Spring Spotlight: Ten To Watch

With spring practice barely one month away, these 10 players could turn heads. Some can lock down starting jobs, others could offer the program quality depth.

Asmar Bilal
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The day before the Fiesta Bowl, Brian Kelly was asked about freshmen under the radar that he expected to impress next year. He started with the program’s Scout Team Player of the Year on defense, even comparing Bilal’s athleticism to Jaylon Smith. If that’s just 10 percent true it’s a great sign for the Irish defense. And with Te’Von Coney limited during spring ball after shoulder surgery, there will be plenty of reps for Bilal to grab.

Shaun Crawford
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om

Crawford was arguably Notre Dame’s most explosive freshman when training camp opened last year and perhaps the program’s most devastating injury outside of Jarron Jones. He would have likely started at nickel and never given it up, adding an athleticism to the position that the Irish lacked. Now healthy, Crawford expects to compete during spring practice. Will he retake the nickel? Will he beat out Nick Watkins and Devin Butler for fulltime reps?

Khalid Kareem
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Jerry Tillery set the bar for freshman contributions on the defensive line, at least for four-star prospects. Kareem fit into that category too and is also an early enrollee. If the Irish are healthy, he can play a complementary role, which means getting off on the right foot during spring. How does the Michigan athlete take coaching? Does he buy into Notre Dame’s culture? If he hits both marks, the Irish should have a rotational player immediately.

Mike McGlinchey
USA Today Sports Images

When Ronnie Stanley broke into the starting lineup he did it as a right tackle because Notre Dame had a first round pick on the left. When McGlinchey did the same last year on the right, the Irish had the same kind of talent on the left. Now Stanley is gone, opening the door for McGlinchey to potentially switch sides while also taking on a leadership role. Is McGlinchey ready to run the offensive line meeting room? It’s a big step.

Nyles Morgan
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om

Last spring Brian VanGorder admitted it takes three years to master his defense as a middle linebacker. Well, Morgan is entering his third year in the program and second spring. If he’s going to live up to his five-star ranking on Scout.com, now’s the time to get started. The coaching staff buried Morgan last year, which means no one should assume this job goes to the junior just because Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace are gone.

Sam Mustipher
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om

Replacing two-time captain and surefire NFL draft pick Nick Martin figures to be more difficult than people think. Still, Mustipher will enter his third season in the program this fall and the center job is open. Privately, there’s a positive buzz about Mustipher’s progress, even if he’s barely played. But it’s going to take more than that to win the job with Tristen Hoge – Scout Team Player of the Year on Offense – hanging around too.

Equanimeous St. Brown
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

The hype train on St. Brown left the station in the past month when Brian Kelly touted him as the surprise of the freshman class. And with Will Fuller out the door, there’s a job opening at St. Brown’s position. Will his shoulder injury suffered last season in practice hold him back? If healthy, the rising sophomore could be Notre Dame’s next big-time threat. He needs a good spring to establish himself as a potential No. 1 in an offense that’s searching for one.

Devin Studstill
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Of Notre Dame’s five early enrollees, Studstill has the best chance to play early. And if he’s going to be an exception within Brian VanGorder’s defense, meaning a freshman who earns time at safety, he’ll need to start that climb during spring practice. Studstill has the background to do it, with a father who played at West Virginia and a former teammate (Te’Von Coney) who already took the early enrollment challenge in South Bend.

Mykelti Williams
Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.om

Notre Dame signed seven defensive backs last cycle and more than half could project at safety. In other words, Williams needs to make an impression on Todd Lyght during spring before the rest of the reinforcements arrive. Can Williams hold off early enrollees Devin Studstill and/or Spencer Perry? Probably. Can he climb over sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian? That’s a more interesting question. Williams played at powerhouse Warren Central, which produced Sheldon Day. He should be wired correctly.

Malik Zaire
Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Zaire threw passes off to the side during bowl practices and hopes to compete during spring practice. He’s already received advice from friend and Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett not to rush his comeback – Barrett broke his ankle late in 2014 – but Zaire doesn’t pace himself much. What can Zaire offer during spring ball? Odds are it will be enough to push the quarterback competition into training camp and perhaps beyond. Getting his personality back on the field will be a boost.

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