Watch List: OffenseWith the quarterback pecking order -- Everett Golson, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Malik Zaire -- relatively set, today's full-practice viewing and expected scrimmage offers a chance to monitor the rest of the offense's key components.
For reasons both good and bad, Notre Dame's wide receivers have been the unit of note this spring. While redshirt-freshman C.J. Prosise is doubtless the most intriguing skill player to watch Saturday, its senior X receiver T.J. Jones that has shown the most in the media's limited practice viewings to date.
Aggressive off the line, one-hand grabs, effortless catches in stride, sideline tightropes, Jones has shown it all. It will be interesting to see him in live contact action vs. the team's cornerbacks, especially Keivarae Russell, the only fully healthy front-line corner.
- Also turning heads for his ball skills is early enrollee freshman Corey Robinson. Today we'll get a better indication how he goes and gets it inside the hash marks rather than in his comfort level running down the sidelines and leaping for a fade or flag route.
- Cam McDaniel heads our watch list for running backs. His classmate George Atkinson has held down the starting role throughout the spring, but in an interview conducted with McDaniel yesterday, its apparent there's no consolation prize in his sights. Like Atkinson, McDaniel works every day to start, noting that's been his mindset regardless of past veteran competition. (He added he expects the same from incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.)
McDaniel's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will be our focus Saturday -- his aggressiveness and toughness as a runner isn't in question.
- Junior Troy Niklas has yet to cede snaps as the first string tight end, but the veteran pair of Alex Welch and Ben Koyack aren't far behind. Koyack is the most intriguing today: Is Scout.com's former No. 1 ranked tight end as advertised as a pass-catcher? We know he needs work as a blocker, but lost from the tight end position is 96 pass targets and All-America Tyler Eifert.
Passes are available to anyone proving his wares.
- The offensive front is tough to gauge without a full scrimmage (something that's expected today). Center is the no-brainer spot to monitor, with classmates Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty the current 1-2 punch; Martin the leader as the spring draws to a close.
Junior Amir Carlisle remains active in pass-catching drills, but his broken collarbone precludes contact. His story will be written in August camp and beyond.
Watch List: DefenseIts all about the defensive backs this spring, and with senior Bennett Jackson out of pads, and his classmate and early spring standout Lo Wood turning it down a notch as he continues to recover from August 2012 Achilles surgery, today's viewing will turn to junior Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson.
- Can one of the two players, both entering his third season with the program, emerge as a reliable No. 4 cornerback? If not, incoming freshman Cole Luke could press in August. Brown ran with the first unit in a recent practice viewing; Atkinson did so Friday morning. Both will be tested today in a practice quarterback Everett Golson noted will include live action - - the triggerman's red shirt being removed at times to re-assimilate him to full contact.
- With sophomore Nicky Baratti sidelined by off-season shoulder surgery, his classmate Elijah Shumate will exit spring ball as the leader in the clubhouse to start alongside junior Matthias Farley next fall. Shumate's aligned to the field (wide) side, and he admitted Friday night he still has to think about his assignment prior to every snap.
The Shumate/Baratti battle will wage far into August, but today's viewing offers an initial glimpse at the former, a 2012 nickel defender and high school outside linebacker.
- Returning from surgeries and inactivity is the backup safety pair of Austin Collinsworth (boundary) and Eilar Hardy (field). Collinsworth is purportedly "98 percent back" while both received plaudits from position coach Bob Elliott earlier this week. Collinsworth in run support and Hardy going after the ball in the air will catch my attention today.
- Middle linebacker Jarrett Grace has long been a media favorite in open practices, showing well since we first saw Grace go all-out as a freshman in August 2011. Today's session will offer a better look at one of Grace's classmates at linebacker, Ben Councell. The rangy athlete fared well in late season mop-up duty last November in a shutout of Wake Forest and due in part to a nagging shoulder/neck injury to incumbent Danny Spond, Councell has held down the No. 1 Dog 'backer role for the bulk of spring ball.
We'll monitor his ability to set the edge and make plays in space vs. quicker skill athletes.
- The starting front line and key backups Kona Schwenke (NG), Tony Springmann (DE), and Ishaq Williams (Cat) appears set. Today will offer a glimpse at recently beefed up defensive end Justin Utupo, a senior fighting for his first dose of rotation time, and redshirt-freshman four-star Jarron Jones, a player light years away from the field as recently as last December.