Notre Dame's 2018 spring practice schedule begins today. That leaves 46 days until the Blue-Gold spring game April 21. There are some key position battles that bear watching during the spring, as well as seven early enrollees from the 2018 recruiting class who will be getting their first taste of Notre Dame football.
“They've acclimated themselves extremely well socially and academically,” coach Brian Kelly said of the incoming freshmen. “Then in the weight room. (I've) been really pleased. ... I think you'll see all those guys compete very well in the spring.”
Before the first spring practice this morning, Kelly will meet with the team and announce three captains, who he said Monday he'd already chosen with the help of the team.
“We have a number of leaders who won't have a C on their jersey but have done a really good job in these seven weeks (since last season ended) of leading,” said Kelly, who is entering his ninth season as coach of the Irish. “I'm really proud of a number of players who have exhibited the kind of growth and maturity to take on more.”
These are some of the positional battles to watch this spring. Early enrollees from the 2018 recruiting class will participate in spring practice.
Key departures: None
Key arrivals: Phil Jurkovec
Outlook: This is probably still Brandon Wimbush's job to lose. The rising senior threw 16 touchdowns with only six interceptions last season while averaging 5.7 yards per carry on top of it. Still, a .495 completion percentage will put anyone's job in jeopardy. Rising junior Ian Book will get a long look this spring and maybe in training camp, too.
Key departures: Josh Adams (1,430 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017)
Key arrivals: Jahmir Smith (early enrollee), C'Bo Flemister
Outlook: Replacing Adams, who came within eight yards of breaking the Irish's single-season rushing record, is one of the team's priorities this offseason. Dexter Williams is an explosive back who averaged 9.2 yards per carry in 2017 but struggled in pass protection. Rising junior Tony Jones Jr. can win the featured-back job if he stays healthy.
Key departures: Equanimeous St. Brown (515 yards, four touchdowns in 2017)
Key arrivals: Micah Jones (early enrollee), Kevin Austin, Lawrence Keys
Outlook: Notre Dame's passing game was anemic last season, so much so that St. Brown's 33 catches were a team-high. Chase Claypool (29 catches in 2017) and Miles Boykin (21 yards per catch) will lead the way for what could be a better group this season. Four-star recruit Jones could make an early impression this spring.
Key departures: None
Key arrivals: George Takacs (early enrollee)
Outlook: The Irish didn't get much pass-catching production from its tight ends last season, but that could change this year. Alize Mack has been inconsistent (and was suspended for the Citrus Bowl last season) but oozes with talent. Incoming freshman Takacs is 6-foot-7 and was one of the best tight end recruits in the 2018 class.
Key departures: Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Harry Hiestand (coach)
Key arrivals: Jarrett Patterson, John Dirksen, Luke Jones
Outlook: In McGlinchey and Nelson, the Irish are losing two captains and two players who will probably be early NFL draftees. Getting Patterson on national signing day helps, but this will be a huge spring for the offensive line, which will be almost completely made over. Center Sam Mustipher and guard Alex Bars lead the returnees.
Key departures: Andrew Trumbetti
Key arrivals: Jayson Ademilola
Outlook: The Irish return almost everyone from a defensive line that was solid if unspectacular a season ago. This unit is deep and has the talent to be elite if a few key pieces take steps forward. Rising 6-foot-6 senior Jerry Tillery had 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss last season, while Jonathan Bonner had 30 tackles and will be expected to be a leader.
Key departures: Nyles Morgan (92 tackles, seven tackles for loss), Martini Greer (75 tackles, three tackles for loss)
Key arrivals: Matthew Bauer (early enrollee), Jack Lamb (early enrollee), Shayne Simon
Outlook: The Irish return a ton of talent at linebacker, including captain Drue Tranquill and last season's leading tackler, Te'von Coney. Last year's linebackers coach, Clark Lea, is now the defensive coordinator, so this group should be very comfortable. Losing Morgan hurts, but Bauer and Lamb are among the best in their class and will have plenty of opportunities to play their way into the rotation this spring.
Key departures: None
Key arrivals: Alohi Gilman (transfer from Navy), Houston Griffith (early enrollee), Derrik Allen
Outlook: Notre Dame picked off only 10 passes last year and gave up 23 touchdowns through the air, so this unit can improve. Griffith, a cornerback from Florida, is the top recruit and could see the field as a true freshman if he impresses this spring. Rising junior Julian Love had a team-best 20 pass breakups last season.