It's a good gig if you can get it, but Notre Dame's 2014 spring participants might be in for a rude awakening upon their return to Meyo Field inside the Loftus Sports Complex on March 19.
"I'm okay with them leaving," said head coach Brian Kelly. "They also know we don't have a lot of guys that, if you look across the board, really, can say 'That's my position and nobody can beat me out.' We don't have that. Last year maybe we had it and the year before.
"They know that they better be ready to come back ready to go. That's the truth. We knew what our schedule was about a month ago. They know what they need to do."
Below is a quick review of each position, beginning with the offense:
QuarterbackEverett Golson and Malik Zaire are purportedly in a head-to-head battle for QB1 status. The reality is, it's Golson's job to lose. Zaire would have to be lights out to win this spring and early August camp battle on the practice field.
Spring Prediction: Golson exits spring as the best or second-best player on the roster…but it could get interesting outside the program's walls if Zaire lights it up in the annual Blue Gold Game, a rare instance in which fans and media see rookies in scrimmage action.
Running BackTarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant -- Fans and media are far more concerned with the trio's pecking order than are running backs coach Tony Alford or Kelly. Each will play often, each could win a Game One starting spot with slippage from others in the ranks.
Spring Prediction: Aside from Bryant pulling even with the Folston/McDaniel pair in terms of the staff's trust, little is decided.
Wide ReceiverChris Brown, C.J. Prosise, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Torii Hunter, Jr., and Justin Brent -- Ample reps await each, with two summer additions in suspended senior DaVaris Daniels and incoming freshman Corey Holmes. Assuming reinstatement, Daniels is the only clear starter, but more important, each of the spring sextet is likely to contribute.
Spring Prediction: Who cares? They'll all play in the fall, early and often. Good health and quality reps with Golson is the only goal over the next 13 practice sessions.
If Brent pushes his way into starting competition it would only be a mild surprise, but expect both Brent and Hunter to be a tick behind the remaining quartet if only because they have yet to do battle with the bullets live on college game days. (I'll have more on this position group in a forthcoming mailbag.)
Tight EndBen Koyack, Durham Smythe, and Mike Heuerman -- Koyack is the clear-cut starter and it seems Smythe is ahead of Heuerman physically, which means spring, summer, and the first two weeks of August camp will be huge for the former Florida four-star. Heuerman has the attitude and skills, but needs more bulk to do battle win the trenches.
Spring Prediction: Smythe exits spring ahead of his redshirt-freshman classmate as Tight End2 in the team's "12 package." In this case, that lead means little with the summer months the deciding factor.
Offensive TackleRonnie Stanley, Mike McGlinchey. Potentially guards Steven Elmer and Christian Lombard. Backups include Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern -- Stanley will start, left or right tackle to be determined. After that…
Spring Prediction: Look for McGlinchey to receive significant work as the right tackle and to exit spring as tentative No. 1 as offensive guard proves to be the most competitive position on the Irish roster.
Offensive GuardElmer, Lombard, Conor Hanratty, and likely backups Mark Harrell and John Montelus. Potentially Matt Hegarty who will work as the No. 1 center this spring.
Hanratty is the wild-card. Should he emerge as the No. 1 (or 1A) left guard, it could cause a move by Elmer to tackle -- in this case, right tackle. Which means the new battle is between Elmer and McGlinchey. In other words, this will play out over months, not weeks.
Spring Prediction The top seven offensive linemen, in order: Stanley, injured center Nick Martin, and a quartet with little separation (Elmer/Lombard/Hanratty/Hegarty/McGlinchey). The Irish are deep and talented up front. Don't count out Bivin working his way into the mix to make the stated seven a top eight.
CenterMatt Hegarty, injured starter Nick Martin, Harrell -- After falling behind due to December 2012 heart surgery, Hegarty will be allowed to play catchup with ample reps in Martin's stead. For Harrell, his backup reps at center this spring could prove crucial to keep the junior (redshirt-sophomore) ahead of an incoming freshman such as Sam Mustipher in August as Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand look to develop their center of the future (2016).
Spring Prediction: Hegarty plays well enough to be considered a starting guard candidate for the fall. But in good health, Martin will start at center vs. Rice.
Note: A breakdown of the Irish defensive depth chart during "Spring Break" will be published mid-afternoon.