Three-Year Itch

A trio of Irish juniors (redshirt-sophomores) look to improve their respective fall standing with improvement this spring.

Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class has whittled to 13 competitors, eight of whom have worked their way into starting roles entering spring practice 2014.

Three from that group, running back Will Mahone, safety John Turner, and offensive guard/center Mark Harrell begin the spring in search of initial scrimmage roles on football Saturdays.

From run teams to in the running?

Indianapolis (Cathedral High School) product John Turner appeared in each of Notre Dame's 13 games last season, covering kicks and punts while also serving as a blocker on the punt return unit. Though Turner made just four tackles last fall, two of them saved potential game-changing (or to be more accurate, "winning") touchdowns, the first a stop 48 yards downfield on a punt return by USC's Nelson Agholor, the second teaming with kicker Kyle Brindza as the last line of defense at the 50-yard line against Navy when Midshipmen returner Marcus Thomas threatened to answer a late Irish score with one of his own.

The 6'2" 207-pound athlete has served as both a safety and drop linebacker during practice, his only scrimmage tackle to date occurring vs. the best team the Irish faced last fall, Michigan State early in the third quarter.

A stacked (seven-deep) but not-yet-proven safety corps seemingly impedes Turner's quest for a two-deep role next fall, though new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder offers a fresh start to all competitors.

Second Impression

Felled first by injuries (high ankle sprain, broken foot), Mahone's next obstacle to playing time is the presence of four fellow runners -- two older, two younger -- each of which begin spring practice higher in the team's skill position rotation than does the former four-star from Youngstown, Ohio.

Mahone made his mark last August

Mahone made waves early last August as a surprising receiving option from the slot position, but a mid-August ankle sprain kept him from a chance at early playing time. The break that ensued thereafter truncated his season by the time Oklahoma rolled through South Bend in late September.

He's yet to earn a rushing attempt, playing only against Purdue and Michigan State last fall, though the quickness and RAC (run-after-catch) potential Mahone flashed last August should position him well to compete as a slot receiver if not No. 5 runner in the team's backfield this spring.

Notre Dame will likely find time for seven, possibly eight, wide receivers and each of its five running backs early next September. Future rotation time will be determined by each's performance and trust-level accrued thereafter.

The 11th man?

Notre Dame's spring offensive line features 11 competitors. It's fall collection will have 15, and included in that Autumn collection are 14 former four-star prospects per

Mark Harrell is the lone three-star, though that mythical status is less relevant than the reality that Harrell was a high school tight end (and occasional tackle) asked to convert to center upon his arrival at the college level. Harrell has since found more practice time at guard, appearing in a reserve role in a blowout win at Air Force and late in a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers.

With senior starter Nick Martin ahead of schedule but not likely taking full contact this spring following a torn ACL suffered last November against BYU, Harrell could earn No. 2 center time behind senior Matt Hegarty.

Though a future (when Martin returns) No. 3 center role seems a detriment to playing time, there's likewise a glut of potential guard competitors to deal with including sophomore Steven Elmer (a potential tackle), 5th-year senior Christian Lombard (ditto), senior Conor Hanratty, and redshirt-freshmen Colin McGovern, John Montelus, and Hunter Bivin -- the latter of which could also play tackle.

Harrell's versatility (center/guard) is key to his first chance at a two-deep role, but it might not come organically. That is, he's unlikely to be the No. 2 entering August and ascend due to one injury. The former tight end will likely get a shot at the field as one of Kyle Brindza's trio of in-space blockers on the punting unit as Harrell's footwork in space would be better than that of former blockers Hegarty, Bruce Heggie, and Jarron Jones.

Note: Next in our "Spring Status" series: juniors Nicky Baratti, Scott Daly, and C.J. Prosise. Top Stories