Depth Chart Analysis: Offense

O'Malley examines the relative surprises, job shares, and various points of interest from Notre Dame's fluid depth chart as the 2013 season begins. Who'll play Saturday? Who'll play the most? Will the Irish use extra tight ends more often than a fourth (or third?) receiver? How many runners can see action with the game still in doubt?

If you've followed the four-year Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame, there is but one truth regarding his official season-opening depth chart each week: it's for entertainment purposes only.

For most of the season, only the list of starters is remotely accurate. Plenty of Irish players listed and not listed will contribute over the next three months. Below is a rundown of what we know -- and assume -- entering the season opener vs. Temple.

For informational purposes, the official depth chart can be found here.

Running Backs

George Atkinson (named the starter), Amir Carlisle (capable as a slot receiver as well), Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant.

Said Kelly of the notion that Saturday is an audition of sorts for the runners, "I think it's an audition every week for all of our players, right? I think some guys are put in that position. Whether all five of them (including freshman Tarean Folston) get that opportunity this weekend for that audition, I don't know. But certainly I think you could characterize it as such.

"They're not all going to get 20 carries, right, so they're going to get their chance and they're going to have to make the best of their opportunity.  But I can tell you this:  That at some point at some time in the season, you're going to get a chance to see all those guys play."

Look for the four listed above Saturday, with Atkinson earning at least 15 carries provided he runs physically and does not fumble. Carlisle is too good to keep out of the lineup and stresses a defense in more ways than does Atkinson -- but Atkinson is faster and 30 pounds heavier -- that's hard to ignore until proven otherwise.

McDaniel is likely to earn a first-half series and I'd expect Bryant to debut late in the second quarter or carry the load in the fourth.

(Redshirt-freshman RB/Slot Will Mahone will not play due to a mid-camp ankle injury.)

Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Atkinson. The offensive line should provide GA3 with running lanes, and with room to roam, he's an elite size/speed player …I'm just not sure he can create his own space as can Carlisle, but that's a concern for next week.

Wide Receivers

T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, Daniel Smith, James Onwualu

A seventh, spring-standout C.J. Prosise, was not listed on either the two-deep or "Probable Non-Starter Contributors," the latter a bit alarming. Assistant coach Tony Alford once told me the receivers unit keeps seven players for "varsity" action in practice and prefers to employ six on game day.

Jones and Daniels will receive the lion's share of snaps, with Jones likely to play in both the slot (Z) and field side (X) roles. Daniels is the technical boundary side (W) starter but play every position as well. Brown is listed as the third starter and I saw him aligned to the slot often in practice. He like Daniels and Jones can play anywhere.

Smith's likely home is to the slot or boundary and his primary role will be to augment the running game (if he's aligned wide to the field "X" he's thus too far from the action). Smith wasn't at full speed until the final week of camp so he could earn fewer reps this week than any going forward.

Robinson appeared to work exclusively outside (boundary or field) and he was a dominant pass-catcher in every practice the media attended. Fellow true freshman James Onwualu has the body to contribute as a blocker in the slot, but my opinion is that he's behind the listed quintet in terms of game day snaps at receiver. Onwualu worked outside as well in practice viewings.

Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Daniels. Jones is the most polished of the group but Daniels has the athletic skill to cut up Temple Saturday afternoon. Look for Robinson to be used as a fade route receiver on third and long, not just in goal line situations.

Tight End Trio

Each member of the upperclass threesome -- Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, and Alex Welch -- will play plenty. Notre Dame prefers its "12 package" (two tight end) and used its "13" (three) often last September. Look for Koyack more often than not to be detached from scrimmage, Welch in-line, and Niklas both in-line and in motion.

Based on recent staff history, I'd expect the second tight end (it appears to be Koyack) to receive as many or more snaps than a third wide receiver, and for Welch to receive as many as the fourth, and certainly more than the fifth.

Pick to Click vs. the Owls: Niklas, through sheer playing time volume.

Skill Position Overview

Projecting which players will receive the most snaps Saturday vs. Temple, in order: Jones, Daniels, Atkinson, Niklas, Carlisle, Koyack, Brown, Welch, Smith, McDaniel, Robinson, Bryant, Onwualu.

Look for backup Andrew Hendrix to get a series in the first half in relief of starting quarterback Tommy Rees and then take the Irish through the fourth quarter and into the locker room thereafter. A guess: look for Malik Zaire to be preserved until he's pressed into action, either by injury to Rees or Hendrix, or ineffectiveness from one of the above.

Offensive Line

Zack Martin (LT), Chris Watt (LG), Nick Martin (C), Christian Lombard (RG), Ronnie Stanley (RT).

Martin, Watt, and the younger Martin won't leave the field with the game in doubt or uninjured. Neither will Lombard, though he could shift back to his 2012 position (RT) to allow junior guard Conor Hanratty a series at right guard with the game still in a competitive state. Look for true freshman Steven Elmer to spell Stanley for a series while the game is young as well.

Both Stanley and Elmer need seasoning, so Elmer could shift to Martin's left tackle spot in relief if the Irish pull away as expected.

Expect backup center Matt Hegarty to play when the game is no longer in doubt, and potentially redshirt-freshman guard Mark Harrell to make his debut appearance, though Harrell was seen out of uniform an don an exercise bike at the media's most recent practice viewing (August 22).

Four other freshmen linemen: Hunter Bivin (a technical two-deep member at LT), Mike McGlinchey (T), John Montelus (G), and Colin McGovern (G) are unlikely to play -- the latter pair still working their way back from off-season surgeries. (Montelus never appeared in uniform during media practice viewings.)

Senior G/C Bruce Heggie would be used to preserve a freshman's eligibility.

Analysis: Expect eight to play, seven in competitive situations.


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