SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With spring practice set to kick off Wednesday at Notre Dame, a few key players have received medical clearance to participate in training over the next month.
Center Matt Hegarty was the biggest question mark, as the junior-to-be suffered a ministroke and underwent heart surgery late last year. The 6-foot-5, 296-pound lineman will compete against Nick Martin and Mark Harrell for an upper hand on the team's No. 1 center job this spring, as 35-game starter Braxston Cave's eligibility ran out after the 2012 season.
Hegarty's health situation was serious, but coach Brian Kelly didn't characterize it as a setback.
"Any time you talk about blood flow, cardiac, all those things, those are terms that we all kind of become very cautious with," Kelly said. "You know what I mean? We don't ever want to put somebody in a position where their life is at risk.
"... He had the best doctors. He had a great follow‑up. He took care of himself. I just think it was everybody pulling in the right direction to get him back on the field, where he feels very, very confident that he can go every single day and not have to worry about his health."
[More: Previewing Matt Hegarty's spring]
Running back Amir Carlisle isn't quite 100 percent healthy as he continues to deal with the aftereffects of an ankle injury suffered a year ago, but he'll participate in spring workouts and it someone Kelly is looking forward to watching.
"We're starting to see him as almost 100 percent," Kelly said. "We saw some real exciting flashes from Amir Carlisle."
On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Lo Wood is good to go seven months after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in preseason practice. He's a guy Kelly tabbed as someone who can help fill the leadership void left by the departures of Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta, and is expected to start opposite of Bennett Jackson come the fall.
Safety Austin Collinsworth, who's been out of commission since June with back and shoulder issues, has been cleared for spring practice as well.
Expect some normal shuffling on the offensive line, as Christian Lombard could move from right tackle to right guard if Martin and Conor Hanratty don't rate well enough. Ronnie Stanley, who underwent elbow surgery in December, could merit a look at right tackle -- where Lombard played last year -- as well as highly-touted early-enrolling freshman Steve Elmer.
C.J. Prosise will "cross-train" at safety, his natural position, and wide receiver beginning this spring, Kelly said. Elijah Shumate, who played some cornerback last year, will play safety exclusively and compete for a starting spot alongside Matthias Farley in Notre Dame's defensive backfield.
"Dog" linebacker Danny Spond won't move to compete for an inside linebacker job, with Notre Dame sticking with him and Ben Councell at that position in its 3-4 defense. Incoming freshman Jaylon Smith, rated as the nation's No. 2 player by Rivals, would slot in as a "dog" linebacker and could push Spond, an established veteran, for playing time next season. Smith, however, isn't one of Notre Dame's early enrollees.
Other odds & ends
- Sophomore-to-be Sheldon Day looks like the frontrunner to replace Lewis-Moore at defensive end. Day played in all 13 games as a freshman and totaled 23 tackles with two sacks.
- Kelly mentioned Elmer, wide receiver James Onwualu and tight end Mike Heurmann as early-enrolling freshman who have caught his eye since coming to campus. Wide receiver Corey Robinson and quarterback Malik Zaire are Notre Dame's other two early enrollees.
- As expected, Zack Martin, Chris Watt, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox were granted fifth years of eligibility, as were kicker Nick Tausch and defensive tackle Tyler Stockton. The returns of Tausch, who is likely behind Kyle Brindza on Notre Dame's depth chart, and Stockton, who mainly fills scout team duties, were surprising. Kelly, though, said Stockton has displayed quality leadership over the last few months despite his role on team.