Each though deserves mention for their off-season and spring ball efforts -- the last segments seen and evaluated by the coaching staff until August camp. Each has elevated his respective status entering the all-important summer workout sessions.
Off-the-radar, into the mix: Hardy, Stockton, SchmidtNeither of the two scholarship players in the category, Hardy and Stockton, has played a down for head coach Brian Kelly over the last two seasons, and in the junior-to-be Hardy's case, in his collegiate career. Both were mentioned by Kelly when asked last week which long-time reserves might add "functional depth" next season.
Stockton made good on Kelly's plaudits, earning spring game MVP honors from Irisheyes.com. Said Stockton of his return to action for a surprising fifth season of eligibility: "At first when I came for the (spring) semester I thought I was done with football. I was going to have to find a job. Now that I got a fifth year I get to be with my teammates for another year, and I'm really happy about it."
Stockton looked quicker and more athletic than at any point since Kelly's initial spring (2010).
Hardy's depth chart status will be tenuous until he proves he can handle game action -- safety will be the most competitive unit on both the 2013 and 2014 rosters. And his defensive coordinator Bob Diaco noted the former four-star prospect since beset by injuries (most notably a torn ACL in August 2011) still is a long way from contributing on Saturdays.
"We're really pleased with Eilar Hardy, but in saying that, don't put in your mind that you're looking at on the field production," Diaco said. "You're talking about a player whose (previous) evaluation was very, very low. That's just a fact of the matter. And now his evaluation is higher than that.
"To what extent in terms of production for fall 2013, who knows? But he's really focused his energy and life and intensity and effort and he really wants to be a good player, you can see it. He worked at that this winter, and he worked at that this spring. And I'm really pleased with Eilar Hardy."
Preference for Schmidt: He came to South Bend as a preferred walk-on (guaranteed a spot without walk-on tryouts) prior to the 2011 season. Since, Schmidt has traveled with the team ahead of scholarship defenders due largely to his ability to play special teams and acumen for the defense.
The junior-to-be recorded the spring game's biggest "scoring" play, an interception of freshman quarterback Malik Zaire near midfield. Prior to that highlight, Diaco offered Schmidt's name as an inside linebacker of note: "Joe Schmidt's a guy that when you look at Joe from a frame standpoint in a bit out of profile in (comparison) when you look at all those inside linebackers roll-out. But for what he is deficient there he makes up for in his intangible traits.
"He's getting to the ball fast, he's very very bright, he's an instinctual player, he has good initial quickness, and he really understands his assets and liabilities so he can use them to his strength during the play and he's done that this spring."
None from this group will start a game next season. Each has a chance to contribute if their summers are as solid as their springs.
Off-the-radar, into the rotation: Prosise and CouncellA redshirt-freshman last season, Ben Councell started the season opener vs. Navy as an injury replacement for Danny Spond. Councell's playing time decreased each week thereafter, at least in competitive contests. He stood out this spring as a rising player, one capable of offering meaningful snaps next fall.
"If Coach Kelly asked for "Player of the Spring' I would at least throw his name out there. Not that he's the best player of the defense, but in terms of improvement from what he was to what he is, I'd say 'Most improved through spring defensively.' He's definitely one of the guys in the conversation.
"Benjamin has really done a lot and worked on his game."
Prosise began his career last September behind Councell -- an emergency backup at Drop linebacker due to Spond's absence. He moved to his natural safety position by late September, then found his way to the offensive side of scrimmage in bowl preparations, toiling on the scout team.
He'll never see another snap with the Irish show teams.
"Very athletic kid. He didn't fight the ball," Kelly said Saturday. "Seemed to come very natural, but he's very raw. He's got a lot of work to do. but we feel very confident that if we stick with him and continue to work with him that we can see a finished product as we move through the season."
Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin knows he can rely upon upperclassmen T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, and Daniel Smith entering next fall. Sophomore Chris Brown is on the cusp. And that's it. Playing time and opportunity exists for the 6'2" 217-pound Prosise, a player that runs with the fluidity of a much smaller athlete. He'll be one of the top five receivers and top 10 targeted pass catchers -- at worst -- next fall, his first season of competition.
The Road to Recovery: Wood, Welch, and ACCornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks said it best in late March: "This is my first experience as a defensive back coach with that kind of injury. I didn't think he'd even be ready to go through spring, but through the off-season, he came back and did drills, was running around and doing all the agility stuff and looked great. And in the first two days of practice, he looked like he never had an injury. Very pleased and excited about where he is."
Senior cornerback Lo Wood
"He" is senior Lo Wood, then just seven months removed from surgery on a ruptured Achilles. He's eight months out now, and though he sat out the Blue Gold Game and much of the final week of spring ball, that was more reward for his remarkable recovery and production through spring's first 10 practices.
Also lost last August to season-ending injury was Wood's classmate, Alex Welch. The senior tight end made it through spring and participated in Saturday's Blue Gold game despite tearing his ACL on August 11, 2012, at the time ahead of Troy Niklas as the team's No. 2 tight end behind All-America Tyler Eifert.
"He was playing physical. He was creating another line of scrimmage. He was really physical," said Welch's position coach Scott Booker. "He's getting more confidence in his leg every day, he just has to get back to where he was in August (in terms of technique)."
Out of sorts for nearly a calendar year was safety Austin Collinsworth. Now a senior, Collinsworth tore his labrum in the 2012 Blue Gold Game, then had discectomy (back) surgery at the end of last season, never playing a down.
It wasn't until about 10 days ago that Diaco noticed Collinsworth regain his stride.
"You're looking at it through the winter and the early spring and (for Collinsworth) it was like, 'You know, he doesn't look anything like he looked,' said Diaco last week. "But through practice #11 through #14, Austin is getting his timing back. He's starting to look like Austin from two years ago, which is nice. He still has to get strength training, you know, when you have a few things to repair (his shoulder and back) your hole body composition changes, and how you move forward training has to change.
"He still has a lot of work to do, but I've been really pleased with how he's been finishing the spring, or practice 11 through 14 at least."
Its likely each member of the recovering senior trio will be part of the team's two-deep when the Irish hit the field vs. Temple. Each has a chance to start, either in the base, nickel, or two-tight end package on their respective side of scrimmage.