After suffering through a miserable November, Notre Dame beat LSU in thrilling fashion in the Citrus Bowl. Despite a few offseason losses of both players and coaches, Brian Kelly and his staff hopes that the momentum established on New Year's Day will continue through the spring sessions.
And those practices begin this week and will culminate with the Blue-Gold Game on April 21. Here are five of the many things to follow during Notre Dame’s spring sessions.
5 Storylines to Watch During Notre Dame’s Spring Practice
1. Quarterback competition
Are there really any other stories? We all know the deal: Brandon Wimbush was the starter throughout the 2017 campaign, missing only the North Carolina game due to injury. But his passing skills did not develop as the year went on, he struggled down the stretch, and he watched as Ian Book led the Irish to victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Wimbush enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, but head coach Brian Kelly will not be afraid to elevate Book should he outplay the senior once again.
2. New coaches
The Irish were actually fortunate that they were able to maintain continuity despite losing two key coaching components in defensive coordinator Mike Elko (Texas A&M) and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (Chicago Bears). Elko’s understudy Clark Lea was promoted from his linebacker coach position and Kelly’s offensive line coach at Cincinnati, Jeff Quinn, was on staff as an analyst and stepped right in to that open spot. As a result, the only truly new voice is defensive backs coach Terry Joseph. Still, several players will have to adjust to different coaches in different roles.
3. Offensive line
Quinn inherits a group with a lot of talent, but he must also replace two All-Americans on the left side. Some parts are in place, like Sam Mustipher at center and Alex Bars at right guard. The rest of the line is uncertain, though Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg are the favorites to open at the tackle positions and Tommy Kraemer will probably play left guard. Players like Josh Lugg, Trevor Ruhland, Aaron Banks and Dillon Gibbons are in the mix as well.
4. Drue Tranquill at Buck linebacker
Kelly recently said that the fifth-year senior would be lining up at the Buck position, which is interesting considering Tranquill’s performance this past season. When Elko took over as defensive coordinator a little more than a year ago and unveiled his scheme, the consensus was that Tranquill (above, right) was a perfect fit as the rover. After excelling in that role last fall, he’s now being moved closer to the line of scrimmage. Whether Tranquill can perform at this position and whether the younger rover prospects are ready will determine if this is a permanent move or not.
5. Finding receivers
Equanimeous St. Brown is off to the NFL, Kevin Stepherson is off to wherever, and Chase Claypool is off due to injury. So who is left? There are veterans in Chris Finke and Freddy Canteen, but neither possesses the skills that will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. This spring is about the inexperienced pass catchers on the roster. Miles Boykin and Michael Young will get a chance to build off strong Citrus Bowl performances and Jafar Armstrong, Javon McKinley and early entry Micah Jones will also be fighting for time.
— 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.