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The Journal Gazette

February 13, 2017 8:30 AM

Projecting Irish's 2017 depth chart

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

National signing day is past, roster comings and goings are mostly done, and spring practice will be here before you know it, so let’s take a stab at Notre Dame’s depth chart. Based on the present snapshot, here is a position-by-position breakdown of how things look for the Irish:

Quarterback: Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book, Avery Davis

The coaching staff has been encouraged with Book’s development coming out of his redshirt season. But no matter how well he does, he won’t unseat Wimbush for the starting job if Wimbush remains healthy. Coach Brian Kelly left no doubt that the starting job belongs to Wimbush. Davis is the next redshirt.

Running back: Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr.

It was no surprise that the Irish signed a running back in the 2017 class, C.J. Holmes, but they’ll be relying on Adams and Williams for the bulk of the carries, and Jones’ presence means this is a position with good depth. Adams’ body betrayed him at times last season, so depth is a comfort.

Tight end: Durham Smythe, Alizé Jones, Nic Weishar, Brock Wright, Cole Kmet, Tyler Luatua

Having six candidates for playing time at this position seems a bit excessive if everyone is healthy and eligible. But, for a spot that has lagged in production for years now, the more, the merrier. Jones is back from an academic ban and the most promising threat in the passing game, while Luatua remains the blocking specialist.

Wide receiver: Equanimeous St. Brown, Kevin Stepherson, C.J. Sanders, Chris Finke, Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Freddy Canteen, Javon McKinley

Assuming good health, the top three of St. Brown, Stepherson and Sanders are set in stone, which intensifies the competition for what could be one final role carrying significant playing time. Finke gets the nod here because of his last impression -- four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown on Nov. 26 at Southern California.

Offensive tackle: Mike McGlinchey, Liam Eichenberg on left side, Alex Bars, Tommy Kraemer, Aaron Banks and Josh Lugg on right side

McGlinchey and Bars enter their second year as starters at those positions. With so much young talent added in the last two recruiting classes, it strengthens the spring and fall competitions to secure a role as top backups.

Center: Sam Mustipher, Tristen Hoge

Mustipher’s intelligence makes him a natural fit in the pivot after the Irish promoted him to starter last year, which pushed Hoge to guard, though Hoge will maintain a working knowledge of center in case of emergency.

Guard: Quenton Nelson, Hoge on left side, Hunter Bivin, Robert Hainsey, Parker Boudreaux on right side

This group includes a future NFL starter in Nelson; plenty of youth and potential for returning offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to work with.

Defensive tackle: Daniel Cage, Jerry Tillery, Elijah Taylor, Pete Mokwuah, Micah Dew-Treadway, Darnell Ewell, Kurt Hinish

There is some unproven depth after Cage and Tillery. Cage is at the top of this group, but it will all depend on how often new defensive coordinator Mike Elko uses a three-man line.

Defensive end: Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti, Jonathan Bonner, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara

With Isaac Rochell gone, at least one Hayes is expected to bump into a starting role. Then there’s the experienced Trumbetti trying to build on seven 2016 starts with three youngsters who have flashed potential vying for snaps as reserves.

Linebacker: Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini at middle, Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, Asmar Bilal on outside

With Morgan and Coney returning as starters, and Martini being a versatile veteran backup, this group currently has good depth, but the bigger-picture question is if the Irish implement Elko’s “rover” spot. That’s what Tranquill, a safety in 2016, would play. This is another position that seems a bit too deep to figure out just yet.

Cornerback: Shaun Crawford, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn, Nick Watkins, Troy Pride Jr.

Crawford, the team’s No. 2 corner in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending foot injury in the second game, could step in right away as the No. 1 option now that Cole Luke graduated. Love and Vaughn, freshmen in 2016, caught the eye with solid ball skills, making this a position with high upside and a bright future.

Safety: Devin Studstill, Jalen Elliott, Nicco Fertitta, Isaiah Robertson

This entire group, save Robertson, returns from 2016, with the lone change the probable departure of Tranquill to the “rover” position. Much uncertainty exists, however, about the level of performance, and Nick Coleman, a backup cornerback who struggled mightily in 2016, could try his hand at safety.

Specialists: Justin Yoon (kicker), Tyler Newsome (punter), John Shannon (long snapper), Sanders (returner)

The lone change is that incoming freshman Jonathan Doerer will handle kickoff duties, not Yoon.