11 of the dozen were withheld from action completely last fall while another, running back Greg Bryant, played sparingly before his season was truncated by a knee procedure.
If Kelly's history in South Bend is an accurate indicator, at least two and up to a handful of the group will make a major impact this fall. Bryant, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, and receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., are reasonable candidates to start next season. Tight ends Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman, quarterback Malik Zaire, offensive tackle/guard Hunter Bivin, and inside linebacker Michael Deeb are likely candidates for two-deep duty and/or starting roles.
QB Malik Zaire embarks on his second spring
Best of the BestEach from the group above will have a chance to make a lasting impression this spring, but before we look ahead, below is a look at back the Kelly era's best redshirt-freshmen, starting at the top.
#1 QB Everett Golson (2012): Considering Golson led the Irish to the precipice of a national championship, it can be argued he was the best -- or at least most important -- redshirt-freshman in the nation in 2012, much less the top dog of the Kelly era. 10 wins in 11 starts is the official number, but Golson excelled in a non-starting role vs. Miami, was the team's offensive standout in wins over Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and USC.
Golson led the Irish in rushing touchdowns (6) and accounted for 18 scores albeit with 10 turnovers (including three fumbles in Notre Dame's classic victory over Stanford).
#2 LT Zack Martin (2010): Earned the team's Guardian of the Year award as the program's top offensive lineman in Kelly's first season and never relinquished the mantle thereafter winning in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Martin ranked as Irisheyes.com sixth-best player overall in the 2010 season (and never fell below that level topping out at No. 2 last fall).
#3 RB Cierre Wood (2010): Became the first former redshirted freshmen in program history to later lead an Irish squad in rushing, and Wood did so in his first season of play. Took over the lead role from Armando Allen when the senior was lost for the season following the oft-referenced October 23 loss to Navy that dropped the Irish to 4-4 overall.
Finished the final five game stretch (including a loss to Tulsa in which Wood caught the only pair of touchdown receptions in his career) accruing 473 all-purpose yards with a trio of scores.
Wood ranks as the best former redshirted runner in program history
#4 TE Tyler Eifert (2010): Would rank a spot higher if not for the presence of junior Kyle Rudolph during the season's first six games. Eifert took over a full-time role when Rudolph was lost following the Pittsburgh contest (from which Notre Dame emerged 3-3 in victory) and the Fort Wayne, Bishop Dwenger product ripped off 26 receptions for 335 yards and a pair of scores over the season's last seven games.
Added a rarely discussed recovery of a Cierre Woods fumble at USC that preserved Notre Dame's game-winning drive in the final quarter.
#5 NG Louis Nix (2011): Anchored a unit that finished 24th nationally in scoring defense and yielded just eight rushing scores over the 13-game slate. Nix finished with 45 tackles including 4.5 for lost yardage.
Daniels emerged as a weapon in 2012
#6 WR DaVaris Daniels (2012): Finished fourth on the title-contending Irish with 31 receptions and fourth in receiving yards (490) while leading qualifying receivers at 15 yards per catch. Daniels put forth key contributions in wins over Purdue, Oklahoma, and PIttsburgh, but was held without a catch in two games and did not play in three others due to injury. Was the team's best offensive weapon in the BCS Championship game, registering 115 yards on six catches.
#7 S Matthias Farley (2012): Started the season-opener as an outside linebacker (defending Navy's triple-option) and started the season's final 10 games after 5th-year senior Jamoris Slaughter was lost to injury. Farley finished with 49 tackles including two for lost yardage -- both in goal-to-go situations -- and intercepted a pass he returned 49 yards downfield against Stanford in the team's 20-13 overtime win.
Farley greatly aided the 12-1 Irish in 2012
#8 RT Ronnie Stanley (2013): Like 2014 RS-Frosh Greg Bryant, Stanley appeared in two games as a true freshmen in 2012 but was lost for the season due to an elbow injury. Stanley started all 13 games last season for the 9-4 Irish, joining team captain Zack Martin as the only offensive linemen to make it through the season unscathed (the pair, plus quarterback Tommy Rees and tight end Troy Niklas, were the only Irish offensive players to start all 13 contests).
Stanley helped pave a path over the right side for running back Cam McDaniel's game-winning touchdown in a 17-13 in over eventual 12-1 Rose Bowl champion Michigan State.
#9 ILB Carlo Calabrese (2010): Started the season's first eight games before losing the rest of his season to a hamstring injury suffered early in the second half of a 35-17 loss to Navy. Calabrese led Notre Dame in tackles twice over the first eight games and tied for fifth on the squad in tackles for loss (5) while registering 2.5 sacks. He was named the team's defensive MVP by this website for his efforts at Boston College (10 tackles, 3.5 for loss) in a game the Irish were favored by just three points and entered on a three-game losing streak.
#10 DE/NG Tony Springmann (2012): Played in all 13 games and finished with 11 tackles, two for lost yardage, a sack, and two passes defended as the second defensive lineman off the bench for the 2012 Irish. Springmann made the Irisheyes.com top 10 for his efforts vs. Purdue, a 20-17 early-season Irish victory.
Springmann provided crucial D-Line relief in 2012
Others of NoteInside linebacker Jarrett Grace contributed a team-best 10 tackles on special teams (12 overall) for the 2012 title-contending Irish…Nose guard Jarron Jones served as the team's No. 1 nose guard over the final three contests of 2013, registering 13 of his 20 season tackles in that span. Jones likewise blocked a Michigan State extra point in mid-September, a special teams play that proved crucial in a 17-13 Irish win…
Slot receiver C.J. Prosise started three games, catching seven passes -- five for first downs -- in 2013 while leading the Irish coverage units in tackles over the final month with four stops…Chris Watt served as the team's No. 6 offensive linemen, playing in all 13 games in 2010 and regularly in the season's final seven contests…Nick Martin served a similar role to Watt for the 2012 title-contending Irish though his rotation time was based more on injury…Right tackle Christian Lombard was the top backup for the 2011 Irish though he did not often appear from scrimmage in competitive contests.
Prosise emerged to start three games last fall
Linebackers Dan Fox and Kendall Moore emerged as special teams regulars in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Fox finished his redshirt-freshman season (Kelly's first in South Bend) with 20 tackles all occurring after the season's opening four contests. In 2011, Moore was responsible for a key block that sprung George Atkinson III for a 96-yard kickoff return score against USC. Moore added 10 tackles as a reserve inside 'backer in his redshirt-freshman season -- it likely ranks as his best to date entering 2014 when he'll contend for a starting job.
In 2011, backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix played a crucial role in a pair of season-ending contests, attempting to rally the Irish from a 21-0 half-time deficit at Stanford (a 28-14 defeat) and earning time in an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Hendrix famously burst for a 78-yard run that finished just short of the end zone in a blowout win over Air Force at mid-season.
Kelly's Best Redshirt-Frosh: Season-by-Season2010: Zack Martin, Wood, Eifert, Calabrese, Watt, and Fox
2012: Golson, Daniels, Farley, Springmann, Grace, and Nick Martin
2013: Stanley, Jones, and Prosise
2011: Nix, Moore, Lombard, and Hendrix