Switching Scrimmage

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has previously moved six notable players, four of them projected 2013 starters, across scrimmage during his three off-seasons in South Bend. Now entering his fourth season and with the head coach's recruiting process taking hold, such roster manipulation might not be necessary.

Former Charlie Weis recruit Steve Paskorz was the first to get a look on the other side. It was Paskorz, a fullback under the previous regime that during Brian Kelly's first spring session of 2010, was evaluated and eventually slotted for linebacker duties -- the first scrimmage flip of the Kelly era.

Since, off-seasons in South Bend have been marked by such moves. While its commonplace for high school athletes to flip scrimmage upon arrival in college, it causes more of a ruckus among a team's fan base when a college letterman does the same.

Following 2010, wide receivers Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth moved to cornerback and safety, respectively. After the 2011 season, linebacker Troy Niklas moved to tight end while running back Cam McDaniel made the leap to cornerback, eventually returning to the offensive backfield when order, and depth, had been restored on the defensive back line.

2011 Scout Team slot receiver Matthias Farley followed in the footsteps of Jackson and Collinsworth with a move to defensive back, moving to safety, one of his high school positions.

Combined, Jackson, Niklas, and Farley started 31 games at their new positions last fall. (Collinsworth missed the season due to shoulder surgery.)

And perhaps best known among scrimmage flips is Keivarae Russell's, a freshman running back prospect that never saw an offensive snap in an official collegiate practice before moving to cornerback, eventually earning the starting role, and adding Freshman All-America honors to his full-season starting assignment.

No Longer Necessary?

Detailed above are the major personnel moves of the Kelly era.

Asked if there'd be others this off-season, Kelly noted, "No, I don't think so. We're going to get an opportunity to see a lot of young players. We (have) some guys out through the spring with some of the surgeries that I talked about previously. But nothing that stands out to me, that, 'Hey, here's a starter that's going to move on to the other side of the ball.'"

Position switches, however, will always be in play.

"We have some guys that didn't play this year that certainly we'll evaluate and find out where their best fit is on offense and defense."

A past list of such players includes but is not limited to starters or past starters Dan Fox, Danny Spond (though Spond's was a camp 2010 switch prior to seeing any action), Theo Riddick and Prince Shembo. Backup veterans Justin Utupo, Bruce Heggie, and Luke Massa; up-and-comers Elijah Shumate, Matt Hegarty, and Anthony Rabasa, plus still-untested 2012 freshmen Mark Harrell and C.J. Prosise, and, dating back to spring 2010, the since-transferred Derek Roback -- a scrimmage flip from quarterback to linebacker that didn't have a chance to take.

There are doubtless a host of others far less publicized, moved at least once behind practice's closed walls. It should thus be of no surprise if two, three, five, or even 10 players from the 2012 roster experience at least evaluation period at a different position this spring and through August.

Below is a look at the most likely:

Offensive Skill Positions

Five quarterbacks, six running backs, 10 (healthy) wide receivers, and five tight ends...Notre Dame has compiled an ideal distribution of talent across its skill position spectrum for 2013. Movement merely to augment depth is thus unlikely.

Quarterback: None. Since-transferred Nate Montana was purportedly asked to play safety prior to his 2011 off-season transfer. Luke Massa made the move that spring to wide receiver, but the position has been static since.

Running Back: None. McDaniel moved to cornerback last spring due largely to the transfer of early enrollee Tee Shepard. He's back where he belongs and will compete heavily for time as a runner this fall, albeit with three others in the spring and two freshmen in August.

Wide Receiver: None since Massa moved in. 11 targets will be on campus in August, though 10 is likely the active number with incoming freshman Torii Hunter, Jr., sidelined by a broken femur. A strong blocker on the perimeter, 6'4" 215-pound senior Daniel Smith is a favorite of fans wondering if he could play tight end, but no such indication has come from Kelly or his staff.

Tight End: Also appears set after Niklas' move last winter, with five competitors for the fall; four in the spring, and none of the quintet exhausting eligibility at season's end.

Offensive Line

Junior G/T Nick Martin will compete with former high school tackle and classmate Matt Hegarty for the starting center position. Also in the mix is former high school tackle/tight end Mark Harrell, who Kelly said impressed in bowl practices last December.

