Notre Dame is in the midst of 13 days away from the practice field and this week will enjoy the University's spring break. As noted by head coach Brian Kelly, his spring combatants are free to enjoy their time away, but will be expected to hit the ground running upon their return to the practice field on March 19.
"They get away from the University, but they have to be sharp when they come back. That's one of the things that you have to do when you trust your team and they understand how important it is to get some time away, but be ready to go when they come back as well," he said.
Below is Part 2 of our review of Notre Dame's depth chart before the spring session resumes and more than a few pecking orders are established.
Defensive Tackle/Nose GuardSheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell, Justin Utupo, Jacob Matuska, and injured senior Tony Springmann (knee) -- Notre Dame's tell-tale position for fall 2014 is one of great intrigue this spring. How much can sophomore Isaac Rochell improve after breaking into the lineup as a true freshman? Can Justin Utupo bring 5th-year power to a position in spot duty? Has Jones improved his lower body strength -- his personal goal -- over the last three months? Will Sheldon Day ever leave the field? A healthy Springmann might be the second best lineman on the team, but is that a plausible reality at any point next fall?
Spring Prediction: By default, Day and Jones are clear starters, be it in a 3- or 4-man front. Look for Rochell to take advantage of added reps in Springmann's stead and to pull ahead of Utupo as No. 3 in the interior pecking order.
Day is the team's most indispensable lineman for 2014
Defensive End/RushChase Hounshell, Ishaq Williams, Romeo Okwara, Anthony Rabasa, and Andrew Trumbetti -- At worst, Notre Dame will feature a healthy dose of four-man fronts, and the Williams/Okwara bookends are key to that front's performance. Hounshell is a mystery until he proves healthy -- he's had three shoulder surgeries and no game snaps since December 2011. As a 4-3 rush end, the senior Rabasa might make his first on field impact. He has underrated quickness off the edge. Trumbetti might prove to be the best player from this group -- by 2016.
Spring Prediction: Williams and Okwara exit as the clear-cut top dogs at the rush "linebacker" position, but it's because of their work as 4-3 defensive ends. Notre Dame is left looking for reliable backup help well into August camp.
Outside Linebacker/DropJaylon Smith, John Turner, and injured senior Ben Councell (knee) -- Turner's workload will be at an all-time high, likely receiving a near 50/50 split of snaps with Smith who is quite clearly the team's most talented football player. Councell gives the Irish needed ballast; his return is key to spelling Smith over a grueling three-month season. Text
Spring Prediction: Councell retains the No. 2 drop linebacker role despite having no live contact. Smith is named the 15-practice spring session's Most Valuable Player -- and he emerges as the lone dime linebacker while remaining on the field as one of two 'backers in nickel sets. As it should have been by mid-season 2013.
Smith could prove to be the team's best player by season's end
Inside LinebackerKendall Moore, Joe Schmidt, Michael Deeb, Doug Randolph, and injured senior Jarrett Grace (leg) -- Walk-on Austin Larkin rounds out a group that will have ample opportunities to impress new position coach and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Grace's leg injury hasn't been slow-to-heal, as reported. It's at the appropriate pace in what was expected to be a grueling process.
Spring Prediction: Moore emerges as a likely starter pending Grace's recovery and the assimilation of 5-star incoming freshman Nyles Morgan. Schmidt and Deeb don't finish far behind Moore -- Schmidt is the only challenger to Jaylon Smith as a zone coverage linebacker, and though it might not be close, Schmidt has shown a knack for the middle zone.
SafetyAustin Collinsworth, Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate, Eilar Hardy, James Onwualu, Nicky Baratti -- There's too much talent for this group to play as poorly as it did in 2013. Fans will be pulling for a Redfield plus Shumate/Baratti starting tandem but in reality, defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks needs to find four safeties that are interchangeable entering the season and allow early games to determine pecking order. Hardy did not help his cause with two separate suspensions last season, both after he had emerged as a rotational player.
Spring Prediction: Nothing is solves as Baratti is not yet at full strength, Collinsworth isn't as athletically gifted as Redfield or Shumate, but neither of the latter pair is likely to provide steady backfield leadership and coordination as is the 5th-year senior Collinsworth.
Onwualu enters August camp well behind his competitors but that changes by August 31 and the former wide receiver earns scrimmage snaps vs. Rice.
Luke's pass defense helped secure a 14-10 win over USC
CornerbackKeivarae Russell, Cole Luke, Matthias Farley, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Rashad Kinlaw, and injured sophomore Devin Butler (shoulder) -- It's Russell (gap), Luke (gap), and then likely Farley (with another gap) at present. The inclusion of 5th-year transfer Cody Riggs and the return to health of Butler will greatly enhance this group's standing in August.
Spring Prediction: Intrigue. Can Luke play well enough in the spring to cement his status as a No. 2 ahead of Farley and a healthy Butler? (Butler appeared to close on Luke late last year). Will the veteran Riggs prove far better than Luke/Butler? Could he be better than Russell?
NickelMatthias Farley, Eilar Hardy, Devin Butler (out with off-season shoulder surgery)
Spring Prediction: Hardy emerges as a No. 1 nickel competitor ahead of Farley but either is a place-holder for Riggs, who will excel in the role in 2014. (Riggs could start at cornerback and shift to nickel for the package as did Robert Blanton in 2011.)