A time for change

O'Malley's first notebook of the weekend examines a handful of Irish competitors who will embark on position switches -- and in one case, flipping sides of scrimmage -- this spring.

While news of senior center *Nick Martin's non-position switch offered a moment of press conference levity -- not to mention apparent free pizza for yours truly courtesy head coach Brian Kelly -- a number of Notre Dame's roster members are slated for a new set of duties this spring.

(*Martin was listed as a G/T rather than C, a mere clerical error leftover from 2012.)

Chief among them is 19-game starter and two-year regular Matthias Farley. The senior moves from safety to cornerback with an eye toward better utilizing his skill set in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's scheme.

"We've moved him out to corner, we're going to give him an opportunity to play corner. One thing about Farley and as we've looked at the depth we have back there, the one thing coach Van Gorder is looking for is outside-in players and inside-out players at that position," said Kelly. "We think he can be a very good player and especially a tackler from an outside-in position. He's been playing inside-out, running the alley inside-out.

"We think he can be a very good force player from an outside-in position, and he's really a good athlete, he can run, and he has very good ball skills. We're going to give him an opportunity to go out there and compete, we're going to play more than two corners, we're going to play as many as four, so we're going to take a look at him this spring."

Farley began his Irish career as a slot receiver, moving to safety in the spring of 2012. He started 11 games that season, most in relief of injured starter Jamoris Slaughter and played well as a rookie before tailing off, notably as an open-field tackler, last fall.

Embarking on a similar switch is 2013 freshman wide receiver James Onwualu, who moves to safety for his sophomore campaign.


Onwualu was a standout special teams starter last fall

"That was a tough one for me because he's so valuable offensively in a number of ways," said Kelly. "He's such a consistent player, he loves to compete. He's got great contact skills, he's a ferocious competitor, and I wanted to take a look at him because he's such a physical player.

"He has incredible volume to him in terms of his ability to play every play. This was the time to take a look at him and see."

Finding a Fit

Not included among the pre-spring position changes were any outside linebackers moving in. Because of the slow recovery experienced by 2013 starter Jarrett Grace (broken tibia), Notre Dame will play the 15-practice spring session with just four scholarship inside 'backers: 5th-year senior Michael Deeb, senior Joe Schmidt (a former preferred walk-on) and sophomore Michael Deeb, who did not play last season.

Also in the mix is sophomore Doug Randolph, out all of the 2013 season after August shoulder surgery. Recruited as a pass-rushing linebacker, Randolph is working at the Will linebacker position, the same position he occupied prior to surgery last August.

Grace is expected to return in the fall and the program welcomes three rookies as well, most notably five-star freshman prospect Nyles Morgan.

While the inside 'backers remain stagnant, the outside group received an additional competitor with safety John Turner's move closer to scrimmage. The 6'0" 217-pound junior played all 13 games last season as a member of the Irish run teams (coverage and return units).

"He's going to play to the field (wide side)," said Kelly. "He would play what we're calling the Drop/Sam position."

Jaylon Smith is the presumed starter at the position, formerly referred to as the Dog by Irish fans and media.


Carlisle will also likely return kicks in 2014

On the other side of scrimmage, 2013 running backs Will Mahone and Amir Carlisle are now listed at WR and RB/WR, respectively.

"We have a good stable of 'backs there and I'm just trying to get guys reps," said Kelly. "We don't have as much depth at that position so I want to take a look as him as a slot receiver, too."

As for Mahone's move, it could be temporary, but Kelly noted the former four-star prospect's ball skills last August, offering at the time:

"Will Mahone had a great off-season (2013). He's had a great camp. He's playing a little bit more in the slot, getting the ball to him. He's got very good ball skills."

"We didn't even know how good his balls skills were until we started to put him in the slot a little bit more. He's come on. He's probably been one of those guys in the first few days that's caught our attention. You saw in the scrimmage, he had a very elusive run, runs with low pads. We've got a lot of depth there. Guys that can help us win."

Mahone suffered a high ankle sprain shortly thereafter and later broke his foot after returning to the fray, ending his season by late October.

-- Future offensive line changes, i.e., tackle to guard, guard to center, etc., are likely, though none are listed on the spring roster, nor were any discussed in an official capacity. (Especially Nick Martin.)

Down to 84

Expected fifth-year senior Luke Massa elected not to return to the program. Massa served as the team's holder last fall for kicker Kyle Brindza and worked as a scout team receiver and emergency quarterback.

"Luke is not coming back for his fifth year," Kelly offered. "He had gone back and forth. He really thought about it and he's got a great opportunity for an internship that's going to lead to a job offer and I said, 'Look, you can't turn that down.'

"As much as he would have done anything we'd ask him to do, he's got a great opportunity to start his career, so he's going to do it."

Massa's departure opened up the team's previously filled 85th (and final) scholarship spot for 2014.

"You know what," Kelly joked of the intimated possibility that another scholarship player join the fray, "Sometimes I can't keep track of all these numbers."

A current walk-on could receive a scholarship invitation as well as did Joe Schmidt (2013), Chris Salvi (2012), and David Ruffer (2011) over the previous three seasons.


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