Walking Wounded on the Move, Mend

Our first spring notebook reviews 10 Notre Dame players returning from off-season or 2012 season surgeries. Each appears ready to compete this spring, or is in position to participate and return to a starting role next August.

It starts with junior center Matt Hegarty, and his remarkable recovering from January heart surgery. But it doesn't end there.

Notre Dame's list of the recovering and walking wounded is apparently…running.

None of the nine surgically repaired players noted above appears behind the curve, at least not according to head coach Brian Kelly today, his first address for the 2013 Irish.

"Matt Hegarty was a guy that went down for us, had a potentially serious impact to whether he would play again; he's 100 percent cleared. He's had a great off-season for us.  He's been able to do all the things we asked him to do.  He'll be an important player in getting on the field on the offensive line."

"As it relates to some of the players that had surgery after the season, really pleased with Bennett Jackson and the strength he's been able to put on. I think when you look at an injury, sometimes it puts them back a number of weeks in the weight training and conditioning process. Our strength and conditioning and sports medicine directors work hand-in-hand, and those players have made great strides.

"It is an injured body part; it's not a player that can't work out.  I think that's an important distinction to make in that Bennett Jackson is stronger, more physical."

"You look at Dan Fox, the same thing, relative to his shoulder. Ronnie Stanley has put on weight after elbow surgery.

"Amir Carlisle, we're starting to see him as almost 100 percent. We saw some real exciting flashes from Amir…Lo Wood coming back healthy (with) 14 pounds of muscle since he was injured."

Kelly noted there were seven workouts in which coaches were involved in conditioning elements and that he was "really pleased" with Austin Collinsworth, who is likewise cleared for spring practice, as is his classmate, senior tight end Alex Welch.

"Moving very well. In terms of his size, 246 pounds. (Ben) Koyack is 261, (Troy) Niklas is 259, and (Joey) Brooks is 222," said Kelly of the tight end unit, adding walk-on and scholarship basketbaall player Joey Brooks to the equation. "We're getting the kind of guys that can go in there and physically hold their own at that position.

"He's a really accomplished pass catcher, too.  He can catch the football," Kelly added of Welch. "He's got really good hands. I remember him at Elder High School when I was at Cincinnati.  I thought he was one of the best tight ends in terms of catching the football.  Now he's got some size to him."

"I haven't seen signs of him being fatigued and not being able to finish some of the real difficult workouts that we've had."

The apparent across-the-board recovery elicited praise by Kelly for athletic trainer Rob Hunt and strength and conditioning coach, Paul Longo.

"Really, really pleased with our ability to take both of those components, the strength and conditioning, all the work that we do relative to rehab and sports medicine, and Rob and Paul do a great job of working together. We're well ahead of where we've been in the first couple years relative to those players that were injured.  They look great."

Also on the mend is safeties coach Bob Elliott.

"A number have asked, I appreciate this, about Coach Elliott.  He had a kidney transplant.  He is doing extremely well.  He's been at our morning conditioning the last couple weeks.  He's looking great.  He's back to being a pain in the butt, so we know he's doing well."

Fifth-Years Made Official

Four were guaranteed, but two of their classmates likely had to sweat waiting word of one more season of football in South Bend.

As expected by all, left tackle and returning captain Zack Martin, his roommate and fellow left-sider Chris Watt, and the WIll linebacker tandem of Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox will return for a final season in South Bend.

Joining them is backup kicker Nick Tausch (Tausch won the starting job over Kyle Brindza last season, but was injured prior to Week Two), and surprise addition Tyler Stockton, the 2012 scout team player of the year for his work on both the defensive and offensive lines.

Unprompted, Kelly offered Stockton as one of the off-season's team leaders.

"I'll give you a couple examples: Lo Wood has been terrific in terms of leadership; Jarrett Grace has been terrific in terms of leadership. Tyler Stockton, who didn't play much for us, is a leader even though he's not on the field."

(Stockton hasn't played since injuring his shoulder as a sophomore midway through the 2010 season, Kelly's first in South Bend.)

"But guys are starting to understand what it takes to be a leader.  You can say 'leadership' all you want, but what does that mean?  It means holding others accountable. It's still a work in progress for us, but I like what I'm starting to hear out there.  We're hearing people speak up, taking that level of accountability and running with it."

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