Sophomores in the Mix

Our daily "Spring Status" series today examines a pair of sophomores, one that forced his way onto the field and one withheld from action as a freshman last fall.

Asked on National Signing Day to identify potential freshmen that could force their way into Notre Dame's two-deep rotation next fall, Irish head coach Brian Kelly explained a reality few fans and media want to accept on a day that celebrates rookies rather than veterans.

"I thought standing here last year if you had asked me, I would have pulled out some of the skill guys to do that, and then (defensive end) Isaac Rochell plays for us," Kelly said.

Rochell's presence proved essential, even if his 11-game impact (10 total tackles) was not.

The latter should change in a 2014 sophomore season in which the 6'5" 280-plus pound end exits spring as either a threat to start at defensive end (regardless of the front) or serve as the line's key backup -- a potential "swing" player that could fill in at multiple positions in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme.

With Sheldon Day (certain) and Jarron Jones (likely) to hold down two of four line positions, Rochell enters spring ball in competition with quicker edge rushers (Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams), more stout interior options (Tony Springmann) and an upperclassmen (Chase Hounshell) with similar measurables.

Rochell might possess the best combination of power and quickness of the latter competing group -- his quest for an eventual lead role has begun in earnest, and an unproven defensive front needs Rochell to develop ahead of schedule.

The Unknown

Notre Dame's inside linebacker options this spring include an injured senior, a 5th-year player that's never threatened for a starting role, and a former walk-on that worked best -- at least in the previous scheme -- as a pass defender in dime packages.

And there's Michael Deeb, the former three-star prospect from Plantation, Fla., that many Irish fans thought could break through for a varsity spot as a true freshman last fall. Deeb was instead withheld from action, much like former starters Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese (and Grace, Moore, and Schmidt, to boot) before him.

From that lot, only Calabrese found a sophomore season starting role, though Grace and Fox played crucial roles on special teams, and one might have rotated from scrimmage more had Manti Te'o not been omnipresent inside.

Deeb has an outside chance to start next fall, though the key to a successful spring is that he put himself in position to challenge for that role with what promises to be a hotly contested August battle that includes incoming five-star prospect Nyles Morgan.

With Grace kept from contact through the spring session, the door is open for Deeb to end April in line for a starting spot.

He can't win the job in March or April, but he can lose it. Deeb's next 15 practices will be invaluable in his 2014 development, though at worst it appears special teams duties are in the offing.

Note: Click the links below for previous spring status reports:

Jones and Stanley

Prosise, Baratti, Daly

Turner, Mahone, Harrell

McGovern, Randolph, Matuska, Kinlaw

Heuerman, Bivin, Montelus

McGlinchey, Hunter, Bryant, Smythe, Zaire


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