Three more lists

A quick peek at the spring while Irish fans await word from four crucial official visitors to a snow-filled campus this weekend.

Click here for our first three lists

Five Underclassmen that should emerge this spring:

  1. Sophomore WR Chris Brown -- The most impressive offensive rookie in August camp 2012, Brown made but one big play last fall. He's a more complete receiver than he showed as a one-trick deep threat last fall...

  2. Sophomore Slot receiver Davonte' Neal -- He inherits the leading slot role from Robby Toma and has, at present, no definitive competitor, though that will change by August...

  3. Sophomore Quarterback Gunner Kiel -- Odds-on favorite to ascend to the No. 2 role by the end of spring...

  4. Sophomore DE? Romeo Okwara -- The question mark points to his positional future. He entered August camp 2012 as a Cat LB, moved to Dog out of need (and looked the part) but appears to have the frame to move to DE in 4-3 fronts. Regardless, Okwara will be on the field in a backup capacity next fall, and likely as a starter for his final two seasons...

  5. Sophomore Safety Nicky Baratti -- There's a reason he emerged as a legitimate No. 2 safety last August and earned scrimmage playing time in crucial wins over Michigan (in which he recorded an interception) and Pittsburgh. Baratti and a host of young, talented, unproven safeties will look to replace graduated senior Zeke Motta.

Five Key Players Returning From Injury

Add sophomore offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (elbow surgery) as a definitive No. 6...

  1. C Matt Hegarty -- A heart condition sidelined him toward the end of the season. Hegarty is expected to return to compete for the starting center spot in the spring. (Click here for more on Hegarty's recovery.)

  2. CB Lo Wood -- Won't be at full speed in the spring after suffering a torn Achilles in August camp, but Wood is reportedly already running sprints, weighing in at 5'11" 195, and running small distances (mile+) in month five of his recovery...

  3. RB/Slot Amir Carlisle -- After a nine-month recovery littered with setbacks, the junior told he could have played in the BCS Championship game if needed. Carlisle's return from a broken ankle suffered last March was complicated by nerve damage late last summer. The USC transfer noted he'll be 100 percent for spring ball. (Click here for more on Carlisle.)

  4. S Austin Collinsworth -- Suffered a torn labrum during last year's spring game after ascending to the No. 3 safety role. His return to the field was complicated by back surgery in December. (Head coach Brian Kelly noted Collinsworth would be ready for the spring session.) His assumed No. 3 role is now heavily contested by a host of young talent, but Collinsworth has a chance to A.) start, B.) develop as a key reserve, or C.) star again on the specialty units. The senior is now eligible through 2014.

  5. DL Chase Hounshell -- Shoulder surgery ended his season last September. Hounshell, who played a key rotation role in a win over Air Force in 2011, will compete for backup duty on a defensive line that will use six, if not seven players in a rotation next fall. (The final number is up to the players. Defensive line coach Mike Elston has not gone past six regular contributors in his three seasons at the helm, but that's due to separation between No. 6 and No. 7, not an unwillingness to use more able bodies.)

Five Spring Headlines You're Likely To Read

  1. "Kiel Impresses Early" -- I've covered Brian Kelly long enough to know this: There's no chance Gunner Kiel exits spring ball as a named No. 3 quarterback. Take that any way you choose.

  2. "Backfield by Committee Likely" -- There's also little chance a true lead running back emerges from four candidates: George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, and Will Mahone.

  3. "Center of Concern" -- Hegarty's a medical concern. Backup Mark Harrell is a redshirt-freshman that played tackle and tight end in high school (2011). Senior Bruce Heggie is more a program player than BCS level starter, and other options such as Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty, and Nick Martin are far better at guard, guard, and guard/tackle, respectively. Notre Dame's center position will be an on-paper weakness until one of the above emerges from the fray in The Big House next September.

  4. "DB Depth, Options Exciting for Staff" -- Notre Dame has 13 defensive backs for the spring with four more to join in the fall. Only one (Bennett Jackson) exhausts his eligibility following the 2013 season. Look for positional movement and plenty of depth chart battles this March, April, and beyond.

  5. "A New Day" -- Sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day will emerge as the top defensive replacement on a unit that lost only three starters from last fall's magical run. At 19/20 years old, Day 2013 won't be as good as grizzled, fully developed 5th-year senior Kapron Lewis-Moore was in 2012 -- but he will be some day. Top Stories