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End of Spring Break means return to business at hand

Mar 14, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT

Redfield AP

Notre Dame returns to practice next Wednesday, two weeks since it last took the field for practice. With the university on break this week, it’s been a nice calm before getting back to the business at hand of improving this football team before fall camp.

And there is work to be done.

Before we get back to actually talking about real football, consider this a weekend checklist of players I’m looking forward to tracking when the Irish get back on the field:

Malik Zaire: So that whole open competition thing at quarterback lasted around 15 minutes, which was about as long as anyone should’ve expected. But Zaire is a key cog to the Irish offense, and getting a look at him taking full field, full offensive system reps will be fascinating illuminating.

Heading into his senior season, Zaire was a run first, sub-50 percent passer. A big time summer on the national circuit, including a really impressive stint at Elite 11 camp, and a great senior season have many believing he’s a late blooming dual-threat quarterback that could be a very good one.

Interestingly enough, the Irish’s two quarterbacks feel like polar opposites. Golson was a prodigious high school talent, putting up record-breaking numbers in South Carolina. Zaire was relatively late on the scene, with basically one season of elite game tape.

Now working with Matt LaFleur, let’s see how Zaire is progressing.

Michael Deeb: I fully expected Deeb to be one of the early contributors of the freshman in 2013.

Boy, was I off.

Now there is literally nobody standing in the way of Deeb stepping into the starting lineup. Especially this spring, with only Deeb, former walk-on Joe Schmidt and fifth-year Kendall Moore available at inside linebacker.

Strategically, keeping Deeb’s eligibility clock from starting was smart, especially with veterans Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox playing alongside Jarrett Grace. But he’d better get a jump start on earning some playing time before he sees the reinforcements arrive this summer.

Ben Koyack: It wasn’t too long ago that Koyack was all but expected to be the next great Notre Dame tight end. As elite of a recruit as there was at the position, it’s taken three full seasons for the Oil City, PA native to reach his potential.

With Troy Niklas gone, the door is open for Koyack to take charge of the position. He’s got the size to play attached to the line, enough athleticism and speed to be productive in the open field, and one season to establish himself as an NFL prospect.

This is an important spring for Koyack. Nobody else at his position has seen the field. He’s the standard bearer for how things should be done. And if there’s a guy that’s likely to catch Brian Kelly’s attention as taking “the leap” forward, expect it to be Koyack.

Joe Schmidt: Count me as one of those fascinated intrigued by Schmidt getting his chance to be a starting inside linebacker at Notre Dame. While his size almost immediately disqualified him from playing for Bob Diaco, Schmidt is the type of athlete that could be effective playing sideline to sideline in Brian VanGorder’s system. But it’s just too soon to tell how good Schmidt.

Almost just as important as Schmidt’s contributions on the field is what his success means on the recruiting trail. A recruited walk-on turning into a successful starter at one of the most high profile programs in the country is music to the ears of bubble recruits that may be weighing non-BCS scholarship offers with a chance to play for the Irish.

As Kelly and his staff look to optimize numbers and play as close to the 85-man scholarship roster limit as possible, having a success story among their recent recruited walk-ons will help bring other potential contributors to campus.

It’s certainly not a risk many can afford, but it’s already the type of opportunity that has fellow Mater Dei football prospect Sam Bush doing the same thing. Our friends over at Irish Illustrated caught up with the 6-foot-4, 285-pound offensive lineman and he relayed the message the Irish coaching staff sent to him.

“They said there’s no better guy that you could have in that situation,” Bush told Irish Illustrated. “He came in as a preferred walk-on, put his heart and mind to it. It’s sort of a cliché, but it’s like Rudy, be the first guy in, last guy out, work up the food chain. Now he’s getting substantial playing time and on scholarship.”

If the Irish get key snaps from players like Schmidt every couple years, it could be contagious.

Max Redfield: If you were to believe the coaching decision in the Pinstripe Bowl, Brian Kelly was telling the truth when he felt like Redfield needed to get an opportunity to play. The freshman started the final game of the 2013 season after being largely anonymous in 2013, leading to him entering spring as the presumed starter at free safety for the Irish.

While we know the verbiage and responsibilities are changing for the linebackers, we have yet to hear what’s going to happen in the secondary. (I expect things to simplify significantly.) But whatever it is, expect Redfield to play a large part in those plans. The move of Matthias Farley likely signified some self-scouting and a change in priorities for the back end of the defense.

If we’re to believe that Redfield will hold down one job, what happens at the other safety position will be fascinating. You could make an argument for Eilar Hardy, Elijah Shumate or Austin Collinsworth to start along side of Redfield. And James Onwualu is too good of a football player to be shifted to defense and shelved for the season.

Whether it’s sub-packages or new coverage schemes, the spring developments at safety, and Redfield’s development into a key starter, are worth watching.

  1. dickasman - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:56 PM

    Hoorayyyyy! What a rotten miserable motherf’ing winter it’s been. I’m GTFO Chitcago holy Chit. I blame democrats. Thanks Obama!

  2. dickasman - Mar 14, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    Are we gonna be any good this year? What’s your WL record predicktion?

    • papadec - Mar 15, 2014 at 3:15 AM

      dick – 13 – 0 !!!! OR bust. Sit down – buckle up – hold on tight – it’s gonna be a wild ride – GO IRISH!!!

      • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:36 PM

        Lolololololol. Papa are you still high from qualifying for obamacare or what? BTW, how did you know I was sitting down w my as$less chaps on? Man you sir are psychic! Psychotic too I might add which is not a bad thing in my book. You know you never gonna surviveeeeeee unless we get a lil crazay.

      • papadec - Mar 16, 2014 at 1:28 AM

        dick – why are you still living in Chi town? The liberals have made Rocky Mountain high legal & Washington followed suit.

  3. idratherbeinsouthbend - Mar 14, 2014 at 7:05 PM

    Joe Schmidt….he’s gotta be at the top of the list…I think we’re all rooting for him, but we’ve been so endoctrinated by the 3-star, 4-star, 5-star BS that we can’t help but be skeptical.

    Ahhhh…F%^K the skepticism….I hope the kid is the second coming of Manti…LOL

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Mar 14, 2014 at 7:06 PM


    • dickasman - Mar 14, 2014 at 7:07 PM

      Are you guys dating or something?

  4. fnc111 - Mar 14, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    The fellas still have two more nights to hook up with chicks in cancun.

    • dickasman - Mar 14, 2014 at 11:25 PM

      Watch out for the Mexican escorts. Some of them randomly carry and transmit AIDS, you know like they do in America too but more so there. Usually I paid little bit more to get a nice hott professional office looking one that cares about their appearance.

      I just realized that I’m a very lucky guy to not have AIDS.

  5. fnc111 - Mar 14, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    Schmidt will be fine. He’s not a star or NFL caliber but he will play really well this season.

    • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:40 PM

      I know Schmidt will be fine but let’s talk about you. How are you doing fnc? How’s life? How are the kids? Are you cheating on your wife? Will your Obamacare finally cover the cost of hemorrhoidectomy and rid you of all the flaming hemorrhoids? will we see a kinder, gentler, nicer fnc?

      I hope not.

  6. mtflsmitty - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:15 AM

    synonyms: interesting, captivating, engrossing, absorbing, enchanting, enthralling, spellbinding, riveting, engaging, compelling, compulsive, gripping, thrilling;

    Feel free to mix one in every now and again, KA.

    • mediocrebob - Mar 15, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      Why don’t you write these articles for him…?

      • mtflsmitty - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:38 PM

        I visit Inside The Irish daily because I’m a huge fan of the Irish, enjoy the commentary of other readers, and value the subject matter and quality of Keith’s writing. But certainly KA is not such a sacred cow that one can’t give him a little bit of crap for unnecessarily using the same adjective 3-4 times in the same article.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Mar 15, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        I’ve always wondered whether there is another word for thesaurus.

    • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:44 PM

      hahahahaha hahahahaha….what a lil justin belieber Prik pad Thai you are smitty! Hey he wrote a article give him a break. Before he used to write one article per spring and me n nude had to give each other reach around still Keith wrote another one.

      He’s come a looooooong way son! Keith, don’t let this Prik get to you. Keep writing, forest gump baby, you can dooooo ittttt! I for one thank you

    • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      Smitty, why do you think I’m doing here? What am I? Don’t toss me aside like just another used piece of magnum?

    • Keith Arnold - Mar 17, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Smitty.

      Didn’t realize I dropped 3 in the same column.

      Swapped out some words to make you happy.

  7. yaketyyacc - Mar 15, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    great following the choices that have to be made. or have the decisions been made before the practice period gets a chance to provide insights, in other words, are we about to get another “rees”?

    • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      I miss Rees already. Where’s the drama?

      • 1notredamefan - Mar 16, 2014 at 12:09 AM


    • notredameirish1980 - Mar 15, 2014 at 1:49 PM

      Which brings up an interesting question: With Rees and Atkinson gone, and Farley moved out of the line of fire, who becomes the object of Irish fans’ ire this year?

      • dickasman - Mar 15, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        Whoever plays extra sucky! Whoever is democrat on the team. I Hope nobody.

      • papadec - Mar 16, 2014 at 1:33 AM

        Paul Hargis & the Trolls – our own special court jesters.

  8. fnc111 - Mar 15, 2014 at 4:05 PM

    Kids, don’t do drugs.

  9. 1notredamefan - Mar 16, 2014 at 12:02 AM

    Bunch o what people hate about us to begin with

  10. 1notredamefan - Mar 16, 2014 at 12:03 AM

    these comments

  11. 1notredamefan - Mar 16, 2014 at 12:07 AM

    are so commonly typical anymore.. you seem to be falling Keith!

  12. 1notredamefan - Mar 16, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    there isn’t new so old seems normal.. Thank god Brian didn’t feel hat way!

  13. mtflsmitty - Mar 16, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Eric Hansen just re-treated a Phil Steele blog post using the NCAA method to rank the toughest schedules. Some noteable rankings for 2014:
    47. Florida St.
    52. Arizona St.
    55. Michigan St.
    59. Michigan
    77. Northwestern
    95. Alabama
    4. Notre Dame

    Steele claims the NCAA approach is flawed due to previous year W/L records as the determining factor. But ND’s strength of schedule may look even tougher with a more nuanced approach.

    Prayers to St Patrick for 10+ wins in 2014. Go Irish!

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