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January 31, 2014

Irish getting healthy for spring

Brian Kelly will get some new material this spring.

When Notre Dame opens off-season practices on March 3, the Irish will welcome back a handful of veterans scratched by injury last fall while making some freshmen live for the first time. That means for as much focus as will find the quarterback position where the program has a new coordinator, new quarterbacks coach, old starter and new challenger, the remainder of the depth chart will get its own refresh.

Notre Dame's most surprising injury returns rank among the program's most significant in center Nick Martin and linebacker Ben Councell, both coming off knee injuries suffered last November. Councell tore his ACL on kickoff coverage against Navy while Martin suffered a MCL tear against BYU.

"Two guys in particular have exceeded all expectations and that's Ben Councell and Nick Martin," Kelly said. "If they walked through here right now you would not know they had surgery. They are well ahead of schedule, so we are very pleased there." 

Presumptive starting inside linebacker Jarrett Grace faces a longer road to recovery after he went down with a broken leg against Arizona State in the Shamrock Series. Grace's injury was identified as season-ending at the time, but Kelly revealed the junior broke the leg in four places.

"So that is a little bit slower in developing but he's making progress there with what was a very complicated fracture," Kelly said. "But he's making progress. I think we feel pretty good about all the guys that had surgery at this point.  I think the one guy that's still needing to continue to develop is Jarrett, because that bone being fractured in four places is still getting there."

Without Grace the Irish will be down their top three inside linebackers from last season, perhaps opening the door for Doug Randolph to step forward after he missed his freshman year following shoulder surgery. Kelly said Randolph, who could develop at multiple linebacker spots, has been cleared for full contact in March and will take it.

Randolph's shoulder was repaired last August at the same time as safety Nicky Baratti, who Kelly said would be limited during spring practice. However, Kelly said if Notre Dame needed Baratti to play in a game situation in April that the sophomore would be cleared.

Along the offensive line, Christian Lombard is near full health following back surgery last October. Conor Hanratty went down with a blow to the head in the Pinstripe Bowl and has been cleared. Freshman guard John Montelus sat out last season following shoulder surgery and nearly took contact during bowl practices.

"Excellent," Kelly said of Montelus. "We probably could have pushed some contact at that point, so he will be full for everything that we do.  We're going early this year (in spring ball), so he will be full go and ready to compete." 

Defensive end Chase Hounshell was cleared for practice late last season and is expected to contribute during spring practice following shoulder surgery last spring that knocked him out for the season. It was his second shoulder surgery in his Notre Dame career.

Kelly said the only new surgery this off-season was cornerback Devin Butler, who underwent a shoulder procedure that the coach described as minor.

"We went in there and tightened some things up, not as complex of a surgery," Kelly said. "He should be fine for us."


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