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The Top Notre Dame Football Fall Camp Positional Battles: Offense

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The offensive side of the ball is all but sewn up, or is it?

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Fall camp starts this Friday at Culver Academy just under an hour south of campus. Last Monday was the positional battles on defense, today we take a look at the offense.

Quenton Nelson vs. Alex Bars (LG)

Notre Dame heads into camp with really only one starting position on offense up for grabs (cue someone saying every position is up for grabs!) and it's here at left guard. Even this position might not have been so open had Matt Hegarty remained in the Bend.

My take hasn't changed since spring as I think Nelson has a good lead and will be the starter. Kelly has praised both players to high heaven but if you piece together comments from the past it's a little clearer situation. First, Nelson has been at guard for most of his time at Notre Dame, while Bars was practicing at tackle through last year. Second, Nelson has been described as 'physically dominant' and Bars as 'technically proficient.'

Once the team gets back to campus and practices a few times we should see Nelson win the job officially. At least that's usually the case as the team looks to settle on the 5 top linemen as they prep for the the opener. If that doesn't happen--and we are still entertaining a rotation into mid-August--things will get very interesting. However, I expect Bars to slowly prep for tackle in the future.

Sam Mustipher vs. Tristen Hoge (C)

One of the big goals during camp is figuring out the next best 5 offensive linemen which means the center spot is hugely important. It's a position where an injury to Nick Martin would be a big deal and he's gone after this year anyway. Time for someone to develop quickly!

Originally thought to be a mauling guard we saw Mustipher transition to center late last year and continue there in the spring. He's likely to stay there and remain the backup but he'll be an intriguing player to watch as he's only 6-2 but a hefty 305.

For his part, Hoge is bound to be a bit too thin at his spring listing of 281 but a little more weight and he could be just fine at center. As we've said before Hoge could have an edge because he played so much center prior to arriving in South Bend. Does he ascend to the No. 2 position in fall camp, though? That's a lot to ask for a true freshman.

Durham Smythe vs. Alize Jones vs. Some Receivers (TE)

Pretty much the only question surrounding Alize Jones was if he'd be big enough to the point where he simply could not stay on the sidelines. With all the reports of him tipping the scales at 240 and in tremendous shape this summer it'd be shocking if Jones took a redshirt.

Will it take some time? Will Jones immediately fight Durham Smythe for playing time more as a traditional tight end or will he be split out more and take snaps away from receivers? With a tweaked offense will there be enough opportunities for Alize, especially early on?

My answer is that he'll be on the field somewhere, and early. Quite excited for Jones in his first fall camp.

Amir Carlisle vs. Torii Hunter vs. C.J. Sanders (SLOT)

This position appeared extremely clogged just a couple months ago but with the suspension of Greg Bryant and C.J. Prosise likely being forced to play much more at running back there's a greater competition for this quasi-starting spot.

My initial instinct is to say that we'll see a lot less of the smaller slot receivers in 2015--not that this position has been a huge production spot for the Irish in recent years anyway. I'm sure Carlisle will spend most of camp as the 'starter' but I'm not hitching my wagon to him having a major breakout final season.

Hunter offers some intrigue but has cross-trained on the inside and outside over the past year. I'm not sure if he's such a great fit in the slot and will probably push for more time on the outside. Sanders is that perfect slot receiver (fast, small, shifty) and while I'd love to see him blow the doors off and shoot up the depth chart I'm expecting some modest praise for him as a returner only during camp. At best I think we'll hear Kelly say Sanders is a "guy we have to get the ball into his hands" but he won't be a top receiver right away.

Freshmen Receivers vs. Themselves (WR)

If you count Prosise as a receiver these rookie freshmen wideouts are entering camp as the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th options by seniority. Around 90% of the time this whole crop would take a collective redshirt and look forward to spring football in the New Year.

However, I'm thinking 2 freshmen will play this fall. As mentioned, Sanders is going to be a fixture as a return man and could even be the starting punt returner. St. Brown would be the other receiver I'd guess will play--he's highly touted coming out Servite, offers good size, and while I don't think the politicking is a major aspect the Irish are after St. Brown's younger brothers and are bound to put pressure on themselves to develop Equanimeous right away as a good example to his siblings.

I wouldn't expect to hear St. Brown's name a ton in fall camp but perhaps he'll pop up as someone who could play in the fall and eventually starts playing after a handful of games.

