Two thoughts on 22 MoreFavorite player missing from the list of 15 above? Those listed below will help define the 2012 season:
Slot Robby Toma: Likely a chain-mover, clutch competitor for 12 straight games…Though he was arguably underused previously, it's possible Toma would be much better as part of a rotation rather than with a heavy work volume this fall.
Cat linebacker Prince Shembo: The key to the team's nickel pass rush…can he cover the shorter field as the boundary 'backer?
Wide Receiver DaVaris Daniels: Perhaps the player with the greatest range this fall: from true playmaker to intermittent contributor…Will he start by Week Four vs. Michigan?
ILB Dan Fox: Needs to be a tic better than "solid" this fall…Can he hold up through a grueling slate with a camp shoulder injury already posing a challenge?
CB Bennett Jackson: Much is expected of the first time starter; his athleticism isn't in question. Speaking of shoulder injuries….
S Zeke Motta: Replaces the team's best athlete at an extremely important position. He's mentally prepared -- can he run with the big dogs downfield?
WR John Goodman: Six months of momentum truncated a bit by a pulled groin…Goodman is noticeably bigger (muscular) compared to this time last year, and far more focused.
TE Ben Koyack: Alex Welch had the extra year in the program; Troy Niklas has the physique and fan interest, but Koyack has the hands and downfield ability to add a mid-season weapon to a potentially deep passing game…Can he hold up at scrimmage?
RB George Atkinson: The future face of the Irish backfield received an unexpected opportunity with Cierre Wood's two-game suspension…Too fast at 210-plus not to help the team on a weekly basis. If he hangs onto the football, its on the staff to find a role.
TE Troy Niklas: Hammer Time assured…Can Niklas be a threat in the passing game when necessary or in the red zone?
QB Andrew Hendrix: Will his role change if not called upon early? Hendrix would bring short-yardage tenacity with the threat of more as an occasional change-of-pace.
K Nick Tausch: Said in 2009 he'd never attempted a game winning field goal; that'll change in 2012…Must be better this fall than David Ruffer was last.
RT Christian Lombard: Has a tougher act to follow than most Irish fans realize in the wake of two-year starter Taylor Dever…Lombard has the pedigree but never threatened to start prior to Dever's departure.
RG Mike Golic, Jr.: Struggled mightily last November and in Orlando but has impressed the staff since…A rarely-discussed X-factor on a suddenly not-so-deep offensive front.
S Matthias Farley: Continued ascent would allow the defense to blossom with safety starter Jamoris Slaughter filling multiple roles…Thoughtful interviewee seems to embrace defensive side of scrimmage after just three seasons of organized football.
S Chris Salvi: Key member of Irish run teams on the specialty units appears to have forged his way onto the two-deep…Salvi is trustworthy, gritty, and confident, if not the athletic peer of some on the Irish slate.
WR Chris Brown: The surprise of camp: Brown is a future star but a 2012 role will suffice…Can take the top off of a defensive secondary.
Slot/PR Davonte' Neal: Tenacious talent will be a fan favorite within two months…Neal will be a star when his mentor Toma moves on, but the latter's presence is key to the freshman's success (and struggles) this fall.
LB Carlo Calabrese: Off-season arrest might help his focus after a 2011 season far less impressive than his truncated 2010…Improvement in pass coverage a must but Calabrese's calling card has to be hammering opposing rushers.
QB Tommy Rees: Another major moment, if not a junior season start, likely awaits the two-season contributor and fan base lightning rod…An ideal No. 2 on the road with 18 full games under his belt.
CB Keivarae Russell: There's a reason no true freshman cornerback has ever started the season opener for Notre Dame, and its because there's usual established talent in front of them….Russell won the role by default but will keep it with an aggressive, confident approach.
P Ben Turk: Inconsistent career but his final two months of 2011 points to a standout season this fall…Irish can't afford another case of the yips from Turk with a full slate of capable foes.
Dog LB Ben Councell: Should see more action in Week Two and beyond than in the option-specific defense Saturday vs. Navy…Councell should be an upgrade in coverage at the drop linebacker spot, but can he hold up vs. the run?
Mike LB Jarrett Grace: The team's best backup with no shot at unseating the starter: Grace will take over for Te'o next fall, but can he make an impact as a fourth inside 'backer this season? Aside from "Everett Golson," no name of an Irish player yet to debut passes Kelly's lips more than "Jarrett Grace."
CB Jalen Brown: Three, if not four cornerbacks are necessary in modern college football, it's thus likely Brown endures trial-by-fire in the season's opening month…Lauded for his man-to-man skills (the Irish play a preponderance of zone) and underrated athleticism by his head coach.