Breaking down Notre Dame's depth chart for Rice

Breaking down Notre Dame's depth chart for Rice
August 27, 2014, 12:30 pm
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With preseason camp over and Saturday's season opener only a few days away, here's what Notre Dame's two-deep depth chart looks like heading into the 2014 season:

Quarterback

Starter: Everett Golson
No. 2: Malik Zaire

Golson needed about 10 days to officially win Notre Dame's starting quarterback job, a role he's been expected to fill ever since he was re-admitted to the university last December. He has all the traits coach Brian Kelly has wanted in a quarterback since leaving Cincinnati, and the Irish offense should put up plenty of points with Golson running the show. But Notre Dame has a pretty good backup in Zaire, a redshirt freshman, who quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said earlier this month needs to stay focused now that he's the next man in.

"What Malik has to understand is he's only one play away," LaFleur said. "Let's face it, there were times in 2012 when Everett got dinged up. So Malik better be ready to play. He'll prepare like a starter and I expect that out of him."

[MORE: Under Golson, Notre Dame expects its offense to take control]

Running back

Starter: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston or Greg Bryant

It doesn't matter who starts at running back for Notre Dame this fall given the trio of solid backs at Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock's disposal. McDaniel is a team captain and steady presence, while Folston has the makings of a complete running back and Bryant has the ability to rip off a 50-yard run on any given play. Running backs coach Tony Alford, though, isn't worried about any animosity between his running backs given the talent there and limited number of carries to be had in a game -- he said they all get along well and feed off each other's success.

Outside wide receiver

Starters: Chris Brown, Corey Robinson
No. 2s: Will Fuller, Justin Brent

With DaVaris Daniels' status unknown -- beyond him missing the Rice game -- Robinson slides into a starting role as a sophomore opposite Brown, who earned plenty of praise from coaches for his improvements from the end of 2013 through preseason camp. Robinson is still nailing down the nuances of playing the position, but his work ethic and ability to learn quickly have impressed coaches ever since he came to campus in January 2013.

Expect Torii Hunter Jr. to replace Justin Brent on the two-deep when he returns from a groin tear sometime in September, though Brent and fellow freshman Corey Holmes likely will see snaps throughout the fall.

Slot receiver

Starter: Amir Carlisle
No. 2: C.J. Prosise

Notre Dame thinks it has found a home for Carlisle in the slot after the USC transfer struggled at running back a year ago. He's a speedy, shifty receiver who can make plays in space and, so long as he doesn't get in his own head again, should be an asset for the Irish offense this fall. Prosise has earned praise from coaches, too, and will rotate in quite a bit with Carlisle.

[MORE: Amir Carlisle flourishing in new role for Notre Dame]

Tight end

Starter: Ben Koyack
No. 2s: Durham Smythe or Tyler Luatua

Koyack emerged a year ago as a No. 2 tight end and, if the progression of tight ends continues at Notre Dame, is in line for a big senior year. He has the size, pass-catching ability and blocking skills to do everything Notre Dame wants out of its tight ends and should provide a positive leadership voice as a senior on a relatively young offense.

Smythe will be deployed as a second tight end on occasion, while Luatua could fill the same role as well as adding a big, downhill blocking presence to the backfield.

Offensive tackle

Starters: Ronnie Stanley (left), Steve Elmer (right)
No. 2s: Mike McGinchey, Hunter Bivin

In Stanley and Elmer, Notre Dame has two stalwarts at tackle. Stanley is the team's best offensive lineman, while Elmer -- only a sophomore -- is the most promising member of the unit. If either player gets banged up, McGlinchey will slide in on either the right or left side. Bivin is cross-training at guard and tackle.

Guard

Starters: Matt Hegarty (left), Christian Lombard (right)
No. 2s: Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Hunter Bivin

Hegarty beat out Hanratty at left guard during preseason practice, but if center Nick Martin gets hurt Hegarty would slide there and Hanratty would play left guard. Just as McGlinchey is the first man in at tackle, Hanratty is the first man in at guard. Harrell or Bivin likely would be behind Hanratty if Notre Dame needed to dip deeper into its depth chart.

[MORE: Notre Dame commits to a deeper, healthier offensive line]

Center

Starter: Nick Martin
No. 2: Matt Hegarty

As mentioned above, Hegarty would slide to center if Martin missed time. A redshirt junior, Martin has a chance to follow in his brother Zack's footsteps and be a two-time team captain -- which, if that happens, would mean a Martin would be a captain on Notre Dame for four straight seasons.

Defensive end

Starters: Isaac Rochell, Andrew Trumbetti
No. 2s: Grant Blankenship, Romeo Okwara

This is as green a group as Notre Dame has. Okwara is the elder statesman of the group, but is a young junior who played linebacker the last two years. Rochell is a sophomore, while Trumbetti and Blankenship are true freshmen. Jhonny Williams -- another freshman -- will get some third-down snaps as an edge rusher, too.

