It’s the annual time of year where fans of every program have the chance to see a small glimpse of what the upcoming year may bring, in regards to their favorite college program. Notre Dame is no different in this aspect, and while the spring game is typically a glorified scrimmage, there is merit to the amount of interest in the 2015 version of the Blue-Gold game.
Optimism and excitement are two very popular adjectives that permeate Irish nation when defining and prognosticating the upcoming season, and for good reason. The Irish are starting the 2015 year off with a healthy and talented group loaded with experience and depth at multiple positions. While these are all positives, the fact remains that there are plenty of question marks surrounding the 2015 version of the Fighting Irish, and the combination of these has made this spring practice as intriguing as any in recent history.
It is easy to focus on the headline stories of this year’s spring practice, and many have. The obvious ones like the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, or the pending eventual/hopeful return KeiVarae Russell from suspension, but there are many more, and ones that will potentially have as much impact on the upcoming season as any. Those storylines range anywhere from a retooled offensive line that has the potential to be one of the best under Kelly, to a move of position to running back with C.J.Prosise, with rave reviews so far.
They don’t stop there either, how about a wide receiving corps that caught every pass for Notre Dame last year all returning, and a secondary that actually has talent and depth – providing the injury bug stays away.
Speaking of injuries, there is no lack for headlines in that department either. During the 2014 season the Irish defense lost a total of 12 players that either were listed as starters, or were expected to play large contributing roles, and the results of those injuries played out over the last six games of the season with devastating results. Many of those injured players are expected to return to full health, and have an impact during the upcoming season.
Two of the bigger names on that list are linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace. With the ankle of Schmidt healing and allowing him to resume non-contact drills, and the leg of Grace now healed, it will be interesting to see where they fit into a suddenly deep and talented linebacking unit for Notre Dame.
A third player to watch, although much less of an issue, will be the full recovery of Corey Robinson, and his fractured thumb . It is was no secret that son of the Admiral had issues holding onto the ball in 2014, but Irish fans and coaches alike are hoping that a fully healed thumb will provide major dividends for the Texas native.
Obviously the player storylines are receiving the majority of the headlines, and rightfully so, but there are some incredibly important ones that are taking place on the practice field, coaching office and sidelines, that could potentially have just as big of an impact as anything player related. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past two months, than you already know that the Irish coaching staff has seen quite the transformation recently.
Former Irish greats Todd Lyght and Autry Denson have been added as defensive backs and running backs coach, and former Boise St. offensive coordinator Mike Sanford has been hired on to fill the same position. In my humble opinion, all three of these transactions are impact moves, and will manifest themselves in a highly positive nature. It’s always easy to overstate certain additions to a staff, but it is just as easy to understate them, and the hiring of Lyght, Sanford, and Denson will have a major impact that will be visible to the eye.
As with any program during the spring, there are a bevy of question marks looming over the Irish program, but for Notre Dame, that isn’t a negative. Most the questions will find their answers in the form of on-field performances, as the Irish aren’t searching for unknown talent, but consistent performers who understand what it takes to get an elite level.
The storylines during the spring practice have already been examined, reexamined, and will continue to be so, both nationally and locally. he Irish have a strong squad to field for the 2015 season, with both front-line talent, and finally some depth to match. With that said though, that doesn’t mean that all the questions will have their answer this spring, because the majority most certainly will not.
I have no issue saying the 2015 version of Notre Dame spring practice is probably the most intriguing under the tenure of Brian Kelly, but will that translate into a trip to the college football playoffs for the Irish? The answer to that question will start to formulate this weekend.