Freshman OT #71 Alex BarsAppears to be a true offensive tackle prospect while his fellow incoming competitors will receive initial evaluations inside (Jimmy Byrne, Sam Mustipher) or at multiple positions (Quention Nelson T/G). For Bars, that means potential work as a two-deep offensive tackle during the season, joining redshirt-freshman Hunter Bivin in competition behind (projected) starters Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey.
The caveat? If Steve Elmer (previewed below) moves back to right tackle, Bars will have trouble cracking said two-deep, as Bivin and McGlinchey would likely hold down the fort as backup tackles in-season.
Bars' athleticism rivals McGlinchey -- both will be tough to tangle with when their bulk and ballast catches up to their quick feet.
Realistic Ceiling: A two-deep role on the varsity in-season. Ideally, eligibility would still be preserved. A look as an in-line blocking tight end, either with the varsity in practice or on game day.
Other side of the coin: Third-string tackle duties behind Stanley/Elmer; Bivin/McGlinchey and more scout time than varsity action.
Fr. DE #92 Grant BlankenshipIs he a future 4-3 defensive end? Would he be better as a 3-4 outside linebacker? Both are largely off the table for 2014 because Blankenship can help immediately, either as a "rush end" in the team's sub packages or as a sam linebacker, spelling Ben Councell when the Irish face power offenses.
If Blankenship can play fast (that is, bringing the film room to the field), and hold up on the edge, he'll earn a first-year monogram, possibly in a key reserve role. Special teams duties seem likely as well.
Realistic Ceiling: Playing time at SLB and at rush end; ample snaps on ST.
Other side of the coin: Multiple evaluations lead to a status of "Jack-of-many-trades, well-versed-in-none" entering 2015 spring ball.
Senior WR #3 Amir CarlisleCarlisle appears to be the 1A to fellow slot competitor C.J. Prosise's 1B status -- the former a veteran who better understands a spread offense and how his route concepts in the offense blend with others around him -- the latter an imposing athlete who'll serve as a compliment to the senior in September.
Thereafter, however, Carlisle must prove worthy of his game day snaps, because Prosise and a host of youngsters (Torii Hunter, Jr., Justin Brent, etc.) are up-and-coming players not likely to be denied for three months.
Carlisle's 2013 struggles are well-documented, but he's taken to his new role, and if he gets off to a good start, thus receiving a healthy dose of (much-needed) confidence, the former running back could prove of great value as a motioning player pre-snap. Look for Carlisle to win the lead kickoff return role as well while challenging for PR duties in camp. (Eligible through 2015.)
Realistic Ceiling: All-American kick returner; among the team's top three playmakers through the air.
Other side of the coin: 2013.
5th-yr. Sr. S #28 Austin CollinsworthAfter intermittent struggles in 2013, Collinsworth concluded the season (Stanford, Rutgers) as one of the team's best defenders, and that carried over through spring ball 2014. He's a no-doubt starter at strong safety due to his understanding of the defensive scheme and resulting ability to "play fast" according to defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
In an ideal world, the defense will work best -- and stay fresh -- if Collinsworth could cede about 20 to 30 percent of his snaps to heavy hitter Elijah Shumate or a healthy Nicky Baratti. But AC appears to be the rudder that steers the back seven's ship. In other words, without him, perceived "better athletes" would spend too much time sprinting across the field post-snap to cover up their pre-snap mistakes.
Look for Collinsworth to make an early-season splash -- his performance, and that of his backups in congress thereafter -- will tell the full tale.
Realistic Ceiling: Steadying presence among the back seven; occasional turnover creator in his role at SS; a return to kickoff coverage duties in which he's excelled in the past.
Other side of the coin: Overmatched in space when the Irish face the likes of Stanford, FSU, ASU, and USC.
Senior LB #30 Ben CouncellRanks among the defense's chief X-factors, and not only because he'll be 10 months removed from PCL surgery at the season's outset. If Councell, a career backup dog linebacker (behind Danny Spond and later Jaylon Smith) in former coordinator Bob Diaco's defense can't provide quality snaps at the new SLB position, the Irish defense will be susceptible to power offenses.
