Notebook: ND ready for spring ball
Optimism abounds at every major program at the start of spring practice, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly contends this session has a different feel than any of his previous five at Notre Dame for one simple reason.
"This is the first time since I've been here where I feel like I can go into practice and I can bang around," he said. "It feels like for me that we've got the depth necessary to go and play football. I always felt like I'm tiptoeing around this roster in the spring because we're afraid over here or afraid over here.
"We can go play, really target some of the younger players in certain areas, let them get in there and get after it."
Notre Dame officially kicks off spring ball Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. - Kelly indicated the Irish hope to practice outdoors if the temperature is above freezing - with a new staff and what Kelly hopes is a new attitude.
Seemingly every spring, the conversation begins with the drama at quarterback, and 2015 is no different. Fifth-year senior Everett Golson started all 12 regular season games in 2014 before sophomore Malik Zaire supplanted him as the starter with the pair splitting time in the 31-28 win over LSU in the Music City Bowl.
"I really don't know," Kelly said when asked whether he expects to see a clear No. 1 and No. 2 by the end of the spring. "I really don't know. It's going to take us some time to get a feel for how this competition is going to go.
"Again, once we see how they're going to compete, I think we'll have a better understanding of answering that question. … It's one thing to go out there and compete without footballs. It's another thing to put the football in their hands, go run the offense, then we'll have a better sense."
Here's a rundown of the position changes for this spring:
• Fifth-year senior Nick Martin will return to center after a hand injury forced his move to left guard last September. With Matt Hegarty heading elsewhere for his fifth season, sophomores Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars will compete for the starting left guard position.
Senior Mark Harrell and juniors Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin will practice at tackle.
• With two scholarship running backs on the roster this spring, slot receiver C.J. Prosise will cross-train at both the receiver and running back positions. Prosise rushed the ball three times for 75 yards and one touchdown in the bowl game against LSU.
• Kelly indicated that fifth-year senior Matthias Farley will begin spring ball at safety with the Irish so thin at the position, but did not rule out a return to nickel back at some point.
Senior John Turner will move back to safety after competing at Sam linebacker last season.
• Notre Dame hopes junior Doug Randolph will provide a spark in the defense's effort to get after the quarterback as a rush end.
"We think he might have a trait that can get after the quarterback for us," Kelly said. "We're going to take a look at him at that rush position, see what he can do over there."
One position change in particular involves a fifth-year hopeful in Chase Hounshell.
"Chase knocked down my door, wouldn't leave me alone, just kept coming back and saying, 'Coach, I want to be part of this team,'" Kelly said. "I have something to offer.
"That hasn't been the case over the past couple years - I've had fifth-year seniors that didn't want to be part of the team. So when we had guys that had opportunities to compete and be part of our football team, they chose to want to be one-year starters somewhere else.
"We said, 'We don't really have a role for you on the defensive line, but we could use a big, physical, blocking tight end. Would you be interested in that role?'
"He said, 'Coach, I'll do whatever you ask me to do.'"
Hounshell has shed 20 pounds and is now at 255 heading into the spring.
• Cornerback Jalen Brown was not invited back to the program for his fifth season, while linebacker Ben Councell decided to end his football career, Kelly indicated.
• Defensive end Ishaq Williams has only spoken to Kelly through third-party communication and the coach indicated that there is not a guaranteed spot on the 85-man roster for him.
"He's working right now," Kelly said. "He's trying to make some money. Right now he's got to get re-enrolled into school. He's got to re-apply, go through that process. There's some uncertainties there. He's trying to do the things necessary to have a Plan B if he needs one. He's trying to make some money."