Notre Dame Spring Practice Storylines: Part II

EFF YEAH SHILLELAGH POWER!!! (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

There's one more week until spring practice starts for the Fighting Irish, and more storylines to discuss.

In part one I talked about the right side of the offensive line, the pecking order at running back, GA3's role in the offense, youngsters stepping up at middle linebacker, and where Jamoris Slaughter will be playing in 2012.

With part two I have 5 more topics to debate.

More after the jump.

Where's Niklas Getting Reps and What's the Plan with the Tight Ends?

This subject was covered in detail back on March 1st with a look at what Niklas possibly moving to tight end means for the offense.

Needless to say if Niklas does in fact move to offense there will be a lot of eye balls on him during the spring.

Elsewhere, there isn't much to worry about with Tyler Eifert but there will be some questions about whether he'll be a true tight end in 2012 or if he's just a glorified TE who will be lining up at wide receiver an awful lot instead.

Are we underestimating Alex Welch because he couldn't see the field last year due to injuries and was passed up by a true freshman? Remember, Welch looked awfully nimble and efficient during last year's Blue Gold Game.

And what about rising sophomore Ben Koyack? Is he the next superstar at tight end?

As far as this position and its role in the offense, will we see more multiple tight end sets? Will this be more of an emphasis moving forward?

The other big question will be who slides behind Eifert as the No. 2 pass-catching tight end? In an offense that utilizes the tight end a lot, this will be a key spring battle to watch.

Who's the Answer at Outside Receiver?

There's this player who wore No. 3 no longer on the team and he's left a big hole at the outside receiver position and Notre Dame needs to figure out what to do without him.

If we assume that Riddick stays at running back and Toma is forever locked in at the slot, there remains 6 players who could battle for position on the outside during the spring.

T.J. Jones

He's got an awful lot of starts under his belt for a true junior and since he's not exactly battling with a ton of experience or studs (that we know of yet) on the rest of the roster, Jones seems like a smart choice to be one of the starters on the outside and a top three receiver.

But at 5'11" does he have the size to stay on the outside? Some have insisted (I am one of them) that he would be a much better fit in the slot, but can the staff afford to move him away from the outside likely knowing that Davonte Neal is going to push for serious minutes inside anyway?

Ideally Jones will be one of the players that steps up big time in the spring---he's quite ready for that sophomore-to-junior year jump---and hopefully everyone feels a lot better about a returning starter holding down his position after April.

Matthias Farley

Farley was the focus of the one of the off-season's Reviewing the Redshirts and two of the main themes talked about were his lack of experience with football and his less than believed height of 5'10.5"---way below where most recruiting services had him listed.

There's also been some postulating that Farley will even move back to the secondary this spring after moving from there last year.

Be that as it may, I doubt Farley was a candidate to play on the outside. If he stays at receiver he might be the perfect player to groom behind Robby Toma.

Luke Massa

Does anyone know what's going on with Luke Massa?

Recruited to play quarterback who was moved to receiver as a freshman and then quietly appears on the sidelines during the latter part of 2011 as a quarterback. Will he move back to receiver or be a permanent fixture in the Red Hat Brigade for the duration of his career?

Some have suggested his speed is nowhere near fast enough to play wide receiver, so perhaps that move to tight end might not be a bad idea? Either way, he's unlikely to step in as a contributor at outside receiver in 2012.

Daniel Smith

Smith played on special teams as a freshman but sat out last year with a nagging leg injury. There have been some whispers that he's pretty effective in practice whenever he's been able to participate in full health.

One thing is for certain, he has the size (6'4") to be an imposing force on the outside. One of his M.O.'s in high school was a supreme jump ball playmaker, so maybe he can bring that skill set to the next level.

If there's a player on the roster who could make a big leap out of nowhere (relatively speaking) it might be Daniel Smith.

John Goodman

FC Goodman is back as a fifth-year senior and there's been much debate over what his role should be in 2012.

Certainly he'll have every chance to grab an outside receiver spot, but his 28 career receptions (just 9 more than Robby Toma) doesn't exactly instill much confidence that he's about to blow up the extent that he'll lock down a starting job.

