In 20 days the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team will return to the practice fields in South Bend to begin spring football. This spring has extra hype since the Irish surprised everyone last year by going 12-0 in the regular season and then surprised everyone again by getting their heads kicked in by Alabama for the National Championship. There is still a chip on their shoulder, which hasn’t been said about the Notre Dame football teams lately. They know they can compete with good teams now they know what it takes to compete with great teams. With the many questions entering the spring, which is the biggest question and what is the biggest concern?
Who will replace the tandem of Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick? George Atkinson III is said to be the one to get the majority of the carries, but who will be his backup? The only other player on the roster that had carries last season is Cam McDaniel, who is undersized, but plays with tremendous heart and desire. Greg Bryant is predicted to get playing time, but the 5 star recruit will have to prove his worthiness on the practice field, but he won’t be on campus until summer so he will have catching up to do. Also, Tarean Folston is the 4 star freshman who will be on campus in the summer, but unless he really impresses the coaches I don’t see him getting much playing time if any this year. Then there are guys that often get forgotten in the mix like transfer from USC Amir Carlisle and sophomore and former 4 star recruit William Mahone. My prediction would be GAIII then Greg Bryant followed by Carlisle, McDaniel, Mahone, and Folston.
Can the defense do it again? Who is the leader of the defense? When the Notre Dame defense carried the team and the offense through its struggles it was a relief that the defense had finally started playing great football. Now the offense will have a second year man at quarterback (more than likely) with some smaller concerns, but the defense will have to replace key position players this spring. The leaders that will emerge in my opinion are Louis Nix III, Prince Shembo, and Bennett Jackson. Manti Te’o will likely be replaced by Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox who both played and shared the other inside linebacker position. Jarrett Grace is a guy that will get much more playing time depending on the performance of Fox and Calabrese. Zeke Motta was the second leading tackler behind Te’o and he is now gone, so who could replace him? Nicky Baratti got some limited time at the safety position, but ended up with an interception during the season. Elijah Shumate is also a defensive back, but saw all of his time at the cornerback position. Will he switch to safety to earn playing time? Jalen Brown is another question mark with some game time experience, but can he play the safety position? Then there is Max Redfield the 5 star safety that will have a very good shot at starting next fall. Lastly Kapron Lewis-Moore was a very good and underrated player at Notre Dame and will be missed, but who will replace him? Sheldon Day and Tony Springmann are the most experienced defensive linemen the Irish will have back this fall. Sheldon Day mainly plays defensive end and Springmann usually plays defensive tackle, but saw some action at end last season. These two guys should get most of the rotation with Vanderdoes if he adjusts well to the next level. It’s very possible that Shembo will step over to defensive end in 3rd down situations. In 20 days the competition will begin and guys will have opportunities to prove themselves especially on April 20th, which is the Blue and Gold spring game.