This offseason sees a lot of turnover at key positions for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, with the departures of several key starters - including a couple who had been starting for several years. Multi-year starters create multi-year reserves, and there are opportunities all over the Irish roster for talented players who have been waiting for their shot to finally seize it. These veteran players, who have seen action but never gained starring roles, are among the guys with the most to gain (or lose), and thus the most to prove, in spring camp. (For purposes of this article we are looking at guys without significant starting experience, so no Chris Tyree or Clarence Lewis in spite of the fact that they would also be helped by a great spring).
While it far from settles positional question marks, spring practice gives these guys an opportunity to put themselves in the driver’s seat heading into fall camp. Let’s take a look at a few of these guys who we should make sure to be watching in spring ball.
Probably the closest thing to a lock for a starting role we’ll discuss today, Botelho is a guy whose raw physical potential jumps off the page and, combined with a commendable nasty streak, begs to be put somewhere on the field. The Irish have tried in the last couple years to find the right spot for him, everywhere from Rover to Vyper, but a talented, veteran Irish front seven was a difficult place to find consistent minutes. Botelho did however find ways to make an impact at many points in his limited time, and his physical dynamism is in no ways diminished entering his fourth season.
With Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola both declaring for the NFL Draft, Botelho is at last in the driver’s seat for the starting VYPER role. A trio of rising sophomores - Joshua Burnham, Niuafe Tuihalakama and Aidan Gobaira - will challenge Botelho in spring camp, and it is worth noting that Tuihalakama saw major minutes at linebacker last season, indicating a high level of trust from the coaching staff, while both Burnham and Gobaira bring major athletic ability to the table. Enter the wild card of transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste, who could play at both end positions for Notre Dame, and Botelho’s grip on the starting role is far from certain. He will have to show improved discipline and play smart assignment football, channeling his natural aggression in a way that can be relied on consistently; if he does, get ready for a monster year for the senior from Honolulu.
Kevin Bauman is a year older than Evans and has spent his entire career at Notre Dame in the shadow of his classmate Michael Mayer, and if this were a list of guys with the most to prove overall in the offseason Bauman would make it for sure, but a season-ending ACL tear will keep the rising senior out of spring practice (prior to his injury, Bauman was the clear no. 2 tight end in Notre Dame’s offense). Bauman’s absence in camp creates an opportunity for Evans to defend the lead role he seized in last year’s Gator Bowl. Evans enters spring camp as the senior-most healthy player at the position, and has already proven himself as a ferocious, physically punishing blocker while flashing intriguing potential in limited exposure as an offensive weapon.
Although his talent is clear, Evans has a tough task ahead of him this offseason. Holden Staes enters spring camp having seen real minutes in 2022 and earned a lot of hype for his receiving ability, and with Bauman and Eli Raridon injured he will get a lot of reps to show that off. Evans will have show he can develop into a complete tight end who can bring contested balls, make plays over the middle and gain yards after the catch if he wants to seize a starting role that he can defend against Staes, then Bauman and Raridon later in the offseason.
Spindler is only a junior but this is nonetheless a pivotal off-season for a guy many expected to see as a starter as early as 2021. With the tackles and center spots in Notre Dame’s offensive line locked down, a ferocious battle for the two guard spots will ensue between Spindler and a host of talented players - not only veterans Andrew Kristofic and Michael Carmody but also youngsters Pat Coogan, Ashton Craig and Billy Schrauth.
Spindler is in an unenviable position, fighting from the middle of the scholarship chart against both veterans with quality playing time under their belts (Kristofic in particular is a heavy favorite to win a starting role) and young players who are already rumored to be challenging him for snaps. He will have to rediscover the form and energy that led him on his early ascent in 2021 and establish a rapport with his new coach Joe Rudolph, but if he does the Michigan native could very well see himself starting in Dublin in week zero.