Youth continues to push to the fore though the Irish defensive front will only thrive if its two interior starters, Sheldon Day (knee) and Jarron Jones (foot surgery) conclude August camp at full strength.
Defensive End ("Big End"): Isaac Rochell, Jonathan Bonner, Grant Blankenship
Notes: Rochell ranks as an early choice for the defense's best player this spring. Blankenship's scholarship clock was started too early (he earned a monogram and played well at times last year.) Could he receive a sophomore season pause?
Nose Tackle: Jarron Jones (Inj.), Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage, Jacob Matuska
Notes: The early enrollee Tillery is the talk of spring ball -- it's imperative that Jones replace him as the nose tackle of note in August.
Defensive Tackle ("3-Technique"): Sheldon Day (Inj.), Jay Hayes, Pete Mokwuah, Micah Dew-Treadway
Notes: Hayes receives the vast majority of reps as Day (knee) rests during spring scrimmage action. Cage (nose) and Mokwuah will likely be asked to trim or re-shape a few pounds this summer.
Defensive End (In the Base D, it's "Rush End"): Romeo Okwara, Andrew Trumbetti (Inj.), Doug Randolph OR Jhonny Williams
Notes: Williams does not receive much scrimmage action. He'll need a strong summer to set himself up at the outset of August Camp to compete for playing time next fall.
Nickel Pass-Rusher: Andrew Trumbetti (Inj.), Kolin Hill OR Doug Randolph
Notes: Look for Jonathan Bonner to compete in this spot as well. He worked as a sub package defensive end and defensive tackle (rotating with Isaac Rochell) in Saturday's practice. It's however difficult to discern if that was solely due to Trumbetti's absence (virus).
Hill and Randolph are listed as linebackers, but for game day purposes, this is their best chance to make an impact.
Not a lot of room at the Linebacker Inn…
SAM: James Onwualu, Greer Martini, Kolin Hill
Notes: Onwualu has played through a (left) wrist injury and will lose the protective brace at some point this spring. Hill is listed as a sam 'backer but performs a handful of scout team duties during our practice viewings. As noted above, he still competes as a rush end in the sub packages.
MIKE: Joe Schmidt (Inj.) OR Jarrett Grace OR Nyles Morgan, Michael Deeb
Notes: In good health, each of the Schmidt, Grace, Morgan triumvirate will play next fall. In good health, it is assumed one (perhaps Schmidt) could cross-train at the Will 'backer spot. (See below.)
WILL: Jaylon Smith, Te'Von Coney, Austin Larkin (junior walk-on)
Notes: Coney has fought through a recent ankle injury and missed live action as a result. The time off (five days following practice April 1) will likely aid his recovery. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder noted Smith could cross-train at Sam as the spring progresses.
A trio of incoming freshmen are expected to compete at nickel in August while the safeties unit should have the services of Drue Tranquill (November knee surgery) and an incoming transfer.
Free Safety: Max Redfield, Drue Tranquill (Inj.), Nicky Baratti, Matthias Farley
Notes: Farley's part of a contingency plan and will primarily compete at nickel (below). Tranquill is likely better suited for strong safety but the Irish will receive added depth in the form of Sebastian at the position.
Baratti appears full-go after suffering a fourth major shoulder injury last September. (Two surgeries to his left shoulder occurred post-season 2012 and during August camp 2013. A lone surgery to his right shoulder was performed in late-September following action against Purdue. Baratti dislocated that shoulder during the 2014 Blue Gold game but did not have surgery, playing instead with a harness.)
Left Cornerback: Cole Luke, Connor Cavalaris
Notes: Look for either Nick Watkins or Devin Butler to flip sides and work behind Luke in August Camp should Keivarae Russell return as projected. Butler has been primarily a right cornerback dating back through last August camp.
Nickel: Matthias Farley, Connor Cavalaris
Notes: Cavalaris has filled many roles in the secondary since the outset of 2012 including working as a starter in kickoff coverage (the lone exception being removed for a bit due to concussion.) The former walk-on will likely be a fifth-year competitor for the Irish next fall, scholarship or otherwise.