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Dabbling In Depth Charts

With a majority of the team back from 2016, and five early-enrollees, Notre Dame will have a great opportunity to evaluate its personnel this spring.

Between now and the start of spring drills when depth charts/position switches will sort themselves out on the field, there will be considerable speculation as to who will line up where as the process of putting together the 2017 Notre Dame team begins to take shape.

Interviews with Notre Dame’s newly-formed coaching staff last Monday and Wednesday yielded pieces of the puzzle. The rest will come as spring practice approaches/begins.

In the meantime, we’ll offer some position-by-position speculation with years of eligibility listed after each name. Keep in mind that depth in the spring is always a bit skimpy until the entire freshman class arrives in August.

QUARTERBACK
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Spring personnel: Brandon Wimbush (3), Ian Book (4), Montgomery VanGorder (2)
Help on the way: Avery Davis (4)
Summary: It’s Wimbush’s ball game. The red-shirt shackles are off Book, who has the skills to be a competent, successful, if not spectacular quarterback. A graduate transfer at the position could still be in play.

RUNNING BACK
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Spring personnel: Josh Adams (2), Dexter Williams (2), Tony Jones Jr. (4), C.J. Holmes (4)
Help on the way: Holmes is an early-enrollee.
Summary: This looks like a strength of the 2017 team. Adams is on pace to become one of Notre Dame’s all-time leading rushers with 1,768 yards in the bank. It’s time to unleash Williams. Jones is a between-the-tackles asset with some wiggle and pass-catching ability. According to Kelly, Holmes also will get a chance to show his athleticism at receiver.

W RECEIVER
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Spring personnel: Equanimeous St. Brown (2), Miles Boykin (3), Javon McKinley (4)
Help on the way: None
Summary: The Irish have a healthy situation at the W with an established St. Brown, a promising-but-still-developing Boykin, who has great size, and McKinley, who preserved a year of eligibility in ’16. It’s a big spring for Boykin and McKinley.

X RECEIVER
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Spring personnel: Kevin Stepherson (3), Chase Claypool (3)
Help on the way: Jafar Armstrong (4)
Summary: The transfer of Corey Holmes impacts the depth, but you couldn’t ask for a more promising duo than Stepherson and Claypool. Stepherson caught 25 passes that averaged 18.5 yards per reception with five touchdowns as a rookie. Claypool caught just five passes as a freshman in ’16, but the athleticism showed on special teams.

Red-shirt freshman Deon McIntosh could be a cross-training option at the X. C.J. Holmes could be a situational option.

Z RECEIVER
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Spring personnel: Chris Finke (3), C.J. Sanders (2), Deon McIntosh (4)
Help on the way: Michael Young (4)
Summary: Finke came on strong over the last one-third of the ’16 season to finish with 10 receptions and two touchdowns. Seventeen of Sanders’ 24 receptions last year came within the first five games. McIntosh is the wildcard this spring. Holmes could be an option here in the spring. Young is dynamic enough to make an early impact this fall.

Y RECEIVER (TIGHT END)
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Spring personnel: Durham Smythe (1), Nic Weishar (2), Alize Jones (3), Tyler Luatua (1), Brock Wright (4)
Help on the way: Cole Kmet (4), in addition to early-enrollee Wright.
Summary: Probably the strongest position on the team with two highly-touted freshmen adding to a position that should thrive under offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long.

If Jones returns to his rookie form and builds upon his potential, this could be an embarrassment of riches. Smythe has never full realized his potential, but has the skills as the most established two-way tight end on the roster. The upside for Weishar remains high. No surprise if Wright makes a spring splash. The addition of Kmet this fall is a luxury.

RIGHT TACKLE
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Spring personnel: Alex Bars (2), Liam Eichenberg (4)
Help on the way: Aaron Banks (4)
Summary: Here’s where the speculation increases. Bars started all 12 games at right tackle in ’16, but is probably better suited for right guard (a la Steve Elmer). If Eichenberg is ready – Kelly seemed to indicate so late last season – the Irish could shift Bars.

Banks must improve his conditioning, athleticism to play tackle. He’ll get a jump with a much-needed early arrival. Red-shirt freshman Tommy Kraemer is an option at both tackle/guard spots. Incoming freshman Josh Lugg will end up at one of the two tackle positions.

