynch's transfer, Lewis-Moore exited as the spring as the clear-cut starter at a new position, right defensive end, and one of the 10 most indispensable players on the roster for 2012.
C Braxston Cave: Speaking of "indispensable"…Cave came in second in our list of 10 players the Irish can least afford to lose this fall, a sobering reality considering Cave missed the full contact portion of spring practice recovering from November foot surgery. A rock in the middle, Cave enters his third season as a starter and a bit of a bonus for the current staff -- he was slated for duty as a true freshman in the lost season of 2007 but a wrist injury ended his campaign after a brief appearance in the home opening loss to Georgia Tech, thus affording Cave, and Kelly, a final season under center.
Safety Jamoris Slaughter: Jack-of-all trades ranks with Manti Te'o as the two most important components of Bob Diaco's 2012 defense. Slaughter's versatility will be invaluable in 2012: he's the team's best deep safety, open-field tackler, hitter, cover man, and overall weapon in the slot vs. both option-oriented offenses and teams that spread the field with multiple pass-catchers. In short, if Slaughter doesn't produce, Notre Dame's defense will be no better than average.
WR John Goodman: Of the group, Goodman has the best chance to change the perception of his career in South Bend. The team's fastest wide receiver in spring drills (4.42), Goodman's not yet matched his best moments from October 2009 during the Weis era in either of his two seasons under the Kelly regime. He enters 2012 as the likely starter at the W receiver spot vacated by Michael Floyd and nothing less than consistent weekly production with at least a handful of big plays during the season will suffice for the confident target and emerging unit leader.
G/C Mike Golic, Jr: Would be a solid backup option at both guard spots as well as center, but Golic enters spring ball with what appears to be a minor advantage over red-shirt freshman Nick Martin for the starting right guard spot. Vastly improved measurables (strength and overall athleticism) must manifest on the field of play this fall, as Golic will play ample snaps regardless of his starting/backup status.
Safety Dan McCarthy: Though most pundits believe the little-used, oft-injured McCarthy found a spot on the 85-man roster because only 82 spots were taken, Irisheyes.com heard from a colleague that McCarthy had been asked to return for 2012 as early as last December. With junior Austin Collinsworth out for the season as the team's unquestioned No. 3 safety, McCarthy could find a niche from scrimmage for the first time in his Irish career -- he'll be a mainstay on special teams in his final season.
Safety Chris Salvi: Not part of Weis' 2008 recruiting class, Salvi transferred to South Bend after a season at Butler and after two seasons of strong special teams play as a walk-on for Brian Kelly, was awarded a scholarship in an emotional on-field, post-practice moment during the off-season. He enters August camp on the team's two-deep at safety and among its top players on the Irish run teams (kick/punt coverage and return).
Previous Editions: 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 played as true freshmen in 2011.
Notre Dame's 14 redshirt freshmen (sophomores in class) are reviewed here. And Sunday we examined the junior class one that served as freshman in the transitional season between Weis and Kelly -- the group is now 20-strong entering their collective third season at the program.