When Brian Kelly met with the media on Friday he gave some updates on the positions where he is seeing the most competition this spring. Not surprisingly, most of those positions are on the defensive side of the ball where the Irish are install a new system and looking for any fixes for what has been a leaky defense for years.
Notre Dame has some positions up for grabs on offense as well with the difference being those battles are more just looking for the best player at the position. On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish are still trying to identify which players are the best fits for some of the new positions in Mike Elko’s defense.
Here’s a quick recap of the ones that Brian Kelly mentioned specifically.
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Bonner vs. Micah Dew-Treadway
The injury to Elijah Taylor opened the door for the rising Dew-Treadway. Jerry Tillery’s work at nose tackle is making this battle possible though. If Notre Dame finds someone to take over the #1 NT job, Tillery will slide back to the 3-technique and this won’t be a battle any longer most likely. That will require either Daniel Cage to show he can handle a starter’s work load or Scott Pagano to select Notre Dame as a graduate transfer.
If this ends up being Bonner vs. Dew-Treadway long term, it’s hard to envision this being anything but a committee. Bonner is a bit undersized inside here and Dew-Treadway hasn’t play one meaningful down in his career at this point. Reports out of spring ball, however, suggest that Dew-Treadway put in a lot of work in the off-season and is surging.
Defensive End: Jay Hayes vs. Julian Okwara
This is a curious one since Hayes and Okwara seemingly should be battling at different positions. Hayes seems built for the strong side while Okwara would seem to be more of a fit at the weakside, or DROP, end position. Daelin Hayes reportedly has been trending at the DROP position so Kelly likely was referring to the strong side. Okwara might be an odd fit at the position as one of the few players on the roster with some pass rush ability.
BUCK LB: Greer Martini vs. Tevon Coney
We highlighted this position battle earlier in spring and it still remains one of the more intriguing to watch moving forward. It also another position where we will likely see some sort of rotation in the fall. When Notre Dame plays uptempo, spread based offenses, Coney is the likely BUCK. When the power running and option teams come to town, those games are the type of games the Greer Martini is built for. Martini has made the majority of his tackles and negative plays against those teams.
ROVER: Drue Tranquill vs. Asmar Bilal
Kelly said on Friday that both Tranquill and Bilal will play at the position. Like the BUCK, this position could be game situational. Against passing offenses, Tranquill makes sense at ROVER since his game is not well suited for deep coverage at the safety position. Against power running and option teams, however, Bilal would seem to make sense wit Tranquill providing some extra size at safety in those weeks.
I have said for a while I think Bilal is in the lineup week 1 when Temple comes to town with the Owls run heavy offense.
Strong Safety: Devin Studstill vs. Jalen Elliot
If there is a position that is more concerning at this point than the defensive line, it’s the backend of the secondary at safety. The move of Nick Coleman to free safety looks like it has the potential to pay off for the Irish. Coleman will ideally add a bit more bulk before the season if he is going to be an every down safety, but at strong safety Notre Dame still has some big question marks. Can either Studstill or Elliot separate themselves at strong safety?
How does Tranquil fit into the mix? If Tranquill plays both safety and ROVER like it sounds he will, Studstill or Elliot would be needed against the higher octane offenses which is the majority of the schedule this fall.
Tight End: Durham Smythe vs. Alize Jones vs. Nic Weisher
Kelly mentioned the competition at tight end on Friday but in reality, Notre Dame appears destined to play a lot of multiple tight end sets with talent on hand. Smythe would be the “starter” as a more traditional tight end with Jones split out wide in place of the Z receiver position where he will be a matchup nightmare for any defense the Irish face this fall.
What will be the most interesting to watch here is the play of Weishar. Weishar had a chance to establish himself last year when Jones was out with his suspension but was unable to. He still has two years of eligibility left but with Brock Wright on campus already and Cole Kmet coming this summer, his window is closing rapidly.
Right Tackle: Tommy Kraemer vs. Liam Eichenberg
This will be the heavy weight bout of all position battles this spring and summer. The rising sophomores are probably going to be battling for this spot into the summer at which point Kelly and Harry Hiestand will have to make a call so that the offensive line is able to form some chemistry before the bullets star flying in September. Notre Dame really can’t go wrong here as both are elite prospects who will be playing a lot of football for the Irish in the future.
Most think Kraemer has the inside track here but don’t sleep on Eichenberg. Kraemer’s best football might be at guard similar to Alex Bars who moved to RG after a season at RT in 2016. If the staff sees a similar future for Kraemer, it would make sense for Eichenberg to get the nod at RT this season and use Kraemer as the top reserve at tackle and guard before he slides into Quenton Nelson’s LG spot next year.
Kelly also briefly touched on running back and wide receiver without going into too much detail. At running back Josh Adams appears to be pretty locked in atop the depth chart though both Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr will force their way onto the field for some carries.
At wide receiver, Kelly specifically mentioned junior Miles Boykin making his case for playing time at receiver where he is battling with the likes of Chase Claypool, Javon McKinley, and Kevin Stepherson. Or basically any wide receiver not named Equanimeous St. Brown.
Half way through spring practice it is normal to have this many positions wide open and it would benefit Notre Dame to not lock into starters at too many of these positions before fall camp.