Councell will provide short-yardage relief to the sam (SLB) starter -- either John Turner, James Onwualu, or Drue Tranquill -- while also likely holding down the lead role vs. run-oriented or balanced attacks. The senior could also shift inside to lend aid to the undersized Joe Schmidt should classmate Jarrett Grace not make it back from two leg surgeries. (Councell is eligible through 2015.)
Realistic Ceiling: Multiple starts and a weekly impact on the edge. Occasional work inside as needed. A fifth season earned for 2015 as a result.
Other side of the coin: The long road back from knee surgery continues through October, and Councell's impact is minimal -- the Irish rush defense suffers intermittently as a result.
Junior LS #61 Scott DalyUnchallenged entering his second season as the team's short- and long-snapper. Daly executed his duties without fail last fall and the same is expected in 2014, 2015, and perhaps 2016, his final season of eligibility.
Has the added benefit of working with the same punter, Kyle Brindza, as he did last season though there'll be a new holder for points from placement and field goals as wide receiver Luke Massa graduated. Daly also notched two tackles in punt coverage last fall.
Realistic Ceiling: No bad snaps, or at least none of note in a competitive contest. Impeccable punt snaps near the Irish goal line. Tackles on punt coverage when the opportunity presents.
Other side of the coin: A bad snap in a close game that costs the Irish.
Junior DT #91 Sheldon DayOne of the team's three best players, Day will work at defensive tackle in the base defense but forthcoming camp practices should afford opportunity. That is, movement around the defensive front to put the former five-star prospect in position to rush the passer in coordinator Brian VanGorder's myriad sub packages.
I mentioned him as one of the three best (and according to the coaching staff, that's not in question), but he's one of the two the Irish can least afford to lose, along with sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith. There is simply no viable replacement for Day, at least not one until the current freshmen crop matures through 2015. (Eligible through 2015.)
Realistic Ceiling: Plays at a first-team All-America level though it's highly unlikely he'll post individual defensive statistics to illustrate that reality. If Notre Dame's defense concludes the season as a strong point, it will largely be because of Sheldon Day's play in the middle made it possible for those behind and around him.
Other side of the coin: Nagging ankle injury from 2013 resurface or he finishes his junior season as merely a quality player, not one of note.
Sophomore ILB #42 Michael DeebEnters camp well behind starter Joe Schmidt in the middle, the goal is to exit August as a 2A or 2B to recovering senior Jarrett Grace. (Also in the mix is incoming five-star freshman Nyles Morgan, though he could compete at both will or sam in 2014.)
Deeb's quickest path to playing time is to lend a physical, steady presence to each of the four Irish run teams (punt and kickoff return as a blocker; punt and kickoff coverage). Solid play in that realm will allow him to better challenge in spring 2015 for a two-deep role. (Eligible through 2017.)
Realistic Ceiling: Heavy contributions on special teams with intermittent play at middle linebacker.
Other side of the coin: A second season without meaningful snaps from scrimmage with little production covering kicks and/or punts.
Sophomore OL #79 Steve ElmerIs he the starting left guard? Is he the starting right tackle? The operative word is "starting" because Elmer is one of the team's five best offensive line talents and the Irish coaching staff realizes he has to be on the field. At guard, Elmer (and presumed starting right guard Christian Lombard) would likely rotate with seniors Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty on occasion. If Elmer is the team's right tackle, he would cede fewer game reps, though redshirt-freshman Mike McGlinchey's time is afoot as well.
Elmer's end-August slotting will greatly impact at least four members of the offensive front: Hanratty, Hegarty, McGlinchey, and incoming freshman Quenton Nelson (who could play guard or tackle).
Realistic Ceiling: 13 starts and season-end status as the team's second-best offensive lineman (Ronnie Stanley in good health is the realistic No. 1).
Other side of the coin: Shuffles between guard and tackle as needed without distinguish at either.