RIGHT GUARD
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Spring personnel: Hunter Bivin (1), Tristen Hoge (3), Parker Boudreaux (4), Robert Hainsey (4)
Help on the way: Hainsey is an early-enrollee
Summary: Bivin did not pass his audition as a red-shirt junior in ’16, which prompted the insertion of Colin McGovern, who has since transferred to Virginia for his fifth season. Coupled with the promise of Eichenberg/Kraemer at tackle, Bars could make the switch to right guard…unless Tristen Hoge emerges as a viable candidate at right guard, which he was last fall. Boudreaux is a left guard option as well. Hainsey will get his reps this spring.

CENTER
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Spring personnel: Sam Mustipher (2), Tristen Hoge (3)
Help on the way: None, unless incoming freshman Dillan Gibbons is a center option.
Summary: For a first-time starter, Mustipher held his own, although there were some snapping issues along the way. The odds favor Mustipher maintaining his starting spot while continuing to cross-train Hoge between center-guard.

LEFT GUARD
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Spring personnel: Quenton Nelson (2), Trevor Ruhland (3), Jimmy Byrne (2) • Help on the way: Dillan Gibbons (4)
Summary: The Irish will enter 2017 with a premier left guard in Nelson, who could be the first guard selected in the 2018 NFL draft. Ruhland, undersized in stature, is insurance at left guard. Parker Boudreaux, who practiced mainly at left guard in the fall, could continue to get reps on the left side, or perhaps challenge at right guard.

LEFT TACKLE
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Spring personnel: Mike McGlinchey (1), Tommy Kraemer (4)
Help on the way: Josh Lugg (4)
Summary: McGlinchey struggled with snap counts and an occasional speed rusher, but he’ll likely remain on the left side and build upon the experience he gained after moving from right tackle following the ’15 season. Kraemer is a long-term option at tackle or guard. Lugg is an option at either tackle spot.

RUSH END
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Spring personnel: Andrew Trumbetti (1), Daelin Hayes (3), Julian Okwara (3), Adetokunbo Ogundeji (4)
Help on the way: Kofi Wardlow (4)
Summary: With new defensive coordinator Mike Elko, there is considerable speculation situating line personnel. Trumbetti is the veteran, but the upside for Hayes and Okwara is greater. It will be interesting to see how much progress Ogundeji has made physically since he flashed natural pass-rush skills on the prep level. Wardlow is a long-term project.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
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Spring personnel: Jerry Tillery (2), Elijah Taylor (3), Micah Dew-Treadway (3)
Help on the way: Kurt Hinish (4), Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (4)
Summary: Tillery improved his stamina, toughness in ’16, but there’s a long way to go before he can be considered a consistent, reliable performer. The Irish will try to build upon flashes of promise from Taylor late in the season. Dew-Treadway preserved a year in ’15 and battled a foot injury throughout ’16. He has size and athleticism.

Jay Hayes is a potential option, depending upon how Elko/Mike Elston view the maximization of his skills. The position becomes much more competitive this fall when Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa arrive, which could tilt Hayes toward the gap at strongside end.

NOSE TACKLE
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Spring personnel: Daniel Cage (1), Pete Mokwuah (2), Brandon Tiassum (3)
Help on the way: Darnell Ewell (4)
Summary: There’s been much speculation regarding Cage and his history of concussions. Until confirmation from Notre Dame, Cage is the starter moving forward, which is important considering the inexperience up front. Mokwuah showed flashes if not stamina in ’16. Tiassum has yet to make a dent. The arrival of Ewell in the fall should impact the position immediately.

STRONGSIDE END
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Spring personnel: Jonathan Bonner (2), Jay Hayes (2), Khalid Kareem (3)
Help on the way: Jonathan MacCollister (4)
Summary: The loss of multi-faceted, reliable Isaac Rochell cannot be overestimated along a defensive line that struggled as a whole. Rochell didn’t provide much pass rush, but he offered everything else, including versatility. Bonner took most of the snaps ahead of Hayes last year. Kareem is an intriguing prospect who could shift inside. MacCollister could play outside or inside long-term.

ROVER
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Spring personnel: Drue Tranquill (2), Asmar Bilal (3), Spencer Perry (4)
Help on the way: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (4)
Summary: The most fascinating position on defense entering the spring because of Elko’s hybrid-created spot. Tranquill is the odds-on favorite to move from safety to Rover, along with Perry, who looked uncomfortable in space during the brief opportunities the media was allowed to observe.

