The big news of the day was obviously the naming of Dayne Crist as the starting quarterback for the 2011 season (more on that later), but the results of other key position battles were also announced with a few surprise winners in the mix.
We’ll start with the biggest surprise of the day. Junior Dan Fox has beat out incumbent starter Carlo Calabrese for the starting WILL linebacker position. Both Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco said that they consider both players starters, but Fox will be the one getting the reps with the first team and seeing the field first. With a pair of athletic quarterbacks including the very dangerous Denard Robinson on the schedule over the first two weeks of the season, this makes a lot of sense – even if Calabrese was very effective in his first season as a starter in 2010. Fox brings more speed and athleticism to the table – something that will be needed those first two weeks.
When Notre Dame plays the Michigan State’s, Boston College’s, and Stanford’s of the schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little more of Calabrese than we do early in the season because he is so strong against the run. That said, the job was won by Fox in camp and he’ll have every opportunity to hold onto it. Two years ago I wrote in the annual Here Come the Irish season preview that Fox was my sleeper pick of his class and based on this year’s camp, he may just prove me right.
In another somewhat surprising move, Jamoris Slaughter retook the starting role at field safety he lost to Zeke Motta last year after suffering through some injuries. Kelly mentioned that both Slaughter and Motta will play a lot – just like Fox and Calabrese will both play a lot – but Slaughter is the one who will be in the starting lineup. Slaughter came to Notre Dame as a corner before converting to safety and like Fox, gives Notre Dame a little more athleticism on the field early in the season.
Moving over the offensive side of the ball, one of the few positions up for grabs was the right guard spot which will be manned by Chris Watt after he beat out Andrew Nuss for the starting gig. Just like at field safety and WILL, however both players will see the field. Starting Watt makes a lot of sense because Nuss is a little more versatile and can play multiple positions, making him very valuable off the bench as the first reserve in at guard and tackle. Watt has not seen the field much so far in his career, but a lot has been said about him by both this coaching staff and the previous staff for Notre Dame fans to be excited. It would not surprise me at all if Watt turned out to be this year’s Zack Martin.
The only freshman thus far to win a starting job will be place kicker Kyle Brindza who will handle the kick-off duties this season. This should come as no surprise as Brindza came in with the reputation for having a huge leg capable of producing touchbacks with greater frequency than Notre Dame fans are used to seeing.
Lastly, though Kelly did not specifically mention it on Tuesday, Brian Hamilton reported that Sean Cwynar will get the nod at the starting nose tackle position over sophomore Louis Nix. Like the other spots that were won Tuesday, expect to see a lot of Louis Nix along with Cwynar even though Cwynar will reportedly be the starter. Nix is still working his way into the shape he needs to be in to handle the bulk of the reps. He has made huge strides in that area this off-season and with continued work there he could be ready to be a dominant force on a consistent basis in the near future.