With underclassmen, the concern often is about playing consistently. Expect plenty of rotation with the guys in this unit -- especially with Trumbetti and Okwara -- and if Notre Dame can find the right formula for success out of these guys, it could go a long way toward the team's defensive success this fall.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones
No. 2s: Justin Utupo, Daniel Cage

Day is Notre Dame's best defensive lineman and a team captain as a junior, and his presence is instrumental for the overall success of the Irish D-line. Jarron Jones showed promise toward the end of 2013 but coaches want to see more consistency out of him as he takes on a starting role.

[MORE: Sheldon Day embraces the pressure]

Utupo is a fifth-year senior who's been sparingly used over his time at Notre Dame but knows the program well, while Cage is the opposite -- the 325-pound true freshman will get his first taste of college football backing up Jones. And Cage could see a decent number of snaps, given Kelly said Tuesday another thing coaches want to see out of Jones is an increased ability to stay on the field for multiple plays at a time.

Sam linebacker

Starter: James Onwualu
No. 2s: John Turner, Ben Councell

Onwualu, a wide receiver-turned-safety-turned-linebacker, won the starting strong-side linebacker gig this month thanks to his physical play and a strong work ethic that impressed Irish coaches. But expect plenty of rotation with him, Turner and Councell, with the latter linebacker seeing more snaps against powerful, downhill offenses like Stanford.

[MORE: Notre Dame pleased with James Onwualu's transition to outside linebacker]

Mike linebacker

Starter: Joe Schmidt
No. 2: Nyles Morgan

Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said Schmidt, a senior, is one of the smartest linebackers he's ever coached. The former walk-on has cemented a role in the Irish defense, even when senior Jarrett Grace returns from a broken leg at some point this fall.

Morgan, a much-hyped freshman, should find his way onto the field regardless of whether Grace is healthy or not. But with Grace out for at least the first few weeks of the season, he'll likely be thrown onto the field rather quickly.

Will linebacker

Starter: Jaylon Smith
No. 2: Greer Martini

Smith is unquestionably Notre Dame's best player, and he's only a sophomore. He'll play inside-out in Notre Dame's defense and will do a whole lot more than he did a year ago in terms of getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.

"(He's) just a really, really good football player who carries a great attitude into it, VanGorder said. "It’s going to be exciting watching him get better week-by-week. He’s a high impact player.”

Martini, a true freshman, impressed coaches during preseason camp and should get into games this fall given Smith, as good as he is, can't play every single snap of every single game.

Cornerback

Starters: Cody Riggs, Cole Luke
No. 2s: Devin Butler, Nick Watkins

Riggs has become an essential addition for Notre Dame, with the Florida transfer roundly impressing coaches and teammates with how he's fit in with his new team and his skill as a jack-of-all-trades defensive back. With KeiVarae Russell's status unknown, Riggs is Notre Dame's top cornerback and likely will stick there this fall, but he's impressed in practice and brings good physicality and savviness to the position that make him a perfect fit in VanGorder's defense.

[MORE: Notre Dame excited to see what 'free agent' Cody Riggs can do]

Luke played last year mostly as a nickel back and on special teams, but he did see some snaps backing up Russell and Bennett Jackson. He's a smart player who secondary coach Kerry Cooks said has a good foundation in place, but -- like most underclassmen -- needs to perform consistently now that he's starting.

Butler saw some playing time in 2013 and likely is the first man in, while Watkins is a promising true freshman who should see some action this fall as well.

Safety

Starters: Austin Collinsworth, Max Redfield
No. 2s: Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate

Collinsworth is a team captain and is an important player for the Irish given the fifth-year senior's ability to direct the defense -- a job coaches aren't putting on Redfield's shoulders just yet. Redfield has all the tools to be an elite safety at the college level but has only played significant minutes in one game, so he's still a bit of an unknown.

The good news is Notre Dame is very deep at safety. Beyond Farley and Shumate, the Irish have Nicky Baratti and Eilar Hardy, both of whom have played over the last two years.

Kick returner

Starter: Amir Carlisle
No. 2: Cam McDaniel

Carlisle returned kicks in the Pinstripe Bowl after George Atkinson was suspended for the game, and his explosiveness should play well for the Irish there.

Punt returner

Starters: Cody Riggs or Greg Bryant

Notre Dame's punt return game has been atrocious recently, with 2013's average of seven yards per return (81st nationally) standing as a massive upgrade from 2012's two-yard average (fifth-worst nationally). Riggs and Bryant are both quick, explosive players who could improve Notre Dame's success here, but given recent history this may be a let's-believe-it-when-we-see-it situation.

Kicker/punter

Starter: Kyle Brindza
No. 2: Tyler Newsome

For the second straight year, Brindza will do it all for Notre Dame. Fortunately for the Irish, it's a role he relishes.