Its not inconceivable starting 2012 right tackle Christian Lombard could receive further evaluation at guard, though I believe Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand like what they have in junior Conor Hanratty for the position.

Five incoming freshmen linemen will likely receive multiple evaluations, despite the present-day convenient slotting of Mike McGlinchey and Steve Elmer at tackle, and John Montelus, Hunter Bivin, and Colin McGovern at G/C.

Defensive Line

Senior Kona Schwenke began as a freshman edge rusher under Kelly in 2010 -- 70-plus pounds later and Schwenke is now a backup on the nose and at defensive tackle. Junior Tony Springmann began as a true nose guard in '11 but redshirted. He played more defensive end than nose last season in a major backup role.

Sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day is versatile enough to play inside in pass-rushing situations, but that's not a position switch; just modern line play. Ditto junior defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who often lined up on the nose as a freshman in 2011.

Redshirt-freshman defensive end Jarron Jones is oft-referenced as the team's nose guard of the future. At 6'5" 299 as of last August, it makes sense, but Jones will have to learn to play with a lower pad level before he could compete vs. the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, and Oklahoma, even in a backup role next September.

Jones was projected by FOX Sports NEXT as an offensive tackle entering college but that move appears unlikely in viewing both lines and their respective depth.


Now it gets interesting. Notre Dame has five scholarship inside 'backers, and just four for spring ball. It has six present Cat/Dogs, with two more joining as freshmen in the fall. Someone will move inside, but it might not happen this spring, as junior preferred walk-on Joe Schmidt can fill in during practice sessions. Schmidt is a special teams starter.

Look for 2012 Dog/Cat linebacker Romeo Okwara to begin work with defensive ends. Considering defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Bob Diaco has senior Prince Shembo, junior Ishaq Williams, and redshirt-sophomore Anthony Rabasa already on hand at the Cat, plus senior Danny Spond and redshirt-sophomore Ben Councell in play at the Dog, it seems prudent to give the 6'4" 240-pound and still-growing 17-year-old Okwara at least a look up front.

Add to that incoming freshman Jaylon Smith as a potential star on the edge, and a move by Okwara could be of great benefit by 2014.

Safety and Cornerback

Including incoming freshman Max Redfield, safeties coach Bob Elliott has eight scholarship players to tutor, none of which will exhaust eligibility at season's end. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks has nine including a trio of incoming freshmen -- I expect those numbers to flip with the "move" of 2012 nickel and technical cornerback Elijah Shumate back to safety.

Shumate could compete for a two-deep role at safety -- or even the starting spot opposite incumbent Matthias Farley -- while conversely, his path to anything more than a fourth cornerback role appears blocked by the return of starters Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell and ahead-of-schedule senior Lo Wood, who easily won a starting job last August before suffering a torn Achilles.

Redshirt-junior safety Eilar Hardy has been evaluated at cornerback and nickel in the past. He noted to Irisheyes.com last spring he's far more comfortable at safety or nickel than on the corner.

Redshirt-freshman safety John Turner is my lead candidate to one day move to linebacker (Dog), but that's purely speculative at present, and a result of a glut of young safeties on the roster. Turner's classmate, C.J. Prosise, began his college career at Dog linebacker out of necessity, but moved back to his natural safety spot when Danny Spond returned from illness/injury last September.

Safety competition in spring, and especially August, will be fierce.

Overall Observations

It's a list likely to change by Spring Media Day, and guaranteed to change over the next seven months, but below is a look at position switches, announced or projected as of mid-February:

- G/T Nick Martin to C (per Kelly)
- CB Elijah Shumate to S (my supposition, logic)
- DE Jarron Jones to NG/DT (supposition, logic, positional depth)
- LB Romeo Okwara to DE (supposition, logic)
- C Matt Hegarty back to OT (pure supposition on my part).

Oft-speculated moves I don't think we'll see: Cat 'backer Ishaq Williams to DE, Dog 'backer Danny Spond to the inside, Cat 'backer Anthony Rabasa inside (again), RT Christian Lombard to RG.

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