Notre Dame starts spring practices today, 85 days after the 2020 season ended on New Year’s Day. These 15 spring practices start 2-3 weeks later than they would in normal times, the result of a brief winter workout pause while the Irish program navigated some positive coronavirus test results and of the logic that Notre Dame’s campus would be in a better situation, pandemic-wise, later in the spring.
With the University planning to open an on-campus vaccination center in mid-April to accommodate all students, faculty and staff, that logic has held up as much as could be hoped for.
This space paced itself, slacked off and focused energies on other day-to-day items such that it now publishes the last needed piece of spring previews hours before spring practice begins. Where some might see procrastinating to just beat a deadline, this space sees a meticulously efficient use of time these last 85 days.
This next month will feature — all disclaimers carried over from 2020, obviously — five Zoom sessions with Irish head coach Brian Kelly, beginning early this afternoon, five sessions with sets of four players, and one apiece with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, special teams coordinator Brian Polian, recruiting coordinator Mike Elston and director of player personnel Dave Peloquin.
In other words, finally, new Notre Dame content. News, updates, insights. Well, as much as can be gleaned from those sessions, as the first 14 spring practices will be closed to the media, understandably so.
The 15th practice, better known as the Blue-Gold Game, will come on May 1 if all things proceed as planned and will be broadcast on NBC’s streaming app, Peacock, free of charge. Expect repeated reminders of that for the next five weeks.
All part of finally returning to spring practice after last year’s rendition was cut short after just one day. First, an approximation of the current defensive depth chart:
The defensive line is the most settled of these groupings, with decent expectations of the pecking order at all four positions. A wrinkle could develop in moving fifth-year tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa to the end position in certain packages, but that would be more a wrinkle than a norm.
Vyper end (formerly referred to as the Drop): Junior Isaiah Foskey, sophomore Jordan Botelho, early-enrolled freshmen Will Schweitzer and Devin Aupiu.
Strong/big end: Senior Justin Ademilola, junior NaNa Osafo-Mensah, sophomore Alexander Ehrensberger.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) March 26, 2021
There should be plenty of cross-training here this spring, reflected below by the two mentions of junior Jack Kiser. Note: Senior Paul Moala will not contribute much, if anything, this spring after suffering an Achilles injury last fall.
Will linebacker (formerly known as Buck): Junior Marist Liufau or senior Shayne Simon, junior Jack Kiser.
Mike (middle) linebacker: Fifth-year Drew White, senior Bo Bauer, junior JD Bertrand.
Rover: Senior Paul Moala (Achilles), junior Jack Kiser, fifth-year Isaiah Pryor.
Both sophomore Clarence Lewis and senior Tariq Bracy have experience at field (wide side) cornerback and essentially none at boundary, but someone needs to become Notre Dame’s sideline cornerback moving forward, and Lewis has a more promising future, so he will presumably get the first crack at it.
Boundary cornerback: Sophomore Clarence Lewis, sophomore Caleb Offord, early-enrolled freshman Caleb Barnes.
Field cornerback: Senior TaRiq Bracy, junior Cam Hart, junior Ramon Henderson.
A starter who will not come off the field in any situation and then a whole bunch of questions.
Boundary safety: Junior Kyle Hamilton, early-enrolled freshman Justin Walters, junior KJ Wallace.
Field safety: Senior Houston Griffith, senior D.J. Brown, junior Litchfield Ajavon.