A total of 91 players, including 21 walk-ons, opened spring practice on Wednesday morning at Notre Dame in head coach Brian Kelly's eighth season.
The breakdown among the 70 scholarship players included:
• Three fifth-year seniors: Left tackle/captain Mike McGlinchey, tight end Durham Smythe and offensive tackle Hunter Bivin.
• 17 fourth-year seniors, led by captains Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini at linebacker, Drue Tranquill at safety and Quenton Nelson at left guard.
• 22 juniors, which features top returning running back Josh Adams and top wideout Equanimeous St. Brown.
• 23 sophomores, with 14 having played as freshmen, the most in Kelly’s first seven seasons.
• Five early entrants (to be discussed later).
By The Numbers
There were only a couple of number changes:
No. 86: Tight end Alize Jones — Formerly No. 10, the junior now has a more traditional number for his position, one that was worn by College and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Dave Casper and 1992 first-round pick Derek Brown, both starters on national championship teams.
The change also was prompted in part by sophomore slot/return man Chris Finke being assigned No. 10 for special teams purposes (he had been No. 27 just like cornerback Julian Love) when Jones was academically ineligible last season.
No. 62: Offensive guard Logan Plantz — The junior reserve guard on offense last year donned No. 69 last year but now will have 62, worn in 2016 by Colin McGovern, who started most of last season at right guard but will use his fifth year of eligibility at Virginia.
Speaking of new numbers, the five early entrants will wear the following:
• No. 15 Running back C.J. Holmes — The number formerly worn by 2014-16 receiver Corey Holmes (no relation), who will transfer to a school still to be determined after graduating from Notre Dame.
• No. 17 Safety Isaiah Robertson — Vacated by 2016 captain James Onwualu, who led the team in tackles for loss (11.5) and was third in tackles (75) and passes defensed (5).
• No. 69 Offensive Tackle Aaron Banks — Takes the number worn by Plantz last year.
• No. 72 Offensive Lineman Robert Hainsey — More likely to play in the interior than tackle.
• No. 89 Tight end Brock Wright — Nation’s top tight end recruit was issued the number worn by reserve tight end Jacob Matuska, who is not returning for a fifth season in 2017.
Early Entrants: Before & After
Here is what the heights and weights for the five early entrants were listed at on Signing Day, and now after eight weeks in the strength and conditioning program:
RB Holmes Signing Day: 6-0, 200
Holmes Spring Practice: 6-0 1/8, 206
S Robertson Signing Day: 6-1, 195
Robertson Spring Practice: 6-1 ½, 208
OT Banks Signing Day: 6-5, 320
Banks Spring Practice: 6-5, ¾, 310
OL Hainsey Signing Day: 6-4, 275
Hainsey Spring Practice: 6-4 5/8, 292
TE Wright Signing Day: 6-5, 245
Wright Spring Practice: 6-4 ½, 252
The main ones for now are some reshuffling in the secondary.
Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White are both shifting from cornerback to safety because of the need for more numbers there with the Rover position — where Tranquill and sophomores Spencer Perry and possibly D.J. Morgan are projected to align — a staple in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s 4-2-5 alignment.
Meanwhile, nine-game starter/sophomore Devin Studstill could move to strong safety, closer to the line, after playing free safety last year, while classmate Jalen Elliott might move from strong to free.
Kelly also left the possibility of 2016 starting right tackle Alex Bars moving back to guard (where he played in 2015), depending on how the competition on the right side of the line develops.
Height & Weight Notes
Some numbers that stood out:
• At 6-2, ¾ and now 209 pounds, sophomore Donte Vaughn is the rangiest cornerback at Notre Dame since Bobby Taylor was listed at 6-3, 201 in 1994. We couldn’t find one who weighed more than Vaughn, with 6-4, 206 Stacey Toran in 1983 the closest.
• Senior nose guard Daniel Cage, who missed the final month of the 2016 season with a concussion, tied Nelson and junior walk-on defensive lineman Lincoln Feist with the highest weight (329).
The 6-1 3/8 Cage was listed at 315 last season, while the 6-5 Nelson, a third-team Associated Press All-American in 2016, was at 325.
• Four of the five tallest players naturally are offensive tackles, led by 6-8 ¼ McGlinchey, also a third-team AP All-American in 2016. Next in line is junior defensive tackle/nose guard Jerry Tillery at 6-6 ¾ — and originally recruited as an offensive tackle — followed by Bivin, senior Bars and sophomore Liam Eichenberg all at 6-6 1/8.
• There will be no shortage of length to throw to for Irish quarterbacks:
Juniors Equanimeous St. Brown (6-5, 204) and Miles Boykin (6-4, 225) combine with sophomore Chase Claypool (6-4 3/8, 224) to provide an unprecedented trio of height at wideout.
That’s not even including the likelihood of “flexing” tight end Jones (6-4 ¾, 245) or incumbent Smythe (6-5 ½, 256) as other options in the spread.
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