Junior LT #78 Ronnie StanleyGave Irish fans a scare when media reported the team's most talented offensive lineman was carted off the field midway through Notre Dame's opening practice of fall camp, but Stanley merely needed IV fluids courtesy the powers of the central Indiana sun. He's a no-doubt starter on the left side, though August 30 will represent his first collegiate action as a full-time port-sider after spending 13 games starting at right tackle last fall. (Stanley worked at left tackle in September 2012 as a rookie behind Zack Martin, and throughout the past spring.)
Realistic Ceiling: To rank among the team's top five players at season's end, with 2014 a springboard to an All-American campaign in 2015.
Other side of the coin: The loss of program legend Zack Martin from Stanley's new left tackle position is felt early (Michigan), midway (Stanford/FSU), and late (ASU/USC).
Freshman LB #23 Drue TranquillListed as a linebacker but lined up with the safeties in the media's initial practice viewing. Tranquill will doubtless be evaluated at multiple positions (SS and SLB, perhaps FS) early in camp before settling in for the final two weeks to prepare for Rice.
It would be a major upset if the Fort Wayne frosh isn't a member of both Irish coverage units and perhaps both return teams (as a blocker).
Realistic Ceiling: Spot starter at strong side linebacker; Special Teams Player of the Year.
Other side of the coin: Tranquill, and those that favor true freshmen over veterans, realize a cavernous gap exists between high school and big-time college football. It's plausible Tranquill makes no impact from scrimmage as a rookie defender.
Freshman DE #98 Andrew TrumbettiWorking as the No. 2 defensive end to the open side (weak side) behind junior Romeo Okwara. Trumbetti is the best bet among senior defensive players for weekly playing time, due to his early enrollment, never-ending motor, scarce depth at his position, and the freshman's obvious talent.
Realistic Ceiling: A freshman season reminiscent of Sheldon Day's in 2012.
Other side of the coin: He's a true freshman. It's possible the entire media contingent has overrated him due to his aggressiveness coupled with early enrollment.
Junior SLB #31 John TurnerExited spring ball and opened August camp as the team's starter at strong side linebacker. Turner will receive a stiff test from sophomore James Onwualu, and later, senior Ben Councell, but the latter does not yet appear to be back to full strength following November knee surgery. Freshman Drue Tranquill (above) could also get a look at the position, as could junior safety Elijah Shumate.
Regardless, Turner will be in the mix, and is the odds-on favorite to start against Rice.
Realistic Ceiling: Starter for bulk of the season and a "breakout" season, i.e., solid coverage, consistent tackler in space, occasional playmaker.
Other side of the coin: Fails to hold up vs. the run and is overmatched in coverage vs. the myriad athletes that litter the Irish schedule. Turner has much to prove, but he's held off all challengers to date.
5th-year senior DT #53 Justin UtupoOpened camp as the backup to junior nose tackle Jarron Jones. Utupo enters his second season as a 280+ pounder (he's now a shade over six-feet and 290), and should be better equipped to handle his bigger frame.
The Lakewood, Calif.-product entered college as an edge-rushing prospect: if he can retain a modicum of his former quickness, Utupo could offer intermittent backfield disruption in his reserve role. Look for the inexperienced veteran to work behind Sheldon Day at DT (three-technique) as well.
Realistic Ceiling: Quality minutes off the bench for 13 games.
Other side of the coin: Is passed by freshmen Daniel Cage, Pete Mokwuah, or senior Chase Hounshell in the rotation (Hounshell is working behind Day and RS-Frosh Jacob Matuska at present).