Bilal is a quality option, as suggested by linebackers coach Clark Lea. Greer Martini would be a situational Rover if he doesn’t win the Will position battle with Te’von Coney. Red-shirt freshman D.J. Morgan will start the spring at strong safety, but could switch here as well.

Long-term, Owusu-Koramoah fits the Rover position well.

MIKE LINEBACKER
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Spring personnel: Nyles Morgan (1), Josh Barajas (3), Jonathan Jones (4)
Help on the way: David Adams (4)
Summary: No real competition for a starting spot with captain Morgan emerging as a leader on Notre Dame’s second level. It’s time for Barajas to show he’s truly committed to being a legitimate long-term option for the Irish. If he doesn’t, Jones has a chance to pass him on the depth chart. Adams is a prototypical Mike linebacker.

BUCK LINEBACKER
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Spring personnel: Greer Martini (1), Te’von Coney (2), Jamir Jones (3)
Help on the way: Drew White (4)
Summary: It looks like a battle between Martini and Coney for this spot, although Lea said Martini would cross-train at Rover. Both are competent-to-standout performers at the position. Martini needs to be on the field somewhere. Jones is a true wildcard at linebacker with position flexibility. White will need some physical enhancement, but he’s a bullet off the snap.

FIELD CORNERBACK
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Spring personnel: Shaun Crawford (3), Julian Love (3), Troy Pride Jr. (3)
Help on the way: None
Summary: This is a plus-plus position for the Irish – despite the swing-and-miss in recruiting -- if Crawford can return to health and get through a season unscathed. He remains Notre Dame’s best nickel option, which fits well with the impressive emergence of Love as a true freshman. Pride gained valuable experience as a freshman. Love did play some safety at the end of the ’16 season (against option-based Army).

STRONG SAFETY (STUD)
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Spring personnel: Devin Studstill (3), D.J. Morgan (4)
Help on the way: Jordan Genmark Heath (4)
Summary: It was a hit-and-miss rookie season for Studstill, due largely to inexperience, injury and a star-crossed beginning under Brian VanGorder. Good move by the new defensive staff to switch Studstill to strong safety with Drue Tranquill almost undoubtedly moving to Rover.

Before Morgan can move to Rover, they have to give him a long look at safety. Spencer Perry likely starts out here as well, but his best position looks to be Rover. If Ashton White doesn’t remain at cornerback, it makes sense to shift him to safety. Genmark Heath adds depth, stability and maturity this fall.

FREE SAFETY (WHIP)
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Spring personnel: Jalen Elliott (3), Nicco Fertitta (2), Nick Coleman (2), Isaiah Robertson (4)
Help on the way: Robertson is an early-enrollee
Summary: Elliott is a much-needed feel-good story this spring. With the talent at cornerback, Coleman is a logical move to safety. We’re done underestimating Fertitta. His physicality could allow his move to strong safety to balance the depth chart. (Todd Lyght suggested that possibility.) It won’t be a surprise if Robertson makes an impact in the spring comparable to Studstill as an early-entry last year.

BOUNDARY CORNERBACK
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Spring personnel: Nick Watkins (2), Donte Vaughn (3), Ashton White (3)
Help on the way: None
Summary: A healthy Watkins will start at the boundary cornerback position, although Vaughn – who showed great ball skills in limited use as a freshman – provides a nice one-two tandem. Not much chance of White emerging ahead of these two, so a shift to safety likely is in the cards, although no reinforcements in the 2017 recruiting class may require White to provide depth at cornerback.

KICKER
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Spring personnel: Justin Yoon (2)
Help on the way:  Jonathan Doerer (4)
Summary: With Yoon freed up from kickoff duties via the signing of Doerer, he should remain healthy with a better chance of establishing his consistency as a place-kicker.

PUNTER
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Spring personnel: Tyler Newsome (2), Jeff Riney (3)
Help on the way: Jonathan Doerer (4)
Summary: Newsome needs a rebound season after a brilliant ’15 debut and an inconsistent ’16. Doerer’s main duties are kickoffs, but he’s a long-term punting option. Walk-on Riney is the backup to Newsome until Doerer arrives.

SNAPPER
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Spring personnel: John Shannon (4)
Help on the way: None
Summary: Scott Daly is gone. It’s Shannon’s job.


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