I've noted before that I'm skeptical of Goodman's chances to be a big contributor next year but it wouldn't be too surprising if he's one of the top two options on the outside come the Navy game and one of the main rotation guys for most of the season.

DaVaris Daniels

The rising sophomore who sat at out as a freshman has the potential to be a game changer on the outside for the Irish. He doesn't offer the size of Daniel Smith, but DaVaris is the most athletic and explosive receiver over 6'0" and that means he'll be in line to grab one of the outside spots even in his first year on the field.

Although the incoming freshman class at receiver is very talented and there are rumors that a lot wide outs will be playing in 2012, many eyes will be on Daniels this spring because the team desperately needs a presence outside and he has the jump ball skills and speed to fill that role.

What's the Pecking Order on the Defensive Line?

Here's where Irish fans can smile and happily watch a young and talented group battle it out for playing time in the spring.

The starters should be set long before the season with senior Kapron Lewis-Moore anchoring one defensive end position and sophomore Aaron Lynch the other. In the middle at nose guard will be redshirt junior Louis Nix with sophomore Stephon Tuitt aiding both positions as a quasi-starter.

That's a very good top four but the team will need to add depth behind these players and there are quite a few questions as to who will fill those roles.

At nose guard Tyler Stockton is entering his senior year and has made virtually no impact through three years. If he's a lost cause then early enrollee freshman Sheldon Day---who has been impressing in winter workouts---might jump into the mix and play solid minutes in 2012.

At defensive end, three players will battle during the spring for minutes in the fall.

Kona Schwenke has played sparingly through two years on campus and has just two tackles for his career---including zero last year in three games. Can he step up and be a quality rotational player?

Moreover, how much of a jump will Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann make in their second years?

Springmann received a lot of praise shortly before last season began but it was Hounshell who saw the field as a true freshman, playing sparingly and recording all four of his tackles against Air Force.

While there is a lot of talent at the starting positions, the rest of the depth chart is fairly young and inexperienced on the defensive line. Spring practice will be a good window to see who is making moves and who is falling behind.

What's the Plan for Ishaq Williams?

Ishaq was a bit of a mystery last year, burning his redshirt and seeing the field in the first game, but also disappearing for long stretches and not playing much overall on the season. For 2011, Williams ended up with just 6 tackles and 1 tackle for loss.

Coaches and fans will likely lament that Williams burned a year of eligibility last season.

At the same time, the coaching staff has drooled over Williams' combination of size and speed and have been adamant since last National Signing Day about getting him on the field as soon as possible.

Spring ball may show if Williams stays at Cat linebacker or if the rumors are true that the staff is moving him to Dog linebacker.

Splitting time with Prince Shembo at Cat linebacker seems like the prudent move, but the staff may want Ishaq to fill a starting role and that may ultimately mean he heads over the other outside linebacker position. It's not a move I would make with a 6'5" 260 pound athlete with great length and who seems perfect for the Cat spot, but it will be something to keep an eye on in March and April.

Tee Shepard's Progress---Can He Really Start?

Tee Shepard is one of the most complete and talented corners Notre Dame has welcomed in ten years or more. He's been on campus since January and walks into a depth chart that has lost both starters from 2011.

Shepard will have to battle two juniors with minimal career playing time in Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson. Both of these older players bring something different to the field, but neither have the prototypical size nor an abundance of playing time to be a great detriment to Shepard's chances of seeing the field early and often.

Elsewhere, sophomores Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will be looking to step into the lineup as well. Unlike Wood and Jackson, these sophomores are bigger and thought to be more naturally-talented corners.

Since Shepard is an early enrollee his odds of playing, or even starting, are greatly increased. With his size, footwork, smarts and hype as possibly the country's top corner prospect from the 2012 class, it's likely that he will have a big impact as a freshman.

We'll have to keep an eye out for how Shepard is handling the physicality of the college game and how much of the system he is picking up early on. I have a feeling he'll be turning a few heads during spring practice.

The final part 3 coming next week...

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