Jordan Prestwood leaving the football team yesterday was hardly the only big piece of personnel news. As the Irish donned pads for the first time in front of local media, Brian Kelly’s troops had a few big roster shakeups, two that could change the positional plans for the Irish.
Most notable was a serious knee injury to junior tight end Alex Welch, who was competing with sophomores Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas for the No. 2 job behind All-American Tyler Eifert. Welch was injured near the end of practice and carried off the field. As I hinted at yesterday on Twitter, multiple sources told me it was a torn ACL, essentially ending his season before it starts. (IrishIllustrated.com has also confirmed the ACL tear.)
The loss of Welch doesn’t limit what the Irish offense can do, but it sure takes away some of the versatility it could have had. With Welch, Koyack and Niklas, the Irish had three capable in-line tight ends, allowing Eifert to be split wide, in the slot, or just about anywhere Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin want to put him. While senior Jake Golic will move into the mix with Welch gone, losing the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from Cincinnati is a blow to a position of great depth.
One position that doesn’t have great depth is the ‘dog’ outside linebacker. Playing on the wide side of the field, the two defenders with the most experience there last season are no longer at the position, with Prince Shembo competing with Ishaq Williams for Darius Fleming’s old job and Troy Niklas now playing tight end. That leaves junior linebacker Danny Spond and sophomore Ben Councell battling for the position, a competition that’s been thrown in flux after Kelly reported that Spond suffered a concussion in practice yesterday.
Kelly only had the preliminary report on Spond, making it a guessing game for fans to wonder if the junior linebacker is out for days or weeks. Some have referenced a serious concussion Spond suffered during his senior season of high school, but while relevant, it’s not really an indicator of how long or serious this injury could be.
While Spond heals, the majority of the reps will be taken by Councell, ready to take the field after sitting out his freshman season. Long thought of as the prototype field-side linebacker on the roster, the early returns on his play seem incredibly positive, with both the head coach and a reporter agreeing that the 6-foot-5, 240-pound North Carolina native has been a disruptive force early on.
“He’s really athletic,” Kelly said. “He can play out over the No. 2 and re-route him but he can also sit down on the tight end. That versatility is important and he’s long. He plays pretty big out there. He’s a guy that arrives at the ball with the kind of tenacity that you want. Just every day is a new experience for him, learning. But he’s what it should look like out there.”
Lastly, just days after announcing Brad Carrico was hanging up the pads for good because of a foot injury, it appears running back Cam Roberson is doing the same thing. The junior running back suffered a major knee injury two springs ago and just hasn’t been able to fully recover.
“Cam Roberson physically was not able to compete at the level that he felt was necessary to play here at Notre Dame so we’re going to pursue a medical hardship for him,” Kelly said.
The loss likely won’t be felt on the depth chart, but it’s sad news for a guy that came into Notre Dame with high hopes. It’s a stark reminder for both players and recruits that picking a school isn’t just about picking a football program. It’s a bit of a cliche, but there’s some truth to the Notre Dame maxim that choosing a college isn’t a four-year decision but rather a forty year one. With medical hardship scholarships, both Carrico and Roberson will be able to complete their educations without counting against the Irish’s 85-man scholarship limit.