Dexter Williams vs. Josh Adams (RB)

Adams seemed destined for a redshirt entering his senior season in high school while coming off a knee injury. Then, he rushed for over 1,600 yards at 7.8 per carry and a lot of questions were answered. With his size (6-2, 210 as reported on NSD) he's got a leg up on his classmate.

I really, really like Dexter Williams though. And you know me, I think the big backs are overrated. Plus, Prosise will offer plenty of size to begin the season when Bryant is sitting on the sidelines. The third back may not play a lot but it's certainly a position that can see plenty of time as a freshman. With Dexter's speed he's a perfect compliment behind Folston & Prosise.

DeShone Kizer vs. Brandon Wimbush (QB)

Everyone loves a quarterback competition and we should get a little bit of one at the backup spot.

I'll be upfront about this, I don't think Wimbush is going to redshirt. And while I expect the comments by the staff to be pretty even handed for both players, I expect the media to be more impressed with the true freshman when viewing practice.

That might not get Wimbush the backup spot after 2 weeks or when Texas comes to town but I think he'll get that before the season is over. It might be a little different if Zaire stays healthy the whole season and there's no need to play Wimbush. Still, I'm mentally prepared for Brandon to turn some heads in camp.

Is it possible Kizer develops and makes this an easier battle in his favor? Am I being unfair to someone entering his redshirt freshman season? Sure, but a few things keep nagging me.

One, I don't think Kizer is a great fit. His lower half is really big and at 230 pounds he's some upper body development away from being tight end-sized. He was decently athletic in high school but his speed and running just isn't going to match up with Zaire and Wimbush.

Two, from the Elite 11, to practices last fall, to spring practice and the Blue Gold Game this year there's been plenty of accuracy concerns. Obviously we'll see more from him soon but that's going to have to be cleaned up in a big way. He'll have to be a better passer to make up for his lack of running.

Three, the reality is that starting level quarterbacks typically do not take that long to emerge. Think about all of the guys in recent history at Notre Dame. Zaire, Golson, Rees, Clausen, Quinn, Holiday, Powlus, and Rice all became the starter or made solid impacts as freshmen or true freshmen.

I know some are saying, "You can't write Kizer off when we barely know enough about him and just one season on campus!" I'm just saying, Wimbush could be the real deal and if so he will be a handful to keep at bay this season.

Forgotten Freshman to Watch: Jimmy Byrne

Technically a redshirt freshman, Byrne qualifies as one of the more forgotten players on the entire roster. While maybe not a blue-chip recruit he did sneak just inside the Top 300 (299, to be exact) in the Composite rankings. And if you believe Alex Bars ultimately shades more to working at tackle there could be plenty of opportunity for a young guard to make a name for himself during camp at either guard position.

Time to Show Something: Hunter Bivin

If you recall our discussion on offensive line a number of weeks ago I attempted to talk about how modern offensive linemen are more prepared than ever to make an impact early on in their careers. I really, really liked Hunter Bivin coming out of high school and probably gave him one of the two or three highest grades for OL since we've been rating players on National Signing Day.

Now, as a redshirt sophomore he is entering his third season at Notre Dame and one redshirt freshman (McGlinchey) grabbed a starting position last year and another rising redshirt freshman (Bars) is believed to be the top option as the 3rd tackle.

Bivin has bounced around different positions as an underclassman but worked as the backup left tackle during spring and should stay there. That's where he was during the Blue Gold Game while struggling at times so this will be a camp where Bivin will be forced to excel or face being passed on the depth chart.

Most Likely to Move Positions: Corey Holmes

As I talked about last week on defense there really aren't too many players on the radar to switch positions. I was going to pick Justin Brent, who at nearly 6-2 and 205 pounds is well into safety size, but he's been known to have some sort of issue picking up the mental side of receiver so maybe a move to a more demanding defensive position just isn't in the cards. Plus, would Brent immediately even be in the two-deep at safety anyway? So why move him?

The same questions surround Corey Holmes (save the mental stuff) but is there really a big reason to move him? At best he'd be the 5th corner in 2015--is that important enough? It may be if there's so much of a log-jam at receiver, a couple freshmen wideouts pass him, and Holmes has a real shot to be an impact corner in 2016 and beyond.