Coaches know each offseason that there are certain areas of the team that will need special attention once fall camp opens. Maybe there is a player returning from injury or intense competition for playing time or depth that needs to be developed. The staff is keenly aware of where their focus should be.
More often than not, though, things happen. Look at Notre Dame. Depth at running back seemed to be okay until Greg Bryant was initially suspended for the first four games for a violation of team rules. Now that Bryant has been declared ineligible for the entire season due to academic shortcomings, developing running back depth in camp will now become much more important. The same is true at rush end with the recent transfer announcements of Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill.
Notre Dame’s Five Biggest Camp Storylines
1. Running Back Depth
Tarean Folston was going to be the starter regardless of Bryant’s status. But head coach Brian Kelly and new running backs coach Autry Denson will have to figure out the rotation behind Folston. In the spring, C.J. Prosise moved from slot receiver to running back and showed considerable promise. Freshmen Dexter Williams and Josh Adams will have their opportunity to show that they warrant playing time. Prosise will now have an elevated role and one of the two freshmen will have to be added to the mix.
2. Malik Zaire’s Accuracy
Zaire can run and knows how to operate the read-option. By all accounts, his teammates respect him and he has command of the team when he is on the field. But throwing the ball accurately on a more consistent basis is where Zaire needs to improve. Notre Dame can win a lot of games this season if Zaire can develop in this area.
3. Pass Rush
Notre Dame ranked 70th in the nation with 26 sacks in 2014. But with the amount of blitzes that defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder sends, that number should have been higher. If Sheldon Day is healthy, he can get after the quarterback and the hope is that rising sophomore Andrew Trumbetti and senior Romeo Okwara can be more effective this fall. However, the Irish don’t appear to have a true, natural pass rusher, so becoming more comfortable with Van Gorder’s scheme may be the best hope.
4. What To Do at Linebacker?
Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace are returning from injury and Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini saw quality snaps as freshmen. James Onwualu is listed as the starting SAM linebacker and there’s this guy Jaylon Smith that can play all over the field. Throw in early entry freshman Te’Von Coney, who impressed in the spring, and the Irish have a lot to sort out at linebacker.
5. Special Teams
Kicker/punter Kyle Brindza has graduated and Notre Dame will have to fill his shoes. Freshman Justin Yoon was considered one of the nation’s prized kicking recruits, but he’s never had to perform in front of 80,000 people on a Saturday afternoon. Like Yoon, the coaching staff likes new punter Tyler Newsome, but this is his first crack at the big time as well. To go along with the kicking questions, Notre Dame has been terrible at covering kickoffs the past couple of years and the punt return game has been less than stellar since Kelly arrived at Notre Dame.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.