Notre Dame opens spring football practice Monday and will have 14 practices to get things set up for next season before closing the 15 workout sessions with the Blue-Gold game April 12.
Quarterback Everett Golson is back after missing last season because of academic reasons, but coach Brian Kelly has said he will not annoint Golson, who led the Irish to the BCS title game in 2012, the starter. And there are plenty of other questions that will begin being sorted out over the next month.
Here are five areas of interest for Notre Dame this spring:
The Irish will have two scholarship quarterbacks to start camp with Golson and Malik Zaire, who didn’t play as a freshman, sharing reps. Incoming freshman DeShone Kizer will join the team in June. Golson has played in 12 games and went 10-1 as a starter. He threw for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions and ran 298 yards and six touchdowns in his lone season. Kelly praised Zaire’s ability to make plays in game situations. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 62 yards with a touchdown and an interception in last year’s spring game. While the starting spot is likely Golson’s to lose, Zaire could plant the seed for an interesting competition in the fall.
Receivers, tight ends
Notre Dame’s top three receiving options for last season will not be in camp. T.J. Jones graduated, tight end Troy Niklas left early for the NFL, and DaVaris Daniels told CBSSports.com that his semester suspension was because of poor grades. That leaves two players who caught a single pass each from Golson in 2012, receiver Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyak.
The absences will help Cory Robinson (nine catches, 157 yards, 1 TD) and CJ Prosise (seven, 72) and early enrollee Justin Brent and Torii Hunter Jr., who didn’t play as a freshman, establish themselves.
Notre Dame returns plenty of starting experience in Ronnie Stanley, Christian Lombard, Nick Martin, Steve Elmer and Matt Hegarty, but the Irish need to rebuild the left side of the line with the graduation of tackle Zack Martin and Chris Watt. Lombard and Nick Martin ended last year injured, and Martin isn’t expected to take part in spring practices. Sophomores Mike McGlinchey and Hunter Bivin are both possibilities to fill the tackle role, and the Irish have four more linemen coming in this summer.
The Irish lost nose guard Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Tuitt as both players gave up a final year to enter the NFL draft. That leaves the Irish with Sheldon Day, Justin Utupo, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochelle with playing experience and the need for sophomore Jacob Matuska, who didn’t play last season, and freshman Andrew Trumbetti, who enrolled early, to show they are ready to play come fall. Seniors Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann, a Bishop Dwenger graduate, are returning from injury, and Springmann will not participate at the start of spring drills.
More from Smith
Former Bishop Luers star Jaylon Smith shined as a freshman. The outside linebacker was third in tackles with 67, and he had 6 1/2 tackles for loss, an interception, three pass breakups and forced and recovered a fumble while starting all 13 games. Kelly said he wants Smith to be able to help those around him improve in his sophomore season: That’s the next thing that we’ll be working with Jaylon on, to bring some guys with him. The Larry Bird Rule that I use all the time: Make guys around him better. He’s not there yet, but that’ll be the next gauge for him.