Out with the newSpring 2013 has not been kind to student-athletes that hoped to make their first major impact next fall.
Gone is oft-injured, oft-referenced, but rarely used senior offensive tackle Tate Nichols; his perpetually knee betraying his talent prior to his fourth season with the program, one that will be spent in school, but away from the football team on a medical scholarship.
In jeopardy for that future fate as well is junior defensive end Chase Hounshell, who's surgery this week to repair his injured shoulder was the third on that joint since season-end 2011. He'll miss the 2013 season after missing 2012 for the same reason.
None of the five players removed from the Irish roster this month had made a major impact. But with the likely exception of Ferguson, each would have been a member of Notre Dame's two-deep depth chart him 2013.
In with the oldKiel's departure means senior Tommy Rees maintains a stranglehold on the backup quarterback role. Though the talent-level drop-off from Kiel to Rees is likely great (and proven great from starter Everett Golson to the battle-tested Rees), few program's can claim an 18-game starter and veteran of 23 competitive contests as its relief pitcher. The position remains in good hands.
His strength regained (22 reps of 225 pounds) and less than five pounds away from his target weight of 280 after the lost season of 2012, Hounshell appeared set for a backup defensive end role -- one that enjoyed ample playing time for its inhabitants last fall. Now that will fall to either redshirt-freshman Jarron Jones (6'5" 299), an incoming freshman such as five-star Eddie Vanderdoes (6'3" 302), or perhaps junior Cat linebacker Ishaq Williams, who his head coach noted will get a look this spring in addition to his backup role behind Prince Shembo as the boundary side 'backer.
"Ishaq is going to cross train at the end and the cat position; he wants to," Kelly offered Wednesday. "We can get him 15-to-20 more reps. He's all for that. He'll still get his cat work and he'll get some defensive end as well. Was really impressed with him. We put him in there on Saturday for the first time without any coaching and he did some really nice things for us. Had another good day today. I promised him a visor if he continues to do that."
Ferguson's transfer likely means more reps for early enrollee freshman four-star Corey Robinson, who's greatest impact -- like Ferguson's before defection -- is in future seasons.
Neal was the team's lone listed slot receiver, but the position's designation has been overblown among Irish fans and daily media. Last season the slot receiver was played by Robby Toma, who more often than not, left the field in favor of a second tight end (Troy Niklas) or running back (Theo Riddick; with Riddick ceding backfield time to classmate Cierre Wood).
The position will continue to evolve this spring, summer, and throughout the fall, with redshirt-freshman receiver C.J. Prosise (6'2" 218), senior perimeter starter T.J. Jones, a tight end (Niklas, or Alex Welch, or Ben Koyack, or perhaps true freshman and early enrollee Mike Heuerman) or Heuerman's classmate James Onwualu (6'2" 215) all receiving spring evaluations.
Notre Dame doesn't necessarily "start" a slot receiver. It starts a fifth offensive skill player along with regulars such as DaVaris Daniels, T.J. Jones, a tight end, and a running back. The "slot" designation is more important to fans/media than it is to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin or Kelly.
Irisheyes.com will have more on the "slot" position and its 2013 machinations over the Easter Break.
Keeps Catching BreaksIt took but three practices -- one in full pads -- for Kelly to offer the name of one relative newcomer likely to make an impact: Amir Carlisle.
"He did well. He's going to be an exciting player. He's what we thought he was. He got injured (broken ankle in March 2012), you didn't really see anything. He was limited by the ankle and then the nerve that would not stop firing up on him," said Kelly of the January 2012 USC transfer. "We had a lot of the veterans (at practice) today and Manti (Te'o) was out there, Robby (Toma) was out there, (Kyle) Rudolph, everybody noticed No. 3. He's gonna be a guy that definitely impacts the program."
That impact has been put on hold by surgery to repair a broken clavicle Carlisle suffered in a contact drill.
"Just went down on the shoulder, had somebody land on top of him and just the compression," said Kelly. "He finished the drills and then complained for soreness after. We didn't know at the time. Did an X-ray, found out that he had a clavicle."
"He's about four weeks until we get him cleared for full activities; a minor setback," Kelly said. "Amir has had a great spring. We've seen what we need to see out of him. He'll be a very important player for us."
Said Carlisle in an interview with Irisheyes.com less than 24 hours before the injury: "I'm a competitor. To have the opportunity to compete with an open slate, I'm salivating. I can't wait to continue to show what I can do and do what I can to get on the field in the fall."
New Names To KnowMedia has had access to 30 minutes of one unpadded practice. But in addition to Carlisle, the following relative rookies appear on the rise through the spring sessions first eight days:
Wide Receiver C.J. Prosise: A scout team player at both Dog linebacker and safety in 2012, the redshirt-freshman is now (as in, today, Kelly won't commit to eternity) a full-time wide receiver: "CJ Prosise is doing a great job; really excited about CJ, you'll see a lot of him in the spring, you'll see what I mean," said Kelly Wednesday. "He's been a very pleasant surprise … that's probably the wrong word. He's been what we thought he could be, he's just done it a lot quicker than we thought. Again, you're talking about a slot receiver that's about 210 pounds. Nice hands. Got deceptive speed, can pull away. Then in terms of the run game, we've got a big guy that can do some nice things."
Mike Linebacker Jarrett Grace: Asked specifically about the Mike linebacker competition, Kelly offered: "Pretty excited about that. Jarrett Grace has obviously done an incredibly job or I wouldn't feel that about it. He's a really, really good football player. He's going to be all over the field. Will he have seven interceptions (as did Manti Te'o)? I'm not going in that direction. In terms of run fits, sideline to sideline, communication, he's shown himself to be a really good player for us."
The Quintet of Early Enrollees: Asked first of James Onwualu's new opportunities after Neal's departure, Kelly offered Wednesday: "I think he's got a chance. He's certainly physical enough. He's a smart kid. Yeah, I'd say he's a guy that's probably going to be playing. If he's a guy that plays a lot on offense, that will kind of take care of itself as we go through preseason camp and the year, but he's definitely a kid that's going to be on the field in all of our special teams, he's got that physical ability.
"While you're on that, (wide receiver) Corey Robinson continues to impress. He catches everything in his area code. We've just got to get him stronger. We're going to continue to work with him. He's been very impressive. I just really like the young guys. (Tight end) Mike Heuerman has been in there doing very good things for us as well, (offensive tackle) Steve Elmer. That young group that came in at mid-semester, (quarterback) Malik Zaire, all of them have really adapted well. I could see a few of those guys definitely impacting us this year."
Senior inside Linebacker Kendall Moore: "Kendall Moore is an interesting guy in that Kendall has really high-end athletic ability. High end," said Kelly. Runs, hits. We've just got to get him to run and hit the right people on a consistent basis. He's got great energy, great enthusiasm."
Safety Eilar Hardy: The 2011 recruit has yet to play after missing his first season due to a torn ACL and last year due partly to his recovery. Said Co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks of Hardy: "In year three now, he's a night-and-day difference from even last year. Physically right, his whole game you can tell he worked on it this off-season. He's cleaned up a lot of things in areas he needed to, and he's putting himself in position right now through what he's done this off-season, and through the first two practices, to be a viable option."