ESPN’s Matt Fortuna is reporting that Notre Dame is expecting back four seniors for 5th years in 2014 – Christian Lombard, Austin Collinsworth, Kendall Moore, and Justin Utupo. At this point, however, nothing has been officially announced by the University.
The first two names on that list should really surprise no one. Lombard started all 13 games in 2012 and then started the first seven games in 2013 before missing the rest of the season following back surgery. Lombard spent the 2012 season at right tackle for Notre Dame but slid inside to right guard with the emergence of Ronnie Stanley at tackle in fall camp. Look for Lombard to start at right guard again for the Irish in 2012.
Austin Collinsworth started 11 games for the 2013 Fighting Irish after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury. In his first season back and during his first stint of extended playing time outside of special teams, Collinsworth led Notre Dame with three interceptions and placed 9th on the team with 43 tackles. Collinsworth, son of NFL on NBC color commentator Chris Collinsworth, also had three pass breakups and three QB hurries this season. Look for Collinsworth to challenge for a starting role in 2014 but be challenged in spring and fall camps by the younger safeties.
The other two names on this list would have been more than a surprise to Notre Dame fans had they heard them back in the summer – they probably would have been a shock – but both Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo saw more and more playing time down the stretch with the injuries Notre Dame faced during the 2013 season.
Kendall Moore became a more and more likely 5th year candidate as his playing time increased and the injuries at inside linebacker mounted for next year. Neither Jarrett Grace or Doug Randolph will take part on contact drills this spring – a development that will impact Randolph more so since he has not played much inside linebacker – leaving Notre Dame with just Michael Deeb and now Moore at inside backer for the spring at this point. Moore played well down the stretch as well though offering some hope that he will be able to challenge for a more prominent role in 2014. Moore ended the 2013 season with 17 tackles and picked off his first career pass in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.
Justin Utupo saw more playing time in the latter stages of 2013 as well as injuries piled up along the defensive line for Notre Dame. Utupo had seven tackles with one for a loss on the season.
If all four players do indeed return for a 5th year – nothing is official until all four graduate and are approved for graduate studies by the University – that would leave Notre Dame with three more spots remaining for the 2014 recruiting class when factoring in the current commitments, early departures, and all four coming back. There are still a lot of names left on the board – especially with the string of recent defensive line offers that have gone out – so it should be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few weeks.