Matthias Farley is a lock at the boundary safety position. He is the most experienced of the safeties, and he was clearly the most vocal today. Farley was repeatedly yelling out instructions to the rest of the defense, and he was one of the loudest voices on the field all day. As I've mentioned before, Farley is one of the players looking to step into a leadership role on the defense this season.
"I've always grown up with the impression that you lead by example," Farley said on Sunday. "Just work hard, if something needs to be corrected, needs to be put in place or whatever it may be, then I have no reservations about doing it. Just work hard and try to help wherever I can, if anyone has questions or whatever it may be."
Although the starting boundary safety is set, the same can't be said about the field safety. Sophomore Elijah Shumate was the starter in the spring, and it looks like Shumate is picking up right where he left off in April. Shumate practiced alongside Farley for all of practice, and he looked to be picking up some of that vocalness from the veteran.
Most notably, Shumate is physical. He's been known to be a big hitter, and he had one on DaVaris Daniels today that caught everybody's attention. He also had a few good open field tackles today, showing that he can wrap guys up and limit gains.
"He's still learning," head coach Brian Kelly said of Shumate on Friday. "He's getting better everyday, but there's still competition back there. What we have to do is we have to put the best players on the field. We're still working as coaches to put the best players on the field. He's a gifted player, but he's got some competition."
Fellow sophomore Nicky Baratti is one of this guys competing with Shumate. He spent today getting second team reps with senior boundary safety Austin Collinsworth. Baratti wasn't as dynamic as Shumate, but he showed off some good footwork when going up against the Notre Dame receivers.
It won't be just one guy replacing Tyler Eifert at the tight end position in 2013. It looks like at least two players will get playing time as the Irish use more of a committee to replace the 2012 Mackey Award winner. Troy Niklas has set himself apart from the rest, almost guaranteeing that he will be one of those guys getting playing time. Not only is Niklas is a monster (6-6.5, 270 pounds) out on the field, but he also showed off some good hands. Look for him to be a big target for Tommy Rees in critical situations.
"He's working to get better everyday because he didn't have a lot of opportunities with Eifert, but he's a guy I think can only get better," said Coach Kelly.
As far as the second tight end, Ben Koyack and Alex Welch look to be pretty even. They are about the same size, but Koyack is a few inches taller. Welch opened practice with the first team in a passing drill, but Koyack seemed to be taking most of the first team snaps in drills that required the tight ends to block. The two played together in a few two tight end sets, and Koyack spent some time with Niklas in some sets. Coach Kelly mentioned both players after practice, so it looks like there is still a lot up for grabs.
Coach Kelly said on Friday that he thought this was the most balanced wide receiving corps he has had since coming to Notre Dame. That looked to be true during practice, as the ball was spread out to a number of different players.
Obviously, T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels are locks at the position. They were the two most involved wide receivers last season, and both will only look to take bigger roles in 2013. Another veteran, senior Daniel Smith, spent some time on the stationary bikes, but he did not participate in most of practice with what must have been some sort of slight injury. Chris Brown was also absent for most of practice. Brown was on the field, but he didn't participate in drills after doing a few positional drills at the beginning.
C.J. Prosise was impressive at both the slot position and outside. He took most of his reps with the first team, and he caught everything that came his way. This will be his first full season playing on offense after switching over from the secondary sometime late last season, and it looks as if he could be a major contributor.
Freshman Corey Robinson is the one wide receiver who really caught everyone's attention. At 6-4, Robinson is taller than most of the other receivers, and he had some very impressive catches throughout practice. He could be a bigger target going into the season, but Coach Kelly is not ready to say just how much playing time the freshman will have.
"I think he'll have a role," Coach Kelly said of Robinson. "He's not a complete player yet. Physically, he's still growing, but I don't think it takes anybody too long to figure out that he's got a great catching radius, and if you put the ball in the right position, he can go up and get it."
Overall, Coach Kelly is happy with where his team is after four days, but he notes that they still have awhile to go before the season kicks off against Temple.
"We have a lot of weapons," he said. "We have a lot of guys that can help us win. It's just so early. It's four days. We're four days into it. We've got a lot of great players. We've got depth. We've just got to keep grinding away and see where it all shakes out."