Backup Brigade: Part II

Who are Notre Dame's best players for 2013 yet to start a game? We have our third category in Part II: Next Man In

Click here for Part I and our first two categories: "New Era Irish" and "Finding the Next Farley?"

Next Man In

None of members of this category are expected to start…from Day One. All are within an unfortunate hit of a start -- or your glass is half-full -- of a standout camp and/or relief effort of earning significant playing time.

Senior Boundary Safety Austin Collinsworth (2): Collinsworth could technically challenge for the field safety role against sophomores Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti (and incoming freshman Max Redfield) but it appears he'll instead serve as a reliable backup to Matthias Farley on the boundary and challenge for nickel and dime starting roles. After missing 2012, the 2011 Special Teams Player of the Year is a lock for specialty duties again this fall.

Senior Quarterback Andrew Hendrix (2): It seems implausible he won't' play a key role, just as it seemed highly unlikely he'd do so just four months ago. The defection of Gunner Kiel and the expulsion of Everett Golson have given Hendrix new life and a likely fifth season invitation for 2014. Can Notre Dame win 10 games without Hendrix's running ability playing a major part?

Senior Defensive End Justin Utupo (2): Barring a surge from redshirt-freshman Jarron Jones (likely still a year away) or from four-star prospect Isaac Rochell, Utupo is the No. 4 defensive end for 2013 (Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, and Tony Springmann). The senior improved throughout the last calendar year and his stock rose when five-star Eddie Vanderdoes decided to stay within six hours of his home for college. Reality check: The No. 4 defensive end MUST play a key role in Mike Elston's defensive line. Opportunity knocks for Utupo.

Junior Running Back Cam McDaniel (2): Likely enters camp as the No. 2 running back behind George Atkinson but with healthy Amir Carlisle in the fold, McDaniel is in reality a No. 3 'back. His toughness, balance, and overall acumen for the position guarantee playing time. How much depends on the development of freshmen such as Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, the production and health of Atkinson and Carlisle, plus McDaniel's own improvement from the spring.

Junior Field/Drop Linebacker Ben Councell (3): Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's nomination for Spring 2013's most improved player, Councell plays a position that includes last year's breakout defender in senior Danny Spond, as well as one of the nation's best incoming football players in freshman Jaylon Smith. After two seasons (2010-11) of searching for anything from the Drop linebacker position, the Brian Kelly regime appears to possess an embarrassment of riches instead.

Junior Center Matt Hegarty (3): Behind classmate Nick Martin (previewed in Part I) due largely to a heart condition that sidelined him from November up to the outset of spring ball. Like Martin, Hegarty is a converted tackle, and like Martin, his best football is likely set for 2014-15 rather than this fall -- but one of them, or both, must play well for the team to reach the BCS Bowl level in 2013 as well.

Sophomore Tackle Ronnie Stanley (3/4): Not only is Stanley slated to be the first tackle off the bench, he's the only non-freshman tackle prospect available behind senior starters Zack Martin and Christian Lombard. Though he debuted last season, head coach Brian Kelly believes Stanley will receive a redshirt-year after suffering an elbow injury that required surgery after a Week Four win over Michigan. (The injury limited his development this spring.) If Stanley is indeed the Next Man In at some point, Irish fans should hope the occurrence is later rather than sooner, as its unlikely he'll be up to speed in September.

Sophomore Boundary (Cat) Linebacker Romeo Okwara (3): The only technical third-stringer to make the list, Okwara would have benefitted greatly from a redshirt-season last fall. Its not impossible he could take one this season instead (a true sophomore and promising athlete, Okwara is not yet 18 years old). He enters camp as the No. 3 boundary linebacker behind Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams, two players he's unlikely to beat out. Regardless, he can play, and Diaco's defense would doubtless benefit from his presence over a 12-game slate.

Note: Tomorrow in Part III -- Freshmen of impact.
Later in the series: Others looking to fight through at crowded positions…. Top Stories