Outside Linebacker John TurnerFrom off-the-radar at safety to a potential starting spot this fall. Turner has run with the first unit in media viewings, both as a base linebacker outside and as a rover/inside 'backer in the defense's oft-used (at least this spring) sub packages.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's chief charge was to bring more speed to the Irish defense on as many downs as possible. Undersized in the box at 217 pounds, Turner represents Exhibit A to that end.
Inside Linebacker Joe SchmidtTook the first rep as the first unit Mike (middle) linebacker in early March and has -- to our knowledge -- not come close to being supplanted. The former preferred walk-on from California prep power Mater Dei possesses the instincts and between-the-lines quickness to play in VanGorder's scheme.
At 6'0" 230 pounds, Schmidt will be tasked with holding up to the physical pounding an inside linebacker takes over 13 games.
Nickel Matthias FarleyLeft for dead by the Irish fan base after a disappointing (and surprising) 2013 campaign, Farley is now a backup cornerback -- and a starting nickel -- exiting spring 2014. The nickel role ranks among the most difficult, and important, in the modern game and will likely be involved in more than 50 percent of defensive snaps.
Secondary coach Kerry Cooks noted that Farley is the program's best nickel in at least two seasons (dating back to 2011) while Brian Kelly offered his senior athlete was likely out of position last season, playing a role previously occupied by rugged veteran standouts Zeke Motta (2012) and Harrison Smith (2010-11).
Farley's chief competition -- and in this case, the incumbent is the underdog -- comes from expected fifth-year transfer Cody Riggs who'll join the program after graduating from Florida in May. Riggs could start at corner (left or right) and move to nickel in VanGorder's sub packages.
Rush End Anthony RabasaMiscast in former coordinator Bob Diaco's defense, Rabasa has worked as an outside linebacker (where he toiled behind Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams, and Romeo Okwara) as an inside linebacker (where he was off the map), and as a two-gap defensive end where his 243-pound frame had no chance to compete.
Now he's asked to come off the edge and get to the quarterback -- his primary skill as a prep star in Miami. The consummate teammate has been given an opportunity to make an impact as a senior and his contributions off the edge could prove crucial over Notre Dame's 13-game season.
Defensive end Andrew TrumbettiHe's 25 pounds away from full-time duty (and maybe 35 away from future stardom) but Trumbetti's early enrollment in January will likely result in playing time as a reserve next September.
Quickness, functional strength (he needs weight) and a motor reminiscent of Stanford's nail-chewing linebackers are Trumbetti's chief strengths. He'll play, ideally in spot duty, and Notre Dame needs him to grow up quickly as the former four-star prospect will enter fall camp solidified in a No. 2 role.
Slot receiver Amir CarlisleThe Matthias Farley of the offense.
Like his senior classmate and defensive counterpart, Carlisle's 2013 season was marred by inconsistency and forgettable performances as the Irish stumbled to a 3-2 start. Now back in the fold as a full-time slot receiver, Carlisle is the odds-on favorite (as in "51/49") to win the starting role inside over junior C.J. Prosise.
Both will play early and often with Carlisle likely serving as the team's No. 1 kick returner and having a chance at the lead punt returner role as well.
Like Farley, Carlisle has a fifth-season of eligibility remaining for 2015.
Offensive Tackle Mike McGlincheyIf he doesn't start at right tackle he'll be the first tackle off the bench on both the right and left side.
Notre Dame's most athletic offensive lineman is a future starter, a future star, and might be better off beginning the season as a No. 2 -- working his way into a starting role as the season progresses.
The 2014 Irish possess the deepest offensive line of the five-year Brian Kelly era, but positioning is far from settled. The six-foot-seven inch McGlinchey is a perimeter player (he won't move to guard), one that would likely benefit from an acclimation period to his newly formed 300-pound frame.
Good news for Irish fans and O-Line aficionados: after polling a trio of former offensive linemen, I'm told McGlinchey has the natural ability to bend and maintain his power/balance vs. a bull rush.
Offensive Guard Conor HanrattyHe toiled in obscurity last spring, earning the trust of offensive line coach Harry Hiestand as the No. 1 guard off the bench. He lost that slotting with a neck injury in August 2013 but worked his way back to start four games last fall.
Now the senior mauler is in a fight again -- to start at right guard over friend Christian Lombard. Or to start at left guard over sophomore Steven Elmer. Or to simply prove he's better for the overall line's cause than is McGlinchey, in which case Elmer would move to right tackle and Hanratty would pick up where he left off last December -- in a starting guard role.
More competitor than athlete, Hanratty will play regularly, regardless and likely earn a fifth season in 2015 as a result.
Running Back Greg BryantIf an outsider walked into a Notre Dame practice and strolled down to the offensive side of the field, the first person he or she would notice is Bryant. Period.
Chiseled and compact (5'10" might be an outright lie), Bryant has the power and feet to lead the team in rushing in 2014. The most enticing aspect of that reality is he might not win the job, not with classmate Tarean Folston's ability to run through and around tackles and senior Cam McDaniel maintaining a toe hold on a potential lead role as well.
Bryant is the most impressive offensive player of the 2014 spring session. That won't matter in August, but it would be a major surprise if he doesn't receive more than 1/3 of the carries/touches in September as the Irish backfield establishes its identity before Autumn's leaves fall.