When Notre Dame takes the field for its season opener at home on Sept. 2, a majority of last year's starters will once again be in uniform for the first drive. However, there will be plenty of new starters — especially on offense — with redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush likely the most notable.
Aside from Wimbush, who takes over after his two predecessors left for different reasons, who else should fans look out for at each position? Here's a complete breakdown of each position group, with notable returning players and those who left after last season.
Breaking Down the Talent at Each of Notre Dame's Position Groups for 2017
Key Returners: Brandon Wimbush
Key Losses: DeShone Kizer (Draft), Malik Zaire (graduate transfer)
Breakdown: The Fighting Irish lose Zaire to Florida and Kizer to the NFL, but a drop-off isn’t anticipated with Wimbush. Though he enters 2017 with only two games of experience (no starts), both of which came in 2015, the sophomore is due for a breakout year.
Key Returners: Josh Adams, Dexter Williams
Key Losses: Tarean Folston (graduation)
Breakdown: The loss of Folston shouldn’t be too much of an impact on the running back situation. Adams and Williams combined to handle the bulk of the load last season, so the Irish retain their top two performers at the position from a year ago.
Key Returners: Equanimeous St. Brown, Chase Claypool, Kevin Stepherson
Key Losses: Torii Hunter Jr. (MLB Draft)
Breakdown: Hunter was a shell of himself after being the recipient of a vicious targeting hit in the team’s season-opening loss at Texas. As a result, the younger receivers had to fill the void, and in doing so they gained valuable experience in a year where they’ll be tasked with providing Wimbush with plenty of options.
Key Returners: Alizé Mack, Durham Smythe, early-enrollee Brock Wright
Key Losses: Tyler Luatua (transfer)
Breakdown: Mack returns to the field after being academically ineligible in 2016. Smythe will add to the talented pass-catching group but will be utilized primarily in a blocking role. Wright enters the fold
Key Returners: Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars
Key Losses: Hunter Bivin (graduation), Parker Boudreaux (transfer)
Breakdown: Four of the five starters from last year return, with the senior Bivin the only one not suiting up for the Irish in 2017. Bars will slide over from right tackle to replace Bivin at right guard, with sophomore Tommy Kraemer likely to be named the starter at right tackle.
Key Returners: Jonathan Bonner, Andrew Trumbetti, Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes (no relation to Jay)
Key Losses: Isaac Rochell (Draft), Jarron Jones (graduation/NFL)
Breakdown: With Rochell drafted by the Chargers and Jones signed by the Giants after going undrafted, a new group of seniors comes in to try to create havoc on defense. Daelin Hayes, only a sophomore who also fits as an edge linebacker, has a bright future and is a name to watch in 2017 and beyond.
Key Returners: Nyles Morgan (pictured at right), Greer Martini, Te’Von Coney
Key Losses: James Onwualu (graduation/NFL)
Breakdown: Morgan (94) led the team in tackles in 2016, with Onwualu — who was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted free agent — in third with 75. Coney and Martini were fourth and fifth on that list, but will need to continue to be sure tacklers, especially against teams whose primary offense is on the ground.
Key Returners: Shaun Crawford, Devin Studstill, Drue Tranquill
Key Losses: Cole Luke (graduation/NFL)
Breakdown: Crawford will be a welcome sight if he can stay healthy in 2017 after being limited to two games in as many seasons with a torn ACL and Achilles in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Studstill got plenty of playing time last season as a freshman, experience which will be hugely beneficial for him throughout his career. Tranquill, a natural safety, is being converted to a rover position that appears to be a linebacker-safety hybrid as part of a revamped defensive scheme implemented by new coordinator Mike Elko.
Key Returners: Tyler Newsome, Justin Yoon, C.J. Sanders, Chris Finke
Key Losses: None
Breakdown: The kicker-punter tandem returns intact with Yoon handling field goals/PATs and Newsome on punts. The electric duo of Sanders (son of former NFL WR Chris Sanders) and Finke will put heavy pressure on coverage teams, as they have proven to be dynamic in the open field.