With the start of spring practice a week away, it’s time to toss aside the 2012 media guide and begin anew with 2013. It’s amazing to think about just how far this program has come in the last calendar year. With a new offensive coordinator, a jumbled quarterback battle, and more questions than answers following an 8-5 season, the Irish are light years away from where they were last time they rolled into the ides of March.
With Brian Kelly’s program out to prove that last season wasn’t a flash in the pan, it’s time for the Irish to begin the work that’ll help them put together back-to-back double-digit winning seasons, part of the road back to the elite of college football.
Let’s take a look at some of the interesting storylines we’ll be sure to track, before we run through a position-by-position breakdown.
Welcome to the party, Joey Brooks.
As it often happens during spring practice, a few wildcards tend to emerge. And in former Irish basketball player Joey Brooks, the Irish certainly have quite a large one.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Brooks, a reserve on the basketball team who redshirted this season with the hopes of saving a year of eligibility, swapped his hightops for cleats and is immersed in the transition from basketball to football. For Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, it’s a low-risk move, especially with the Irish always looking for a physical mismatch. It’s not hard to see how Brooks (on paper at least) could provide that.
From Antonio Gates to Jimmy Graham, finding examples of basketball players making the successful transition to the gridiron isn’t difficult. But there’s a long way to go for Brooks, who struggled to find a spot in Mike Brey’s rotation. And while he’s got the size you want in an intriguing tight end / wide receiver prospect, getting it all to come together in 15 spring practices might be a tough order.
That said, the popular Brooks will get a nice long look this spring, and won’t need much time making friends, making fitting in a much easier as he works hard at the transition.
Is it finally time for Amir Carlisle to make his move?
If I was fooled by anyone last spring, it was Amir Carlisle, who I expected to compete immediately for playing time. But a broken ankle before spring practice lingered, and when nerve issues continued to hold Carlisle back, the injury turned into a lost year for the USC transfer, even while being granted immediate eligibility.
That season lost is the Irish’s gain this year, and Carlisle has an open shot at a running back job that’s wide open. With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood both gone, Carlisle has the opportunity to fight George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone for the inside track at tailback… before Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston hit campus this summer.
Running back isn’t the only place where Carlisle can make his mark, with the versatility to play both in the slot and in the backfield. But after a year where expectations didn’t come through, the depth chart — and an extra year of eligibility — could benefit both the running back and the offense in 2013.
Welcome back Austin Collinsworth and Lo Wood. Now go fight for a job.
It wasn’t too long ago that both Collinsworth and Wood looked like they had the inside track at major playing time. For Collinsworth, it was as a nickel back with tremendous versatility. For Wood, it was the starting field cornerback job. But neither made it to the season, with Collinsworth suffering an injury during the Blue-Gold game and Wood tearing his Achilles during fall camp.
Both veterans will be back and hopefully full throttle for spring practice, but will find themselves in a far different position on the depth chart. For Collinsworth, Zeke Motta’s departure, and Jamoris Slaughter being turned down for his sixth season of eligibility, give Collinsworth the chance to jump right back in the mix. But Wood will likely start behind KeiVarae Russell, who emerged as an impressive player who hopped right into the line-up as a freshman starter.
Eighteen months ago, the depth chart in the secondary could’ve been confused for the Hunger Games. Now there’s ample competition at each position, with reinforcements coming this summer. After a tough season lost to injury, both Collinsworth and Wood should come out flying.