Sheldon Day (DT) – Took a healthy chunk of the spring to better recover from a late-season 2014 knee injury, though it was more precautionary than necessary. The dedicated senior will doubtless elevate his game this summer, but the spring was a wash for the returning co-captain.
Jarron Jones (NT) – Missed the contact periods of spring ball while recovering and rehabbing from November 2014 foot surgery. Conditioning, football and otherwise, is a natural concern for any 300-plus pounder that will place a great deal of stress on his foot.
Status: Step Back, relatively speaking. That might seem harsh, but Jones could have taken “the leap” had he been healthy this spring. He’ll be fine by fall camp, but we’ve seen him dominant against the best the nation has to offer (Florida State), and that form will be a challenge to recapture early in 2015. He’s one of the five most important players on Notre Dame’s roster next fall.
Isaac Rochell (DE/Big End) – From my purview, ties Max Redfield as the player that took the largest step forward this spring – and Rochell had nowhere near as far to go. The team’s most underrated player from September-December last season will be a household name this fall.
Romeo Okwara (DE/Rush End) – Has a leg up on sophomore competitor Andrew Trumbetti exiting spring ball due in large part to the latter missing a middle chunk of the session with a virus. Okwara looked bigger (upper body) than in previous interview sessions. He’ll turn 20 this summer, just prior to his fourth and final season in South Bend.
Status: Ascending. Reasonable minds could argue stagnation…
Andrew Trumbetti (DE/Rush End) – Would love to buy stock in his college football future. Trumbetti might be Notre Dame’s best pass-rusher.
Status: Ascending. An undervalued player as a 2014 rookie, Trumbetti will prove to be one of the team’s top eight defensive players in 2015.
Jonathan Bonner (DE/Big End) – Notre Dame’s breakout DE of the first-half of spring ball saw his session truncated by a turf toe injury that required surgery. There’s no such thing as a (publicly stated) negative injury prognosis so August camp will be our first true measure of his 2015 potential.
Status: Took a Step Back after a major step forward. The injury hurts (figuratively) until proven otherwise.
Jay Hayes (DT) – A media favorite, both for his interviewing acumen and on-field attitude, Hayes will make a major impact this fall if he’s afforded the luxury of a healthy Sheldon Day in front of him. In fact, he could match the play of Day as a freshman backup from 2012. Hayes is a true sophomore after losing a season of eligibility in emergency action last November.
Jerry Tillery – The Wheel…Sliced Bread…The Automobile…HD televisions…Jerry Tillery. Such was the status of Notre Dame’s massive, athletic early enrollee for the first half of spring ball but according to defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, Tillery predictably hit the wall since. The off-season will be invaluable.
Status: Ascending…but the Hall of Fame is on hold.
Pete Mokwuah (NT) – From out-house to? Well, not the penthouse, but Keith Gilmore offered Mokwuah’s name as one of the two most improved players up front during spring’s final week. In fairness to the comment, he was far behind, prior. Good news nonetheless.
Status: Ascending, and I’d have typed “a major step back” just two weeks ago.
Jacob Matuska (DT/NT) – Also mentioned by Gilmore as an improved player by spring’s conclusion. Matuska made a play or two in most scrimmages we were able to witness, though he can still be overwhelmed at times. A junior with three seasons of eligibility remaining, Matuska could be the unit’s swingman inside (the fifth interior player in what is a regular four-man rotation).
Status: Ascending, again, relatively speaking.
Grant Blankenship (DE/Big End) – Is a “Big” defensive end in name only as the trim Blankenship (six-feet-five, 252 pounds) was built for a prior era. He’s a playmaker, however, and took advantage of Bonner’s late-spring injury to make a move back up the depth charts. Forced into action as a two-deep contributor last season, Blankenship has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Would benefit greatly from a redshirt season – he’d be a dynamite fifth-year player up front -- but that’s a tough conversation for a player that can A.) Obviously contribute today, and B.) Might be needed. Defensive line attrition is guaranteed, and Bonner is already on the list.
Status: Ascending, of late.
Doug Randolph (DE/Rush End) – Back where he belongs as pass-rusher after a season miscast at will linebacker. (Seriously?) Randolph will likely be in a mano a mano battle vs. sophomore Kolin Hill for the dime pass-rusher role. Both have three seasons remaining, though Randolph is a junior, Hill a sophomore.
Kolin Hill (DE/Rush End) – Hill is actually listed at Sam linebacker but he’ll play that position as much as you and I next fall. He can make an impact getting after the quarterback and will be afforded the opportunity to do so. If forced to the scout team, a sophomore redshirt would be prudent, as Hill has potential off the edge when he matures.
Daniel Cage (NT) – It’s unclear what Cage’s injury is as his left elbow was heavily wrapped, as was his right hand, but the true sophomore ranked as Notre Dame’s No. 2 nose tackle last season, contributing each week. He was behind early enrollee Jerry Tillery by the beginning of spring ball and appeared to be behind Mokwuah at the end.
Status: A Step Back -- though Gilmore noted prior to Cage’s injury he had improved over the course of the spring. The need for summer conditioning and devotion cannot be overstated.
Jhonny Williams (DE/Rush End) – Began spring far behind his fellow competitors and ended the session merely behind. Williams could use a few statistical moments of glory at the end of the Blue Gold Game to build upon. Has four seasons of eligibility remaining and as head coach Brian Kelly noted, is still growing used to his new, larger/heavier body.
Status: Stagnant. And my glass is half-full with that grade.
Micah Dew-Treadway (DT/NT) – Appeared to cross-train at both positions this spring out of need but will be afforded the chance to settle in when two new freshmen, Elijah Taylor and Brandon Tiassum, join the interior fray this summer. A redshirt season waits.
Status: Ascending. It’s a listing based in logic as early enrollment gives Treadway a massive leg up on his fellow freshmen both in August and entering Winter Conditioning 2016.
Summer Additions: Interior linemen Elijah Taylor, Brandon Tiassum, and Bo Wallace (DE/Rush End)
Next in our Spring Status Series: The Irish Linebackers.